Saturday, November 25, 2017

To Rachel Notley -- Climate change is destroying millions of workers jobs and lives around the world, so please, smarten up

Alberta's NDP Premier Rachel Notley has been pushing hard of late for pipelines and doing so by echoing many of the very worst right-wing narratives about the energy sector, the tar sands and jobs. While Notley started her term by striking a notably collaborationist tone with big business and some of the most destructive corporations on the planet -- beginning to placate their rapacious agenda on her very first day in office -- she has kicked the rhetoric into high gear over the last few days.

This past Friday Notley appeared in front of assembled members of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce to deliver a pseudo-populist speech that borrowed from decades of what folks like Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney have said. Like them she was trying to push an economic and tar sands agenda that flies in the face of alleged Canadian and progressive commitments to fight the fact of climate change as well as in the face of all the science and evidence around the damage this agenda causes. All with a lot of rubbish hard right speaking points.

The speech was so profoundly reactionary that it even drew praise from United Conservative Party MLA Ric McIver who said "She sounded a lot more like Jason Kenney or like a UCP member when she got the applause."

Think about that for a moment.

At one point Notley said:
To my political colleagues in the federal NDP, I said: You can't write working people and their jobs out of climate action. You need to start writing them in, so please, smarten up.
This is a classic line from defenders of environmentally catastrophic projects like the tar sands, which a writer in the Guardian recently described as "the largest – and most destructive – industrial project in human history". It is an attempt to frame themselves as pro-worker and concerned for the interests of working people even though it is unquestionably massive energy corporations and their profits that benefit the most from this ongoing destruction of the planet.

Even if we set the corporate profits and interests aside, though, and take this line at face value it is still nonsense in that it is predicated on the false notion that the only workers effected by pipelines and climate change are workers in the energy sector who might lose their jobs.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In order to make the claim that shutting down the oil sands or opposing pipelines is anti-worker or anti-job -- or, as it is often put, would be 'leaving a generation of workers behind' -- you have to ignore the far greater number of workers both in Canada and internationally whose jobs are being negatively impacted by climate change. You have to ignore how a generation of young workers in any number of industries that are not in the energy sector are already being left behind. You have to ignore the terrible impact of climate change on workers in underdeveloped countries, who are among the most disadvantaged workers in the world.

You have to ignore that climate change -- driven by industries like the tar sands and the pipelines the tar sands require -- is impacting on the health and well-being of, the workplace safety of, and the life expectancy of hundreds of millions of workers. It is literally killing workers.

Those workers matter too. Not just tar sands and pipeline workers.

Since Notley wants to talk about workers, let's do that.

Let's talk about the job losses and economic impact on some of the world's most oppressed and poorest workers as Peter Poschen did in Decent Work, Green Jobs and the Sustainable Economy:

Already, there is growing evidence of the dramatic effects that severe weather that may be linked to global warming can have on economies and societies. As climate change continues to alter weather patterns, unpredictable weather conditions remain the most significant factor causing volatility in the price of agricultural products. High prices for maize and soybean following drought in the United States in 2012 illustrate the nature and the scale of the problem.
The number of people suffering from malnutrition and hunger stands at 805 million worldwide, of whom 791 million are in developing countries. The food price increases in 2008 pushed more than 105 million people into poverty and triggered food riots in a number of countries.
There are also direct losses of jobs and incomes. For example, as a result of Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005, New Orleans lost some 40,000 jobs; the hardest hit were women, mostly African American. Cyclone Sidr in 2007 disrupted several hundred thousand small businesses and adversely affected 567,000 jobs in Bangladesh; the estimated value of non-agricultural private assets fell by some $25 million.
In both cases, poorer households were more exposed because they live in more vulnerable areas and have fewer resources to enhance resilience to climate change.
Climate change is likely to have a particularly marked effect in magnifying existing patterns of gender disadvantage. Worldwide, women have less access than men to financial, institutional and other resources that would enhance their capacity to adapt to climate change, including access to land, credit, agricultural inputs, decision-making bodies, technology and training services.
In many countries, droughts, floods and deforestation increase the burden of unpaid work on girls and women, leaving them less time for education or earning an income. The situation is even worse for women attempting to recover from environmental disasters.   

Let's talk about lost productivity due to climate change as the Union of Concerned Scientists did when it noted that:
Disruptions in daily life related to climate change can mean lost work and school days and harm trade, transportation, agriculture, fisheries, energy production, and tourism. Severe rainfall events and snowstorms can delay planting and harvesting, cause power outages, snarl traffic, delay air travel, and otherwise make it difficult for people to go about their daily business. Climate-related health risks also reduce productivity, such as when extreme heat curtails construction, or when more potent allergies and more air pollution lead to lost work and school days.
Let's talk about the fact that:
Global warming will cost the world economy more than £1.5 trillion a year in lost productivity by 2030 as it becomes too hot to work in many jobs, according to a major new report.
In just 14 years' time in India, where some jobs are already shared by two people to allow regular breaks from the heat, the bill will be £340bn a year.
China is predicted to experience similar losses, while other countries among the worst affected include Indonesia (£188bn), Malaysia (£188bn) and Thailand (£113bn).
Let's talk about the reality that, as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the US noted, "workers are vulnerable to health impacts" due to climate change as:
In addition to the threats that all Americans face, many workers may experience longer or more intense exposures to climate change–related hazards than the general public, making them particularly vulnerable to the health impacts. Watch the news during an extreme weather event, or wildfire, and you will see rescue and response workers moving toward the most hazardous locations at the same time the general public is being evacuated. We saw this most recently, at the time of this writing, with responders rescuing people stranded by rising water in their homes and cars during the terrible floods in Houston. Picture agriculture or construction workers during periods of extreme heat. They may have little control over the location or timing of their work tasks, potentially placing them at higher risk of heat related–illness or injury than people who are free to seek shade at any time. Think also of the working conditions in warehouses and factories without climate control as the area of the country affected by high temperatures continues to expand, or of the maintenance worker in Alaska who finds that higher than usual temperatures mean the ice on the frozen river he usually drives his pick-up truck across isn’t as strong as he thought.
 NIOSH also noted:
A number of both indoor and outdoor worker populations may be particularly vulnerable to climate variations. Examples include: emergency responders, health care workers, fire fighters, utility workers, farmers, manufacturing workers and transportation workers. Climate conditions can amplify existing health and safety issues and could lead to new unanticipated hazards. Workers may also be exposed to weather and climate conditions that the general public can elect to avoid. For worker populations such as migrant workers and day laborers who may have inadequate housing or other social and economic constraints, the adverse health effects of exposure to climate-related hazards in the workplace could be exacerbated by exposure to similar hazards in the home.
Let's talk, as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did about the "Impacts on Economic Activities and Services", that notes wide-ranging impacts on industries and workers (especially agricultural) that equally apply in Canada and globally:

  • Communities that developed around the production of different agricultural crops, such as corn, wheat, or cotton, depend on the climate to support their way of life. Climate change will likely cause the ideal climate for these crops to shift northward. Combined with decreasing rural populations, as in the Great Plains, a changing climate may fundamentally change many of these communities. Certain agricultural products, such as maple syrup and cranberries in the Northeast and grapes for wine in California, may decline dramatically in the U.S.. These crops would then have to be imported.
  • Climate change will also likely affect tourism and recreational activities. A warming climate and changes in precipitation patterns will likely decrease the number of days when recreational snow activities such as skiing and snowmobiling can take place. In the Southwest and Mountain West, an increasing number of wildfires could affect hiking and recreation in parks. Beaches could suffer erosion due to sea level rise and storm surge. Changes in the migration patterns of fish and animals would affect fishing and hunting. Communities that support themselves through these recreational activities would feel economic impacts as tourism patterns begin to change.
  • Climate change may make it harder and more expensive for many people to insure their homes, businesses, or other valuable assets in risk-prone areas, or preclude them from insurance altogether. Insurance is one of the primary mechanisms used to protect people and communities against weather-related disasters. We rely on insurance to protect investments in real estate, agriculture, transportation, and utility infrastructure by distributing costs across society and build resilience. Climate change is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts, and floods. These changes are likely to increase losses to property and crops, and cause costly disruptions to society. Escalating losses have already affected the availability and affordability of insurance in vulnerable areas.
The EPA also talks about the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples:

Climate change can impact the health and well-being of indigenous tribes in many ways. Climate change will make it harder for tribes to access safe and nutritious food, including traditional foods important to many tribes’ cultural practices. Many tribes already lack access to safe drinking water and wastewater treatment in their communities. Climate change is expected to increase health risks associated with water quality problems like contamination and may reduce availability of water, particularly during droughts.
By affecting the environment and natural resources of tribal communities, climate change also threatens the cultural identities of Indigenous people. As plants and animals used in traditional practices or sacred ceremonies become less available, tribal culture and ways of life can be greatly affected.  

Let's talk about the impact of climate change on fisheries and all the workers in the fishing industry -- of which there are many in Canada, communities of workers that matter every bit as much as those in Alberta -- where, as Emily Logan of the WWF noted:
Our oceans absorb an enormous amount of human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide- approximately 30%- and without that, the planet would be warming at a much faster rate. But the growing carbon input has raised the oceans’ pH to 8.1, a 25% increase in acidity over the last 200 years. That makes it hard for many creatures, especially shellfish, to survive.
Warmer waters themselves also have an impact. In 2003, Scotland's hottest year on record, hundreds of adult salmon died as rivers became too warm for them to be able to extract enough oxygen from the water.
Last winter, amid near record-breaking temperatures, sunfish and thresher sharks, more common to Baja California, were found in Alaska’s seas. As fish change their migration patterns due to climate, they could affect not only the communities they leave who depend on them for livelihoods, but also their new homes as they disrupt the ecosystem and local fisheries.
Again, the impact is very pronounced on communities in places like West Africa that can least afford it thanks to factors like coastal erosion caused by climate change. A World Bank report noted that:
The economic and social impact of coastal erosion was strongly evident on our trip. About 13 million people who live in cities and villages in the coastal areas between Mauritania and Gabon have been affected by coastal erosion and flooding in the past 17 years. Their livelihoods are wrapped up in everything along the coast -- from farming, to fishing and marine industries to tourism, agro-industries and off-shore oil. Country investment in public infrastructure along the coast can be risky and the benefits short-lived. For example, one piece of the Abidjan-Lagos highway in Togo – a vital artery for economic development and integration in West Africa - has already been rebuilt twice – every time further inland. Hotels and entire fishing villages have been swallowed up by encroaching waters, imposing high costs on both the state, communities and individuals. At the current rate of erosion, there is also little appetite to invest in tourism infrastructure. 
 We could go on and on and on. We could also talk more narrowly about the impacts of climate change on workers in communities like Fort McMurray due to the wildfire and elsewhere across Canada in countless ways, though it is important to reflect the implications globally as we have here. Any "progressive" or "social democratic" party or government that wants to talk about jobs within a sector whose environmental outcomes are both staggering and global without acknowledging those outcomes on workers beyond its borders is not one that deserves support.

And that is the inconvenient truth that progressives who support or apologize for the terrible pandering of Notley and her adoption of truly vile rightist, anti-environmentalist propaganda and framing cannot afford to admit. When a politician talks about "workers" and ignores the interests of millions of them in Canada and hundreds of millions of them worldwide they are engaging in a deception that will, indeed, by applauded by big business and right-wing talking heads.

But they are also putting the lie to their pretensions to care about climate change and its demonstrable and terrible effects. It is impossible for Canada to take "action on climate change" without ultimately shutting down the tar sands and its pipelines and that is simply science fact.

A politician that does not understand that or accept that does not actually care in any meaningful way about fighting climate change. They are no more committed to it than the Republicans in the US.

So here is the thing, Rachel Notley: Climate change is already, right now, destroying millions of workers jobs and lives around the world. Climate change driven by fossil fuels and the tar sands. This is easily proven and is a scientific fact.

So please, smarten up.

See also: When it comes to opportunistic hypocrisy on the environment, Rachel Notley is right up there with Trudeau

See also: NDP Minister Brian Mason and Libertarian Party Leader Tim Moen agree! Jane Fonda is the problem, not climate change

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