Year 4, Month 10, Day 31: I Contain Multitudes

The Miami Herald runs an AP story on how labor unions are trying to work with environmental groups:

PITTSBURGH — The nation’s largest labor unions are ready and willing to help fight global warming, but are cautioning environmentalists that workers need new clean-energy jobs before existing industries are shut down.

The four-day Power Shift conference in Pittsburgh is training young people to stop coal mining, fracking for oil and gas, and nuclear power, but organizers also want workers to join the battle against climate change.

Union leaders say their workers want to help build a new, green economy.

“Global warming is here, and we can work and get it fixed together,” United Steel Workers president Leo Gerard said in a Friday night address at Power Shift.

But other labor groups note that while they share the same long-term clean energy goals with environmentalists, there are challenges.

“It’s not just as simple as ‘No Fracking'” or other bans, said Tahir Duckett, an AFL/CIO representative who spoke at a Saturday Power Shift panel that sought to promote dialogue between environmentalists and workers.

Duckett said workers need new jobs to make a transition to clean energy, noting that shutting down industries such as coal “can turn entire communities into a ghost town. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend like people aren’t fighting for their very survival.”

This is an interesting conundrum. October 21:

When labor unions say that having new clean-energy occupations in place is a prerequisite for ending old dirty-energy jobs, they oversimplify complex economic realities — and overcomplicate simple environmental ones.

Our country’s economy is largely founded on the (ultimately false) notion that fossil-fuels are cheap energy sources. The extractive industries that bring us oil and coal are some of the most profitable in the world, and their corporate leaders among the planet’s most influential people. As such, they have striven to protect their own interests by blocking public sector investment in renewable energy sources. New “green jobs” are the harbingers of a different economic model built on sustainable principles, and while most of us think that’s desirable, there are powerful forces working against such a transformation; it’s going to take time.

On the other hand is the irrefutable fact that the planet is teetering on the brink of runaway climate change triggered by our civilization’s greenhouse emissions. If we can’t turn this around, our concerns about employment are going to be supplanted by far more elemental worries: surviving on an Earth turned chaotic and hostile. There is no time to spare.

To resolve this contradiction, we must recognize its existence.

Warren Senders

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