From time to time, to see the world as it truly is, our language needs to be updated. This may prove especially true when it comes to the grim heating of our planet. Few who have lived through this summer so far -- July was the warmest month in history -- haven't noticed the heat. One of these days, "summer" itself may need to be redefined. In the meantime, my vote for updating goes to the phrase "climate-change denier," at least when applied to Donald Trump, the former energy-industry employees in his nightmare of an administration, and the other Trump-style politicians who have been elected around the world.
Honestly, is the phrase "climate-change denier" appropriate for Jair Bolsonaro, the Trumpian president of Brazil, who has denied that climate change is anything to worry about. But far more important, in office, he has opened the planet's "lungs," the Amazon rainforest, to exploitation and devastation. He's a man who is essentially giving lung cancer to his country's former carbon sink. Under his reign, according to the New York Times, the Brazilian Amazon has already lost 1,330 square miles of forest cover. That, of course, is a planetary, not just a Brazilian, catastrophe and the man working so hard to make it so will, as a result, be partially responsible for the future warming of the planet. In other words, he's not a climate denier but an aider and abettor of the phenomenon.
That, at least, is the phrase I've started using for these guys. Maybe "climate change criminals" would be more appropriate. Yes, Donald Trump has "denied" climate change, calling it a "Chinese hoax," tweet-mocking global warming whenever it snows, and so on. Far more important, though, he and his cronies are working hard in just about every way imaginable to increase U.S. carbon emissions (which are, as of 2018, again on the rise). So TomDispatch regular Aviva Chomsky arrives just in the nick of time with a vivid description of how so many of the rest of us, particularly labor and environmental groups, are trying to get ourselves together on a planet where a number of our leaders are increasingly intent on taking us all down. Tom
Jobs, the Environment, and a Planet in Crisis
Unions vs. Environmentalists or Unions and Environmentalists?
By Aviva Chomsky
When it comes to heat, extreme weather, wildfires, and melting glaciers, the planet is now in what the media increasingly refers to as "record" territory, as climate change's momentum outpaces predictions. In such a situation, in a country whose president and administration seem hell-bent on doing everything they conceivably can to make matters worse, the Green New Deal (GND) seems to offer at least a modest opening to a path forward.
You know, the resolution introduced this February in the House of Representatives by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Edward Markey (D-MA). Unsurprisingly, the proposal has been roundly attacked by the right. But it's stirred up some controversy on the left as well. You might imagine that labor unions and environmental organizations would be wholeheartedly for a massive federal investment in good jobs and a just transition away from fossil fuels. But does organized labor actually support or oppose the Green New Deal? What about environmental organizations? If you're not even sure how to answer such questions, you're not alone.- Advertisement -
That 14-page resolution calls for "a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era." Its purpose: to reduce U.S. carbon emissions to net zero within a decade, while guaranteeing significant numbers of new jobs and social welfare to American workers. Read it and you'll find that it actually attempts to overcome historical divisions between the American labor and environmental movements by linking a call for good jobs and worker protection to obvious and much-needed environmental goals.
In the process, the GND proposal goes impressively far beyond the modest goals of the Paris Climate Accords and other international agreements. It supports specific, enforceable targets for bringing climate change under control, while drawing clear connections between social, labor, and environmental rights. Acknowledging in blunt terms the urgency of making systemic change on a rapidly warming planet, it calls for the kind of national mobilization Americans haven't experienced since the end of the Second World War. Described that way, it sounds like something both the labor and environmental movements would naturally support without a second thought. There is, however, both a history of mistrust and real disagreement over issues, which both movements are now grappling with. And the media is doing its part by exaggerating labor's opposition to the proposal, while ignoring what environmental organizations have to say.
One Green New Deal controversy focuses on the future role of fossil fuels in that plan. A number of environmental organizations believe that such energy sources have no place in our future, that they need to stay in the ground, period. They cite climate science and the urgent need to move rapidly and drastically to eliminate carbon emissions as the basis for such a conclusion. As it happens, the Green New Deal avoids directly challenging the fossil-fuel industry. In fact, it doesn't even use the term "fossil fuels."
From another perspective, some unions hope that new technologies like carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) will make those fuels more efficient and far cleaner. If the addition of carbon to the atmosphere could be reduced significantly or offset in some fashion, while humanity still burned natural gas, oil, or even coal, they say, jobs in those sectors could be preserved. And the unions have other concerns as well. They tend, for instance, to look skeptically on the GND's promises of a "just transition" for displaced fossil-fuel workers like coal miners, given the devastation that has fallen on workers and their communities when industries have shut down in the past. They also fear that, without accompanying trade protections, polluting industries will simply export their emissions rather than reduce them.
Being more of a statement of purpose than an elaborated plan, the Green New Deal is short on both detail and answers when it comes to such issues. The actual roadmap to achieving its goals, the proposal states, "must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses." Both unions and environmental organizations are already mobilizing to make sure their voices are part of the process.
The right wing was quick to mockingly publicize the Green New Deal not just as thoroughly unrealistic but as utterly un-American. Under the circumstances, perhaps it's not surprising that a recent poll found 69% of Republicans but only 36% of Democrats had heard "a lot" about it. Similarly, 80% of Republicans already "strongly opposed" it, while only 46% of Democrats strongly supported it. And 40% of those polled said that they had heard "mostly negative" things about it, while only 14% had heard "mostly positive" things. One reason for this disparity: Fox News has devoted more time to the topic than any other television news outlet. And President Trump naturally pitched in, tweeting that the GND would eliminate "Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military." Such claims, however fantastical, have already spread widely. But even the mainstream media has tended to play up the negative.- Advertisement -
Both right-wing and mainstream media outlets have promoted the idea that unions are in firm opposition to the Green New Deal, frequently exaggerating and distorting the nature of what opposition there is. As for the concerns of environmentalists, readers would largely have to follow radical online publications or search out the websites of green organizations.
The Media, the Labor Movement, and the Green New Deal
The Washington Examiner, Fox News, and other right-wing outlets have waxed gleeful every time representatives of organized labor, including Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, have critiqued or expressed reservations about the Green New Deal, a topic on which the rest of the mainstream media has also run stories. Labor's position is, however, significantly more complicated than any of them have acknowledged.