Saturday, September 19, 2015

The climate jobs leap

Coinciding with the Leap Manifesto, a global conference on climate jobs shows how the labour movement around the world can help fight climate change and inequality.

The Leap Manifesto includes a clear call for climate jobs: “A leap to a non-polluting economy creates countless openings for similar multiple ‘wins.’ We want a universal program to build energy efficient homes, and retrofit existing housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities and neighbourhoods will benefit first and receive job training and opportunities that reduce poverty over the long term. We want training and other resources for workers in carbon-intensive jobs, ensuring they are fully able to take part in the clean energy economy. This transition should involve the democratic participation of workers themselves. High-speed rail powered by just renewables and affordable public transit can unite every community in this country – in place of more cars, pipelines and exploding trains that endanger and divide us.”

Coinciding with the Leap Manifesto, trade union activists gathered in Paris for a global union climate conference—including speakers from Europe, Africa, Asia and North America. This gathering also produced a new report, Global Climate Jobs, and British climate activist Jonathan Neale summarizes the scale and urgency: “We have to stop climate change, and we have to do it quickly. To do it, we will need 120 million new jobs globally for at least twenty years…It is not realistic to wait for the market to ‘create’ those jobs. The scale of what needs doing is too big, and we need action quickly. Instead, we will need massive government programs in each country.” After reviewing the scale of global emission reductions required, and the political challenge of confronting extractivist industries and government austerity, the report gives a glimpse of climate jobs campaigns from around the world.

Global Climate Jobs
Writing from Canada, Tony Clarke describes the emergence of the Green Economy Network and their campaigns on renewable energy, green buildings and public transit. As he explains, “Today we urgently need ‘system change’ not ‘climate change.’ As a society, we can no longer afford an economic model that treats the natural environment and human beings as disposable goods. Instead we must start to collectively build a new economy, one based on much more sustainable modes of production and consumption while transforming the economic and social inequalities that plague and overburden society…These climate jobs provide more secure forms of employment that would ensure greater social equity for marginalized peoples such as the unemployed and working poor, including Indigenous peoples and people of colour.”

Activists in South Africa have collected 100,000 signatures for their One Million Climate Jobs Campaign to address both the climate crisis and the high levels of unemployment and inequality. As Sandra van Neikerk explains, “By placing the interests of workers and the poor at the forefront of strategies to combat climate change, we can simultaneously halt climate change and address our job bloodbath.”

In South Africa the climate jobs campaign is taking on the mining corporations, whereas in Norway the campaign is challenging the government’s greenwashing of oil and gas. Through a campaign of trade unions, environmental organizations and the Norwegian Church, there’s a growing movement demanding 50,000 jobs in offshore wind.

New York experienced the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, the inspiration of the People’s Climate March, and has the challenge of reducing energy demand from the million buildings that form the city’s iconic skyline. There have also been lessons from recent campaigns, as J Mijin Cha, Josh Kellerman and Lara Skinner explain: “The grassroots environmental movement forced NY State Governor Cuomo to ban fracking in 2014. The Governor was reluctant to ban fracking because many communities in upstate NY are economically depressed with high rates of unemployment and poverty, and the gas industry argued fracking would produce thousands of new jobs. Once Governor Cuomo banned fracking, it became more important politically for social movements in NY to present a viable, alternative jobs plan, one based on creating good union jobs, tackling the climate crisis, and strengthening NY communities.”

Writing from Britain, Tabitha Spence explains the growth of the Campaign Against Climate Change, and its trade union group, to make the most of Britain’s bad weather: “Britain has the advantage of famously bad weather, which means enormous wind resources, especially offshore in the North Sea. It would take about 400,000 jobs to set up onshore and offshore wind turbine systems, and wave and tidal power, all connected to a national and international grid.”

Change the politics, not the climate
She also explains the growing network supporting climate jobs, including political support: “We started with unions. While we continue gaining even broader support of unions and union members, today we are also working to gain the support of environmental groups, NGOs, and direct action groups. We have the support of the Green Party, and are building support in Labour, the largest opposition party.”

This goal recently received a boost from Labour’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who supports the call for climate jobs—which makes it all the more frustrating that no major political party in Canada will do the same. Author and NDP candidate Linda McQuaig early on in the federal election campaign echoed the climate science that “a lot of the oil sands oil may have to stay in the ground if we’re going to meet our climate change targets.” Conservatives and media commentators attacked her for ignoring workers, when climate jobs provide far more and far better work than the oil and gas industry.

The refusal of the federal election to discuss climate job alternatives reflects governments around the world sleepwalking into the climate crisis. As the Global Climate Jobs report notes,  “Unlike the build-up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, there is a much broader understanding across the world that world leaders will not deliver in Paris this year…But the early success of the campaigns reported on in this booklet, also demonstrates the popularity and power of the idea of climate jobs.”

It’s clear that climate justice can’t fit in the Parliamentary ballot box, and movements will need to challenge whoever is elected next month to respect Indigenous rights, reduce emissions and support climate job alternatives. But there’s still time to demand the parties reflect the climate justice movement, and support candidates who do.

Sign the Leap Manifesto and the Greenpeace petition: change the politics, not the climate

Monday, September 7, 2015

Photo essay: Toxic Tour 2015

Canada’s Chemical Valley completely surrounds Aamjiwnaang First Nation

Petro-chemical companies poison the earth

They poison the animals

They poison the water

They poison the people

New refineries and new pipelines, like Line 9, threaten to bring even more toxins

And even more spills

But Indigenous youth are rising up

And urging us all to wake up

On September 5, the annual Toxic Tour brought 500 people to Aamjiwnaang, to experience for a few hours what the community lives every day

The police guarded the toxins

While the march guarded the future

The constant drone of lifeless industry was broken by hip hop beats and chants

Indigenous drummers led a round dance

And 500 pairs of hands joined together

To support Indigenous communities

To learn from their experiences

To see the companies driving the climate crisis

To challenge environmental racism

And to build solidarity

for more information visit

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Linda McQuaig is right: leave the oil in the soil

“Oil has become the elephant in the room,” Linda McQuaig wrote in It’s the Crude, Dude: Greed, Gas, War and the American Way. Turns out it’s the Canadian way as well. As Toronto Centre NDP candidate, McQuaig stated a simple fact on CBC’s Power and Politics: “a lot of people recognize that a lot of the oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground if we’re going to meet our climate change targets.”

As punishment for speaking the truth, McQuaig is now the target of corporate power. Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel immediately jumped on the remark, accusing McQuaig of having an “ideological aversion” to tar sands and opposing workers in the energy sector. Alberta Opposition Leader Brian Jean labeled McQuaig’s remarks “anti-Alberta posturing” and called on Premier Rachel Notley to “actively repudiate this crazy idea in the strongest terms possible.” Presiding over his second recession, Harper warned that it’s the NDP who would “wreck this economy.” The corporate media are calling McQuaig’s remarks a “flap” that the NDP need to exert “damage control” to repair. God forbid a journalist and candidate raise in the mildest terms a basic scientific fact concerning the most pressing issue of our generation, in the hopes that an election could affect change.

Ideology vs science
McQuaig wrote It’s the Crude, Dude in the wake of the Iraq War, to bring awareness to the dangers of climate change and the way the oil industry influences politics. Quoting a 2003 report from the Pentagon—hardly a bastion of left-wing ideology—she wrote: “There’s been a tendency to regard global warming as a problem that will set in gradually, giving the world a chance to adapt and even possibly take advantage of what could be longer growing seasons. ‘This view of climate change may be a dangerous act of self-deception, as increasingly we are [already] facing weather-related disasters,’ the report states. ‘Rather than decades or even centuries of gradual warming, recent evidence suggests the possibility that a more dire climate scenario may actually be unfolding.’”

A decade later, Harper finally has the Iraq War he always wanted and climate change is even more of a clear and present danger—from wildfires on the west coast to record temperatures in the Middle East. But the corporate-backed Conservatives and Liberals have an ideological aversion to science, which calls for limiting climate change to 2 degrees to avoid catastrophic change. “Nearly all politicians across the world would like to develop all domestic sources of oil and gas and coal that they have and also search for new resources. What this analysis shows is that those two positions are inconsistent. Every country can’t exploit all of their domestic reserves and keep to two degrees,” explained Christophe McGlade of the University College London. His report in the journal Nature this year showed that 85% of tar sands have to be left in the ground.

“This would seem, by any meaningful standard, to be a problem worthy of serious attention at the very highest levels. But, oddly, it’s a problem that is largely unacknowledged in official quarters,” McQuaig wrote a decade ago about US politicians refusing to face reality about oil politics, and fabricating terror threats to distract from the climate crisis: “Our wanton over-consumption of oil might be about to create a whole new kind of terror in our lives. Yet the Bush administration, which had consistently ignored and downplayed the threat of climate change and done its best to sabotage the international Kyoto accord aimed at dealing with the problem, was not about to change horses in its ‘war on terror.’ Its defense strategy would remain fixated on shadowy men in long-flowing robes, not on ones wearing business suits and bearing large checks made out to the Republican Party.” Harper is continuing the Bush legacy—stoking Islamophobia to justify wars abroad and attacks on civil liberties at home, while fueling the climate crisis.

It is not “anti-Alberta” to question the tar sands; the tar sands themselves are anti-Alberta, undermining the traditional territories and the communities in what is called Alberta. As McQuaig wrote a decade ago, “Getting the oil out of the tar is a horrendous task; it involves a massive, high-tech operation that causes serious environmental damage…By any logic, then, most of that tar sands oil should be left in the ground.”

Harper has tried to undermine this logic by making people in Alberta so dependent on the tar sands that they put the profits of Big Oil ahead of their own lives. When the price of oil fell, the only solution the Conservatives offered was to slash public services to balance the budget, but Notley’s election was a rejection of this blackmail. The Conservatives are trying to undo the provincial election and win the federal election—attacking Notley at the start of the campaign and now demanding she attack McQuaig.

But what we need to actively repudiate in the strongest possible terms is not a debate on the tar sands but the tar sands themselves. As Melina Laboucan-Massimo from the Lubicon Cree First Nation said at the March for Jobs, Justice and the Climate: “What I have seen is immense changes to the land, to the air, to the climate, to the water, to the people, and to the animals. Where I come from, until my generation my family was able to live sustainably off the land. And it becomes harder and harder to do that. People and animals are sick and dying. And now across the tar sands we are surrounded by operations across Northern Alberta. We have also seen immense oil spills like the one that happened near my family, just a few miles away. It was one of the biggest oil spills in Alberta’s history in 2011… What we need now today, is Canada needs to accelerate the transition from destructive climate polluting sources like the tar sands and build a green, just economy that many of our communities so desperately want and need now…Even in the heart of the tar sands we can build a different kind of economy, with clean energy and green jobs, without compromising our families and our communities.”

Jobs, justice and the climate
Harper has been silent while the economic crisis destroyed 400,000 manufacturing jobs, and stood by while the drop in oil prices led to thousands of further layoffs in the oil industry. But now the Conservatives are attacking McQuaig and the NDP for being anti-worker.

What the climate justice movement has made clear is that the choice between the environment and jobs is “fear-mongering at its worst,” in the words of Jerry Dias, president of Unifor. As the union representing thousands of workers in the oil and gas industry, Unifor is a signatory of the Solidarity Accord against the Northern Gateway pipeline and was a major participant in the recent March for Jobs, Justice and the Climate.

As the report by Blue-Green Canada makes clear, the $1.3 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industry could instead create 18,000 more jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency. From the UK to South Africa, there are campaigns for a million climate jobs, to solve the economic and climate crises, and now these demands have spread to Canada. For $4.65 billion (less than half what Harper recently gave to the military), we could create 92,000 jobs in wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power. For $25 billion (less than half what Harper gave in corporate tax cuts) we could create a high-speed rail network could create 100,000 jobs and reduce our dependence on oil. And $1 billion on a home and building retrofit program (the amount Harper spent attacking civil liberties at the G20 protest) could leverage $50 billion to create a million jobs that would reduce carbon emissions.

Damage control
In order to control the damage done to the planet and its people we need to leave the oil in the soil, respect First Nations and create a million climate jobs. Unfortunately climate justice was largely absent from the first leaders debate, which instead displayed unanimity on tar sands expansion—with only minor differences on which pipelines should transport it, or where it should be refined. Both the Green Party and the NDP have advocated more domestic refining, while Mulcair supports west-east pipelines and calls for “objective reviews”—as if the increasingly dire climate science and the lived experience of Indigenous communities is not objective.

As the upcoming Toxic Tour in Aamjiwnaang First Nation makes clear, domestic refining and alternate pipelines are no solution: “In Aamjiwnaang everything is polluted air, soil, water, and people. Some of the land Industry has now made their empire on is stolen land or ongoing projects that have little to no consent. This is a prime land for industry because it is used to refine and export. The colonial fight against industry has left indigenous communities like Aamjiwnaang in a constant daily struggle.” This daily struggle by Indigenous communities most affected by the climate crisis is leading a rising climate justice movement: 25,000 marched in Quebec City in April to Act on Climate and 10,000 marched in Toronto last month for Jobs, Justice and the Climate.

The climate justice movement deserves a voice this election, but the corporate parties and the corporate press are calling on the NDP to repudiate the slightest comment that echoes these movements. The same development happened in the BC provincial election, where NDP comments against the Kinder-Morgan pipeline were said to be the cause of their defeat. But after the election, opposition to Kinder Morgan exploded—showing the NDP’s electoral loss was not because of its timid opposition but because they didn’t go far enough in outlining bold alternatives. If the NDP leadership see statements against tar sands as more damaging than the tar sands themselves, they will sever themselves from the climate justice movement and provide no alternative at the ballot box. Instead they should defend McQuaig for helping spark a real debate this election, spend the next two months repudiating in the strongest terms the Conservatives’ and Liberals’ ideologically-driven wrecking of the climate, and be a megaphone for the climate justice movement that is trying to control the damage and promote alternatives.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Photo essay: Black Lives Matter-Toronto

“No justice, no peace! No racist police!”

“Black is not a crime!”

“Black Lives Matter!”

“Not another life!”

"Indict, convict: send that killer cop to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell!"

“We don’t die, we multiply!”

“They can’t stop the revolution. Black power is the solution!”

“Shut it down!”

"I believe that we will win!"

For more information visit Black Lives Matter-Toronto Coalition

Monday, June 15, 2015

Photo essay: Toronto rally against cuts to refugee health

Today was the fourth annual and largest day of action against cuts to refugee health—organized by Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and with support from other health providers, students and refugee advocates.

In 2012, then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program, claiming it would save money and promote fairness. These cruel cuts targeted the most vulnerable people, and scapegoated them for the government’s $36 billion cut to healthcare. As Dr. Mark Tyndall said at the time, “the government has used this issue to divide Canadians, pitting those who are dissatisfied with their own health coverage against refugees. Canadians are smarter than this. This is an attack on our entire healthcare system.” Following occupations of Conservative MP offices, and an open letter by leading health organizations, the first rally mobilized health providers--doctors, nurses, midwives, and others--in more than a dozen cities across the country.

The government ignored this overwhelming medical advice and went ahead with their cruel and costly cuts, with predictable results. Following documented cases of refugees suffering from a denial of care, the second annual day of action in 2013 mobilized health providers in 19 cities across the country. The movement was growing both in numbers and in tactics—with the Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers launching a charter challenge against the cuts, and prominent Canadians signing an open letter.

While the government dismissed well-documented cases of refugees suffering from their cuts, the following year there was published evidence of the widespread impact of cuts. The study “The Cost and Impact of the Interim Federal Health Program Cuts on Child Refugees in Canada” found that the admission rate of refugee children doubled after the cuts—proving that when you deny people primary care it makes them sicker and requires costlier hospital care.

Health providers kept mobilizing, and in the wake of the third annual day of action in 2014 the Federal Court issued a scathing ruling against the cuts that reflected the growing opposition. Justice Mactavish found the cuts were “cruel and unusual”: “The 2012 modifications to the [Interim Federal Health Program] potentially jeopardize the health, the safety and indeed the very lives, of these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages Canadian standards of decency...I have found as a fact that lives are being put at risk.”

But rather than reverse their cruel and costly cuts, the Harper government has wasted over a million dollars to appeal the ruling—debunking their own bogus claims about “cost savings.” As Dr. Meb Rashid, medical director of the Crossroads Clinic at Women’s College Hospital and Co-Chair of CDRC said, “Many Canadians will find it appalling to know the Conservative government is spending $1.4 million dollars in legal fees to deny health coverage to a vulnerable population rather than using that money in the most efficient and compassionate manner, which would be to simply provide important health services to refugees.”

This year’s rally took place in 20 cities across the country, a sign the government’s bogus arguments are failing and solidarity with refugees is growing. As Dr. Tatiana Freire-Lizama, who came to Canada as a refugee, said to the Harper government at the Toronto rally, “if you think you can drive a wedge between refugees and the rest of the population, you are wrong. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’” This solidarity will continue through mobilizing, legal battles, and the upcoming federal election—to force whoever is elected to repeal the cuts to refugees and expand healthcare for all.