This Fall, Let’s Throw Down For Climate Justice

Time is running out. The climate crisis is at our doorstep. Communities around the world are already being battered by the earliest effects of the changing climate–superstorms, floods, wildfires and droughts. And still not moving any closer to actualizing the dramatic transformation of our energy systems and economy that we all know are needed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. 

The situation is bleak, but we are hopeful. 

Around the world, people are stepping up to take bold direct action to confront the climate crisis. Hundreds of thousands of school students are organizing climate strikes, Indigenous communities are continuing to resist the destruction of their historic lands, new movements like Extinction Rebellion are organizing bold and dynamic actions across the planet, and our comrades from Ende Gelande in Germany recently visited to teach us how they mobilized massive direct actions confronting the fossil fuel industry. 

We’re also hearing from a lot of groups who are making big plans to throw down hard for climate justice this fall. Starting on September 20, the students who have been organizing the weekly climate strikes are launching a major strike and week of actions. Then starting on September 27th, Earth Strike is calling for a general strike demanding immediate climate action from governments and corporations worldwide.  WeRise2020, a widespread network of climate action groups across Europe is planning on mobilizing alongside EarthStrike starting on September 27th for four to six weeks of escalated actions before pausing to regroup for another wave of action. We’re also hearing that the folks at Extinction Rebellion are working on plans for something big this fall and the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City starting on September 23 offers an obvious venue for confronting political leaders for their failure to take meaningful action to address the climate crisis.  

It’s still too early to tell how this is all going to play out but we’re excited to see the energy and activity and we’re ready to throw down. Nobody can afford to sit on the sidelines–the stakes are too high. 

We know that the scope and the urgency of the climate crisis demands bold action and we’re inspired to see so many people–and so many new voices–thinking big. We are excited to see people thinking about mobilizing to create serious disruption to the systems that are perpetuating our reliance on fossil fuels and to see people talking about organizing protracted surges of resistance, not just self-contained actions. We’re hopeful that our movements will use this wave of energy to directly confront the root causes of the climate crisis–capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy–and to reject market-driven false solutions. 

In the coming weeks and months we’ll be keeping our ears to the ground to find ways that we can plug in. We’ll be checking in with old friends and hopefully hearing from new friends about what folks are planning and where we can show up in the best ways. We’ll be sharing some of our ideas about how we think our movements can make fall 2019 a turning point in the movement for climate justice and we’ll be listening carefully to learn from the other new ideas that are emerging.

Time is running out and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Let’s keep this conversation going, let’s work together to build momentum, and let’s get ready to throw down hard this fall. 


 

Rising Tide is an international, all-volunteer, grassroots network of groups and individuals who organize locally, promote community-based solutions to the climate crisis and take direct action to confront the root causes of climate change. Want to get involved or continue the conversation? Email us at networking@RisingTideNorthAmerica.org

 

They Saved Tens of Thousands of Lives, Then They Lost Their Jobs

Source F&WW Twitter Feed

cross-posted from Medium

They Saved Tens of Thousands of Lives, Then They Lost Their Jobs

This isn’t what a just transition looks like

by Patrick Young

At around 4 am on Friday, June 21, a massive fire and explosion rocked Alkylation unit at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia. The explosion was so powerful that it shook houses and apartment buildings around West Philadelphia. The ball of fire could be seen for miles, turning the predawn sky orange. As the fire raged, while every human instinct must have screamed to run away from the fire, members of the PES Emergency Response Team (ERT) dropped everything to run toward the fire. They battled the blaze for hours and by 10 am the fire was contained but still burning.

Like anyone who is familiar with refinery operations, Jim Savage, an operator at PES and a union activist immediately turned his thoughts to the ERT writing, “Huge props to our refinery Emergency Response Team. I’ve always questioned their sanity, but their courage and professionalism has never been in doubt. Those explosions were terrifying and I have no idea how we didn’t have injuries or even worse. It’s going to be a long and dangerous day for them, so keep them in your thoughts.”

It took a full day to fully extinguish the fire. The explosion was bad, but it could have been much, much worse. Unit 433, the Alkylation unit where the explosion occurred used hydrofluoric acid (HF) as part of the refining process. HF is by far the most dangerous chemical in the facility and PES’s most recent emergency response plan reported that there were as many as 71 tons of the chemical at the facility. Just after the explosion, the operator on the board at the refinery’s central control room transferred the HF that was in process to another container, preventing a mass release of the chemical.

Hydrofluoric acid is an incredibly dangerous chemical used as a catalyst in some oil refineries (there are inherently safer technologies in use in many refineries but owners of many older refineries, including the PES facility in South Philadelphia have refused to invest in safer systems). HF quickly penetrates human tissue, but it interferes with nerve function so burns may initially not feel painful, giving people a false sense of safety. Once it is absorbed into the blood through the skin it reacts with calcium and can cause cardiac arrest. It volatilizes at a relatively low temperature and travels as a dense vapor cloud — PES reports that the supply of HF stored at the South Philadelphia refinery could travel as far as 7 miles putting as many as a million people at risk.

On June 21, the members of United Steelworkers Local 10–1 on the PES Emergency Response Team and in the refinery’s control room prevented the dozens of tons of HF at the refinery from being released saving tens of thousands of lives.

Then on June 26th, those workers learned that they were losing their jobs. Philadelphia Energy Solutions announced that it was shutting down refinery operations and laying off nearly all of the workers at the refinery within weeks.

Declaring Victory

Philly Thrive, a local environmental group that had been organizing against the refinery for years immediately declared victory, changing the cover photo on its Facebook page to an image with the words “Victory: The largest polluter in Philly is closing” and, in much smaller letters, the words “time for a just transition! #GreenNewDeal.”

To their credit, Philly Thrive did issue a longer written statement on the closure laying out a more detailed set of demands for remediating the site and ensuring that workers’ pensions and healthcare were paid for. But that statement seemed to fall flat with the 1,000 workers — many of whom had just risked their lives to prevent a catastrophe and save tens of thousands of lives — who saw Philly Thrive proudly declaring victory right after they learned that they were losing their jobs.

Philly Thrive Declares Victory. Source: Philly Thrive Facebook Page

Tonight, there are a thousand families that are wondering what their futures will look like after the refinery closes. At PES, because of years of union struggle in the oil refining sector, those workers pulled in good, family-sustaining wages. They could own homes, send their kids to college, and plan for a comfortable retirement. But many of their skills are not immediately transferrable to other jobs, and the jobs that are available are largely non-union and pay half of what workers at PES were earning.

This isn’t what a just transition looks like

While the shutdown of the South Philadelphia refinery is unlikely to have any impact on fossil fuel consumption in the eastern United States in the short term — imports of refined gasoline and home heating oil will make up for the lost production — there is a scientific consensus that if we are to have any chance at averting the catastrophic changes in our climate that we are experiencing, we need to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases.

Any sort of transition away from the fossil fuel economy will almost certainly be painful for the hundreds of thousands of workers currently employed in the sector. And there probably is no scenario where the majority of workers would in the fossil fuel industry would enthusiastically embrace such a dramatic change. But abruptly laying off the workers who just ran towards — not away from — danger and saved tens of thousands of lives is probably one of the most unjust transitions those workers could expect to face. Philadelphia Energy Solutions management apparently went as far as violating the federal WARN act by failing to give many of the workers 60-days-notice before unceremoniously escorting them out of the refinery carrying cardboard boxes containing their personal belongings.

When talking about plant closures and job loss, the climate movement often talks about a just transition. Interestingly, the idea of a ‘just transition’ isn’t an idea to come out of the environmental or climate movement. The term was coined by Tony Mazzocchi, a leader in the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers (a predecessor of USW Local 10–1). In the early 1990s as the evidence that carbon in the atmosphere was contributing to climate change, Mazzocchi recognized that although it would be painful for workers, we would soon need to transition our economy away from fossil fuels. He said, “there is a Superfund for dirt. There ought to be one for workers,” proposing significant public investment to support fossil fuel workers who were transitioning out of the fossil fuel industry. When environmental partners suggested that the Superfund for Workers had too many negative connotations, Mazzocchi changed the name of his proposal to a Just Transition.

Since 1993 the term “just transition” has gained traction in much of the climate movement and in parts of the labor movement. While many are comfortable with using it as a vague catch-phrase, workers who are facing job loss have found some urgency in becoming much more specific about exactly what a just transition will look like. In the lead up to the 2015 UNFCCC talks in Paris, the International Trade Union Confederation published a five-point framework for what a just transition means:

1. Sound investments in low?emission and job-rich sectors and technologies. These investments must be undertaken through due consultation with all those affected, respecting human and labour rights, and Decent Work principles.

2. Social dialogue and democratic consultation of social partners (trade unions and employers) and other stakeholders (i.e. communities).

3. Research and early assessment of the social and employment impacts of climate policies. Training and skills development, which are key to support the deployment of new technologies and foster industrial change.

4. Social protection, along with active labour markets policies.

5. Local economic diversification plans that support decent work and provide community stability in the transition. Communities should not be left on their own to manage the impacts of the transition as this will not lead to a fair distribution of costs and benefits

The shutdown of the South Philadelphia refinery was not preceded by investment in clean energy jobs (Principle 1) or early warning, training and skills development (Principle 2). Social protections have failed workers in Philadelphia as many were not even given the federally-required 60-day WARN notices and payments (Principle 4) and this shutdown comes at a time when the Philadelphia government is pushing expansion in an east-coast energy hub, not supporting local economic diversification (Principle 5). While environmental activists from organizations like Philly Thrive have issued sweeping demands for comprehensive transition programming there does not appear to be any indication that workers at the refinery were meaningfully involved in the crafting of that platform (Principle 2).

The shutdown of the South Philadelphia refinery failed badly on all five of the ITUC’s Just Transition Principles.

Where to go from here

The situation in South Philadelphia is bad and there isn’t anything that is going to make things okay for the 1,000 workers and their families who are struggling to imagine what their futures might look like. There are, however, some things that could help keep the situation from getting worse.

Everyone in the environmental community who celebrated the closure of the facility should be ready to campaign just as hard to demand that the Carlyle group, Energy Transfer Partners and PES’s other investors aren’t able to make off with the $1.25 billion insurance payments the company is poised to collect in the aftermath of the explosion just to leave workers and the community holding the bag. Workers and the community need to be first in line to collect whatever is left over to provide severance, healthcare, and to clean up the site that has been badly contaminated by over 150 years of oil refining.

Right now there is no superfund for workers, but there is a transition program that can be adopted for these workers. Because the lost production at the South Philadelphia refinery will be replaced with refined gasoline and home heating fuel imports, workers at the facility should be eligible for TAA benefits, which could provide urgently needed funds to support job retraining and extended unemployment. Supporting workers’ TAA petition should be a top priority of anybody who is concerned about a just transition at this facility.

Going forward, bold proposals like the Green New Deal start the ball rolling on an incredibly important discussion about building the clean energy infrastructure that we need to have a just transition away from fossil fuels. But we need to make sure that the workers and communities who are at the front lines of this transition are not left behind and have an opportunity to be a core part of the process. The workers at the South Philadelphia refinery risked their lives and saved thousands of lives on June 21. They didn’t cause that disaster and they deserve a much more just transition.

 

Hooray for Scrappy Climate Action!

What a month!

Scrappy resistance to fossil fuels, its financiers and the politicians that love them has hit new levels with the goal of meeting the scale of the climate crisis with equal amounts of people powered momentum. As a result, climate and anti-fossil fuels action, both large and small, has spread globally.

The climate uprising centered around Extinction Rebellion has shaken the political establishment in London and iis spreading to other parts of the world. But we mustn’t forget that for decades, we’ve seen communities in countries like China and India rising up by the tens of thousands against mining and polluting power plants. And for more than a decade in North America, an Indigenous and frontline-led effort against coal, oil and gas have fought hard against mountaintop removal, coal mining, fracking and pipelines.

Now, today, a new report says that over 50% of new pipelines globally are being built in the U.S. and Canada. Report co-author Ted Nace said “This is a whole energy system not compatible with global climate survival. These pipelines are locking in huge emissions for 40 to 50 years at a time, with the scientists saying we have to move in 10 years. These pipelines are a bet that the world won’t get serious about climate change, allowing the incumbency of oil and gas to strengthen.” At the same time, a new phase of infrastructure fights with state governments passing anti-protest laws throughout the country. In North America, we’re in for a long struggle to counter climate change and extraction.

The past couple of weeks have seen scrappy action hit western governments, banks and carbon intensive industries most responsible for climate change again.

In the U.S.:

  • Anchorage, Alaska: Trouble-makers with Alaska Rising Tide dropped off a banner in protest of the government’s move to mine the state’s Pebble Mine.
  • Appalachia: In Virginia, the Yellow Finch tree-sit has stopped the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) in its tracks for over 200 days.  An epic battle has lasted for over a year where scrappy action that has included multiple landowner-led tree-sits, monopods, equipment lockdowns, bird-dogs of corporate CEOs and politicians and an impressive grassroots organizing effort. The MVP has been delayed for at least a year and the campaign is far from over.
  • Austin, TXXR Austin occupied a JPMorgan Chase branch with three members super gluing themselves inside the branch.
  • “Bank on Climate” Day of Action—In 22 cities, Rainforest Action Network and 350 Seattle organized rowdy actions in 22 cities against top climate financiers JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. From corporate office occupations in Boulder, San Francisco and Minneapolis to the shutdown of all 44 Chase branches in Seattle to a banner hang at Grand Central Station in New York to the bird-dogging of Chase CEO Jamie Dimon during a congressional hearing in Washington D.C. (and much much more), the funders of the climate crisis are receiving well deserved heat.
  • Eugene, OR—XR Eugene teamed up with Cascadia Forest Defenders to launch a tree-sit in in town to draw a connection between forest destruction and climate destruction.
  • Los Angeles—Two members of Extinction Rebellion Los Angeles super-glued themselves to the top of the NBC/Universal Studios globe demanding that NBC (a major media outlet) prioritize climate change as a daily news topic and reject fossil fuel commercials. Four members of the team were arrested and charged with felonies.

    Two climate activists super glued to the top of the Universal Studios globe in Los Angeles.

  • NYC— Climate activists with Extinction Rebellion NYC shut down traffic outside New York City Hall Wednesday, partially blocking access to the Brooklyn Bridge and staging a die-in to demand radical action on climate change.
  • Portland, OR— Eleven people were arrested after building a garden in the train tracks as a creative blockade against the Zenith export terminal.
  • Washington D.C.: And in the U.S. capital, two of our comrades with Beyond Extreme Energy occupied to top of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) building for six hours demanding a “Federal Renewable Energy Commission.”

Elsewhere:

  • London: In meeting the crisis at the scale that is needed, Extinction Rebellion UK occupied London for ten days. They’ve shut down traffic routes, disrupted the “Tube,” protested Heathrow Airport and targeted politicians and bankers. With over 1000 arrests, the Met Police found themselves with full jails and crowds of more willing participants.
  • Paris: More than 2,000 climate activists held a nonviolent blockade of France’s environment ministry just outside of Paris on Friday, calling out government complicity with fossil fuel companies and the banks that fund them. Climate activists are calling it one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in French history. The blockade also successfully targeted French oil giant Total; Société Générale, an investment bank that funds dirty energy projects; and a state-run electric utility that relies heavily on nuclear power.

    Climate activists sit in at French environmental ministry in Paris. Pic via Democracy Now!

  • Rotterdam: Today, over 40 climate activists occupied the Engie coalfired power station
  • The rest of world : In other cities around the world, Extinction Rebellion has disrupted business as usual in India, Germany, Spain, Denmark and more.

As Paul Street recently paraphrased radical historian Howard Zinn:

“Howard Zinn was right. It’s not just about who’s sitting in the White House or the Governor’s mansion or the Mayor’s office or the city council seat.  It’s also and above all about who’s sitting in the streets, who’s disrupting, who’s monkey-wrenching, whose idling capital, who’s occupying the pipeline construction sites, the highways, the workplaces, the town-halls, the financial districts, the corporate headquarters, and universities beneath and beyond the biennial and quadrennial candidate-centered big money big media major party electoral extravaganzas that are sold to us as “politics” – the only politics that matters. This is true about fighting racist police violence. It’s true about labor rights and decent wages.  It’s true about all that and more and it’s true about saving livable ecology.”

We’re up against some very bad players. The worst in the world. Maybe the worst in the history of the world. It’s time for serious organizing and hardscrabble actions.

See you in the streets.

Utah: Young people sit-in urging Utah Governor to oppose the BLM’s Oil and Gas Sale

Photo Credit: Brooke Larsen

Cross-posted from Wasatch Rising Tide and allies in Utah

Utah Youth Rise Against Oil and Gas Leasing

Young people urge Governor Herbert to oppose the BLM’s March Oil and Gas Sale

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — On Monday, Utah youth delivered a letter with over 1,500 signatures to Governor Herbert’s office, urging him to request the deferral of all parcels in the Utah Bureau of Land Management’s March oil and gas lease sale. Over 50 community members joined young leaders as they held a sit-in, expressed fears for their future, and shared how the state’s poor air quality has impacted their health. The action comes ten days after over 500 young Utahns, and millions of teens around the world, went on strike for climate action.

Utah’s young climate organizers targeted Governor Herbert to keep him accountable to the resolution he signed last year that acknowledges the threats climate change poses to Utah.

“Governor Herbert has failed my generation,” said Mishka Banuri, a senior at West High. “By acknowledging climate change but not following through with substantive action to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, the Governor is knowingly sacrificing our future.”

photo credit: Carly Ferro

On March 25-26, the Utah BLM is auctioning 217,576 acres of public lands to the oil and gas industry — the largest lease sale since the Bush administration. The BLM has listened to governors in the past. Governor Herbert successfully requested the deferral of parcels near Dinosaur National Monument in 2017, and in more recent months, governors of New Mexico and Colorado have achieved limitations on leasing.

Three students initially met with the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Mike Mower, on March 19 to deliver the letter and express their demands. They were disappointed with Mower’s response.

“Mower told us he attended the youth climate strike, but only wanted to focus on the students who drove away in their cars, turning climate change into an individual problem,” said Eliza Van Dyk, Westminster student and organizer with Wasatch Rising Tide. “Climate change will not be solved on an individual basis, we need to change our entire energy system and we need elected officials to help, not hinder that transformation.”

During the sit-in, students spoke with Mower again and asked him to take immediate climate action. He said the state would continue their “all of the above” energy strategy.

“Science shows we must drastically reduce carbon emissions in the next 11 years to prevent climate catastrophe. The state’s all of the above energy strategy is unethical and irresponsible.” said Brooke Larsen, coordinator of Uplift Climate. “My generation needs a rapid transition to the renewable energy economy. We will continue to rise to defend our future.”

The action was organized with the support of the following organizations: Utah Youth for Environmental Solutions, Utah Chapter Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Uplift, and Wasatch Rising Tide.

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UPDATE: Yesterday, Utah youth led a sit-in at Governor Herbert’s office, demanding he take action to defend our future. We delivered a letter with over 1,500 signatures calling on the Governor to request the deferral of all parcels in the Bureau of Land Management’s March oil and gas lease sale. We showed that the people of Utah will keep our leaders accountable and continue to rise for a livable climate, clean air, and protection of wild and sacred lands.

On Tuesday, April 2nd at 6pm MST, Utah youth will have a webinar/conference call to discuss next steps in ongoing actions in protest of the Utah Bureau of Land Management’s mass sale of public lands to the oil and gas industry, a recent court decision that says the BLM must consider climate impacts, and the numerous ways the public can rise with us in defense of our future.

Register here: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_g1j4rCGiTJW1H1eszCbhTg