The problem of a broken economy and destabilized climate are well known, with increasing evidence arriving daily.
Activists and organizers within the twin movements of economic and climate justice are grappling for solutions and finding them in the way many of our current challenges are solved: through collaboration. The most recent example is a letter from the newly launched Our Power campaign to Richard Trumka at the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations), calling for a meeting to incorporate climate into the AFL-CIO’s agenda. The letter comes from a wide array of community-based grassroots groups and their allies, and it turns to one of the most historically powerful institutions to forge a common interest in advancing a new politics on climate change. As one of the letter’s authors, Brendan Smith of the Labor Network for Sustainability, is known to say, “there are no jobs on a dead planet.”
A jobs program for our time that takes climate change seriously provides a compelling vision. Jobs in the construction sector, to revitalize old, leaky buildings and make them more energy efficient and therefore relying on less fossil-based electricity. Jobs repairing leaky water infrastructure, to restore and retain our shrinking fresh water sources. Jobs to enhance transit ridership, helping enable more people to rely on buses, trains, and ferries over individual automobiles. It’s not a new concept, and in fact it was advanced during the Economic Stimulus, yet look at any struggling city to see that there’s more to be done.
Not only that, but the AFL-CIO and community groups have another thing in common: an enemy. The fossil fuel sector is a job-cutting and exploitative industry, from the coal mine to Capital Hill. The set of policies advanced by industry trade groups like the American Petroleum Institute are at odds with a vision for working people, and the fossil fuel industry and its allies will stop at nothing to continue business as usual, with perverse examples coming up daily. Within the past few weeks, BP sued the Environmental Protection Agency in order to drill anew, and the Canadian Prime Minister tries to convince the Obama Administration that a climate agreement between the two countries is possible–yet contingent on the construction of the Keystone xl tar sands pipeline. Since facts alone won’t stop this industry, a vibrant movement is needed to do so, and that’s why this letter matters.
The problem is clear: we need a renewed economy and we need a stable climate, which is dependent on leaving 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. That means we need to find a new source of electricity. One critical part of that is a new politics, that involves workers, as well as the labor and climate movements advocating for the common ground–the land and climate we all share and depend upon.