Interview: Court's in Session
Industrial: Whose Choices?
Politics: Peter's Principles
Environment: TINA or Greener?
History: Its Not Just Handshakes and Aprons
International: US Locks out Jose' Bove
Education: No AWA - No Job
Culture: Jesus was a Long-Grass Man
Review: Charlie the Serf
The Locker Room
Belated Merry Whatmas?
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
I Think Therefore I Scam
A Taxing Answer
Leslie John Turner
TINA or Greener?
To leave the workplace in a better shape for our grandchildren, we must also take responsibility for the health of the planet. The science of climate change has firmed significantly in the past twelve months, and it points to an inexorable rise in CO2 levels and the probably extinction of certain iconic species such as the polar bear. It does not point to our own extinction, provided we take action now.
Political parties in government throughout the western world are reducing the rights of workers at the same time as they are refusing to recognize and act on greenhouse gas emissions. Both approaches reveal a very blinkered view of the world, and both spell catastrophe for people. Increased political and economic power to the few, sharp rises in inequality, and increases in disease, famine and "natural disasters" are features of the world we have made. The US, Australian and UK administrations responses seem to be to batten down and continue the exploitation whilst there is still a buck in it.
Can the workers do anything about either? Yes, and workers should not be sidetracked by diversions around jobs in the coal and energy industries. These will amount to a hill of beans in a very short space of time unless workers grasp the initiative and campaign, debate and act to reduce greenhouse gases by 70% by the year 2050. This means starting NOW
It also means the revival of think global act local, and means real worker control of industries based around human scale, resource efficient and worker knowledge intensive industry.
But this is not news. Kenneth Boulding wrote about Spaceship Earth in the 1960s (http://dieoff.org/page160.htm) Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was an early 60s cry to protect our planet. Murray Bookchin has been writing about our ecology and our societal organization since the late 1950s.
Herman Daly, former World Bank economist, has been arguing clearly for a Steady-State economy since the 1960s as well. Sustainable growth is a myth. Quality is the key to sustainability, not economic growth quantities.
First world corporations and the economists who do their bidding argue that it is greedy first world people who seek to protect their own lifestyles who are the chief proponents of global emission targets and limits, and that they are the ones who want to feed the starving by growing more, boosting trade, increasing the "productivity" of the poor. As Daly puts it:
"It is impossible for the world economy to grow its way out of poverty and environmental degradation. Sustainable growth is impossible. Physically, the economy is an open subsystem of Earth's ecosystem, which is finite, nongrowing, and materially closed. As the economic subsystem grows, it incorporates an ever greater portion of the total ecosystem and must reach a limit at 100 percent, if not before. Therefore its growth is not sustainable. The term sustainable growth when applied to the economy is a bad oxymoron -- self-contradictory as prose and unevocative as poetry." http://www.terrainmagazine.org/article.php?id=13021
Human societies have "hit the wall" in the past. Recent powerful writings by Tim Flannery and Ronald Wright, amongst others, make this clear. The creation of our current "civilization" dates from 10,000 years ago, since when we have had what these thinkers call a "long summer" where the earth climate has been extraordinarily benign as revealed by recent ice core studies that show very rapid changes to environments and climate in the preceding 400,000 years. This long summer allowed agriculture to develop, as previous to this the climate would not have been stable enough to allow the long term settlement that agriculture allowed and required. The invention of this incredible change in the fertility of the earth allowed population expansion. It did not prevent disaster. The example of the Mayans (before the Spanish slaughters began) is used by Wright as a salutary lesson which we don't appear to have learned. Their systems began to collapse but:
"As the crisis gathered, the response of the rulers was not to seek a new course, to cut back on royal and military expenditures, to put effort into land reclamation through terracing, or to encourage birth control (means of which the Maya may have known). No, they dug in their heels and carried on doing what they had always done, only more so. Their solution was higher pyramids, more power to the kings, harder work for the masses, more foreign wars. In modern terms, the Maya elite became extremists, or ultra-conservatives, squeezing the last drops of profit from nature and humanity." (page 102)
Currently centralised control of food production and resources and its incorporation into the petro-chemical economy is being attempted by multinational corporations via genetic engineering, claiming it is necessary to feed a starving world. Vandana Shiva and Robert Pollin amongst many others, has been trying for some time to bring to the public attention the suicide rate of Indian farmers who are "persuaded" to try and grow genetically modified crops which supposed will bring higher returns, only to see crop failure, increased bills for seed and the drastic effect this has on family and village. By drawing all into a failing global system, even before the impacts of climate change are felt, the grasping for power and control are threatening rural workers, food systems and surrounding habitats.
Even the powers of Monsanto will become academic as the world's land masses cease to be capable of feeding anywhere near the numbers projected by the year 2050. Climatology seems to be indicating that at present rates of increases in CO2 concentrations, by the end of the century the world's food baskets will be almost solely Siberia and Northern Canada, areas now covered in tundra, permafrost and ice.
So we have a choice. Our experiment is that we have reached the stage where we are in control of the planet, we shape the world and how its systems operate. Our population has multiplied 4 times in the past century and the economy has multiplied by around 40 times. If we fail to gain rational control of the experiment, fail to realize that we must manage the planetary biosphere because we have developed or "progressed" to the stage where we are the major influence on its cycles, we will degrade the biosphere to such an extent that nature, which will survive in a different form, will
"shrug and conclude that letting apes run the laboratory was fun for a while but in the end a bad idea." (Wright page 31)
The Nuclear Option
One source of energy that is promoted as having no greenhouse consequences is nuclear power. But as Professor Ian Lowe puts it, "If nuclear power is the answer, it must have been a pretty stupid question." Alan Roberts, from the Monash University School of Environmental Sciences, has written about the economics and carbon production of the nuclear industry. One serious problem for those who are pushing the barrow is shown by his calculation that if we replaced all coal fired power stations with nuclear ones the uranium resources of the world would last nine years. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/natint/stories/s1345468.htm
The nuclear industry argues that fast breeder reactors would spin this out to 9000 years, but no such commercial reactor exists as yet. The waste from such reactors is also exponentially more dangerous
The energy required to build a nuclear power station would all have to come from fossil fuel sources and thus be much more carbon intensive than building a coal fired plant. The reserves of uranium in the world are counted including ore that is below 0.01% uranium so the amount of energy required to extract the uranium is more than can be generated.
Of course given the catastrophic consequences we face with global warming the nuclear option is up for consideration. James Lovelock has come out saying we need to adopt it now to save ourselves. As well as pointing out difficulties with construction, excavation and waste disposal, Ian Lowe, Alan Roberts and Tim Flannery, highlight the nuclear weapons proliferation problem, terrorism, and accidents. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Hiroshima and Nagasaki should never be forgotten.
Nuclear proponents rubbish the renewable energy advocates. It is true that with current levels of efficiency and capability, it is hard to see how the combination of solar, wind, tidal, biomass and ethanol could replace oil, coal and natural gas.
However, when we compare the funding of the nuclear industry over the past 50 years to the renewables sector, we can start to think what the possibilities of improvement could be if the funding matched. Ian Lowe said to the National Press Club in October last year:
"The first point is that the economics of nuclear power just don't stack up. The real cost of nuclear electricity is certainly more than for wind power, energy from bio-wastes and some forms of solar energy. Geothermal energy from hot dry rocks - a resource of huge potential in Australia - also promises to be less costly than nuclear. In the USA, direct subsidies to nuclear energy totalled $115 billion between 1947 and 1999, with a further $145 billion in indirect subsidies. In contrast, subsidies to wind and solar during the same period amounted to only $5.5 billion. That's wind and solar together. During the first 15 years of development, nuclear subsidies amounted to $15.30 per kWh generated. The comparable figure for wind energy was 46 cents per kWh during its first 15 years of development"
For workers, the scope for decent and rewarding work in the renewables sector far outstrips the potential employment in the current energy industry regime. Job creation in Europe through various renewable energy scenarios developed in 2002 show the vast potential: Greener energy sources in general employ far more people than more polluting sources: Nuclear power sustains around one sixth of the jobs sustained by wind energy, per unit of power produced. Wind energy is four times better than coal at sustaining jobs. (see appendices for this research)
Pie in the Sky or Reality
That these alternatives are real alternatives is shown by the actions already underway. In South Australia a group has a proposal underway that will see 10000 homes fitted with photovoltaic cells at no upfront cost to the owner. As I sit in a train through the western suburbs of Sydney I see thousands of potential sites for these solar cells and/or solar hot water systems, both important contributors to reducing personal production of CO2. These cells in Adelaide could reduce household electricity costs by $200-300 per year and generate a profit for the company supplying the cells. Skilled workers will be needed to make, install and maintain the systems, in jobs more pleasant than coalmining or working in power stations. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/natint/stories/s1441697.htm
Wind power also requires skilled manufacturing building and installing the large turbines dotted around the country, and in exciting new processes such as the street light sized wind turbines currently being developed in the UK. Other UK examples abound. A brief look at the Green Energy Works site http://www.greenenergyworks.org.uk/itworks.htm shows many practical approaches in commercial, domestic and school buildings, manufacturing plants and how whole towns have taken on an alternative energy focus. In Germany the town Schönau in the Black Forest area has purchased the grid supply to take them away from nuclear energy. The proximity to Chernobyl was one factor that inspired this. Green energy to the whole town is the aim. http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,1564,1553491,00.html. Two large scale wind farms have been proposed by commercial electricity firms for South Australia and Victoria this week.
It is possible, and the best examples are those that are developed between workers and communities, as shown on the Green Energy Works site. Suppliers will come to the party if the demand exists. In Australia we can purchase green energy from many large suppliers. One way to advance the demand, which forces suppliers to provide green energy, is the strategy Planet Ark seem to be taking through www.jackgreen.com.au If they sign up customers on the basis that their electricity will come from renewable resources, then Jack Green bulk demand will act to push Energy Australia or other generators to develop renewable supply. Origin Energy is a big part of the South Australian initiative described earlier. Energy suppliers could take similar action in Western Sydney, rather than build another coal station. Coalminers and electricity specialists should be linked to.sustainable and rewarding employment in the new industries and help create a future for their kids.
Public Concern Is There
Australians seemingly, are environmentalists 'at heart' - more so than the British, Americans and New Zealanders - according to survey data released by Roy Morgan International.
The data showed almost 9 out of 10 Australians (89%) agreed with the statement that 'if we don't act now we'll never control our environmental problems', 65% agreed that 'at heart I'm an environmentalist' and 73% disagreed with the comment that 'threats to the environment are exaggerated'. These responses were all higher than those of Americans (75%, 57%, 65%) Britons (85%, 58%, 71%) and New Zealanders (85%, 64%,70%). The data came from a survey undertaken from March 2004 to September 2005 and included roughly 45,000 people from the 4 countries.))
A Roy Morgan International survey of Australia's opinion leaders released last November found that environmental issues were considered one of the 'most important problems facing the world and Australia'. Australian opinion leaders considered global warming to be the 'main environmental problem facing the world and Australia' (42%)
Gary Morgan said in response to the data: 'With such strong concerns voiced across Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US, Governments can afford to be brave on measures to protect our environment...our political leaders have a clear mandate to act decisively to address environmental issues.' http://www.ethicalinvestor.com.au/news/story.asp?Story_ID=1598
Unions represent the interests of workers and it is clear that they have a responsibility to address greenhouse issues.. They are rightly wary that the issue is capable of being addressed by government and business in ways that degrade the environment and workers rights, and they see that at least stabilizing the environmental impact of energy production and supply has the potential to create many jobs requiring new skills and technologies. Brendan Barber from the TUC put it this way:
'Trades unions are rightly looking for the development of an employment and industrial strategy alongside the Kyoto Treaty. Greenhouse gas reduction targets must be accompanied by action to help workers affected through education, training and consultation through their unions.' http://www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/tuc-11145-f0.cfm
US steelworkers have also recently called for the US government to make a strong commitment to the second stage of Kyoto covering the period from 2008-2012.http://www.global-unions.org/pdf/ohsewpP_7g.EN.pdf
On a basic union survival level unions need to recognize that there is a direct threat to jobs from climate change. Also on an international solidarity level, the very short term survival of workers in countries such as Bangladesh and various Pacific states is at stake.
The above comments are a step forward from the negative framework that unions took to the initial protocols of 1997 when the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) took the approach that real targets and timetables were needed and as they didn't have them they wouldn't act.
A positive approach is needed, not only to avoid succumbing to despair, but also because it encourages creativity from union members and leaders, and builds links with scientists and many other groups who seek the common good against the narrow exigencies of short term profiteering.
The High Road
The road to a new economy includes action to protect "the great aerial ocean" as Wallace put it (see Flannery for this quote).It is interesting that as we have begun to consume more and more energy, and as productivity across the globe has increased, the wages of workers have been declining relatively. Joel Rogers, US economist argues that there are
"Two ways to compete: high road and low road. One's good for workers and the other's not. One's sustainable and the other's not. One's socially accountable and the other's not. Both are profitable."
It would seem that this is partially compatible with Herman Daly's view that we need to improve the quality of our outputs, not the quantity. We can't go on growing, but we can keep improving. Daly suggested, in 1973, a limit to energy throughput (given that energy is essential for all production). In a spaceship earth, production, growth and quantity (the be all and end all for our system today) must be "replaced by protective maintenance, stability and quality".
By linking workers to the workplace for more hours, with less and less control over the way they do work, in the name of measures of productivity that boost accountants bottom lines, we are trapped in the CO2 cycle as surely as the NSW government seems trapped in coal fired power stations (an 18th century technology) to feed aluminum smelters and western Sydney air conditioners. Andre Gorz has seen that this traps us in a low productivity cycle because the creativity that makes us human is not allowed to inform the way we work. Unless we act now it will be too late to use that creativity to improve the quality of our own and our children's lives.
At a time of crisis in the global economic system in the 1930s John Maynard Keynes wrote,
"[Capitalism] is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous - and it doesn't deliver the goods. In short, we dislike it, and we are beginning to despise it. But when we wonder what to put in its place, we are extremely perplexed."
We are locking in to a high use, growth way, trying to find ways to continue as we are.. Herman Daly's message that sustainable growth is logically and practically impossible should be heeded. George Monbiot is far more pessimistic. Concerned that we have to cut emissions by 90% by 2030, George Monbiot says that we have to "start the first mass movement to demand that less is more. The struggle is that we must ourselves want to change to demand that government do."
He may be correct but I think he underestimates the effect that good old class analysis can have on our ways of seeing. Demanding less inequality across the globe is crucial, as the global unions are now arguing, to easing the damage to the environment that the capitalist mode is causing.
The impact of climate change requires unions to think of alternatives because if it is the case that There Is No Alternative (TINA) then there is also, as The Sex Pistols put it, No Future.
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