Honoring Gabrielle Giffords by Embracing the Green Economy

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

(By Josh Marks, cross-posted at Green Forward)

When it comes to the green economy, sometimes it seems like the United States of America is stuck in neutral while the rest of the world is fully charged up and racing ahead at warp speed.

Take electric vehicles as an example pulled from recent headlines. The Chevy Volt, General Motors’ new plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, recently became a political punching bag on Capitol Hill by a Republican-led Oversight Committee on a witch hunt against any project related to the Obama administration. Before it was Solyndra and solar energy, now it is the Volt and electric vehicles.

Lack of political will from Republican lawmakers in Congress is really the only thing that is holding back the United States of America from leading the “next industrial revolution”—the clean energy economy that is already rapidly transforming countries like Germany, China, Brazil, Canada and other governments that get it when it comes to giving the market signals with cap and trade programs and taxes on carbon. The fossil fuel industry seems to have the Republicans on too tight a leash for them to make decisions on behalf of the American people and the future of this great country.

Perhaps Gabrielle Giffords can provide some inspiration and convince at least some of the Republican lawmakers in Congress (the Obama administration and most Democrats are already onboard the high-speed clean energy train) that they must break the shackles of the oil, gas and coal industries and begin to embrace renewable power sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, biomass, biofuel, tidal and wave.

Giffords is a big advocate for solar energy because her home state of Arizona is blessed by the sun. She has supported clean energy legislation as well as ending oil industry subsidies and redirecting that money into clean energy research.

When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) read Giffords’ letter of resignation on the House floor on January 25, she said the following:

“In public service, I found a venue for the pursuit of a stronger America by ensuring the safety and security of all Americans by producing clean energy here at home instead of importing oil from abroad.”

Here is video of the entire speech.

Weekend Reading List

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

For this weekend’s reading list we have the story of almost certainly innocent death row inmate Troy Davis, the contrast between the fundamentalist Republicans and the pragmatic President Obama, the waste of taxpayer money that is government use of private contractors over federal employees, why the Solyndra “scandal” is nothing of the sort, and how recklessness and a lack of oversight led to the BP oil spill.

If you have any feedback on these articles, or would like to recommend an article for next weekend’s reading list, please let us know at Winning Progressive’s Facebook page

Explaining the Death Penalty to My Children – the writer tries to explain why Georgia is preparing to execute Troy Davis next week for a murder that he almost certainly did not commit.   Mr. Davis’ execution is scheduled for Wednesday, September 21.  If you want to help prevent him from being executed, click here to send a letter to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, or call the Board directly at (404) 656-5651.

Republicanism as Religion – Andrew Sullivan writes about the 2012 elections are a show down between the GOP’s blind ideological purism that rivals that of the most fundamentalist religions and President Obama’s approach that is based in pragmatism, civility, and reason.

Bad Business: Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Wasted on Hiring Contractors – a report from the Project on Government Oversight about how billions of dollars of taxpayer money is being wasted by increasing use of private contractors in place of federal government employees.

Green Jobs Stimulus: Why Solyndra’s Loan Guarantees Were in the Stimulus Bill - an explanation for why the federal Department of Energy loan guarantees to now-bankrupt solar company Solyndra were not, contrary to the GOP’s attempts to gin up another fake controversy, a sign of corruption.  Instead, they were part of a sensible stimulus program.

What Happened at the Macondo Well? – a review of four books regarding how reckless profiteering and lack of oversight allowed the BP oil disaster to occur, and as to whether we will learn from the experience.

Exiting the Economic Crisis With Sustainable Jobs

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

(By NCrissieB)

Most progressives and many Americans agree that we must move toward a more sustainable society. Where does labor fit in that picture?

What is “sustainability?”

Progressive discussions of sustainability often focus on environmental issues, and those are important. But the authors of Exiting the Crisis broaden that concept in important ways. In the chapter’s opening essay, German economist Sigurt Vitols discusses concept of a “sustainable company,” with a focus on corporate governance and escaping the short-term, finance-driven thinking that often ignores the experiences and needs of workers. British Trades Union Congress senior policy advisor Tim Page writes about sustainability through the lens of national industrial policy, and how to avoid a “race to the bottom.” French economist Sébastien Dupuch addresses the importance of public services in achieving fair and sustainable growth. Only after that all groundwork is laid do Anabella Rosemberg and Lora Verheecke of the International Trade Union Confederation and finally Hungarian economist Béla Galgóczi of the European Trade Union Institute move specifically to environmental and “green jobs” issues.

While it frustrated me on first reading, I think the wandering path of that chapter is important if we are to understand and bridge the gap between organized labor and the environmental movement. It’s easy to say “We need to go green,” and it’s true that both the U.S. and other economies must develop a new worldview that recognizes climate change, pollution, and other environmental imperatives.

But consider that a 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau (Excel spreadsheet) showed 107,000 Americans working in oil and gas extraction, 205,000 miners (including 82,000 in coal mines), 316,500 working in support activities for those industries, 73,000 in fossil fuel electrical power generation, 85,000 in natural gas distribution, 157,000 in oil and gas pipeline and related construction, and 104,000 in petroleum and coal products manufacturing. That’s already over 1 million “non-green” jobs in the U.S., and I didn’t get to people who build automobiles, trucks, and other fossil fuel-powered vehicles. Galgóczi notes that over 2.5 million Europeans work in automobile manufacturing, and only about 10% of those jobs are arguably “green,” i.e.: manufacturing of fuel-efficient, low-pollution, low-emission vehicles. I also didn’t factor in retail and service businesses who rely on those “non-green” workers.

What are “sustainable jobs?”

Now consider when and where organized labor emerged in the U.S. and, equally important, when organized labor stopped growing. Labor’s growth corresponds with the expansion of “non-green” industries, and labor unions began to shrink just as we began the shift toward an information society. Thus, an American union worker is far more likely to have a “non-green” than a “green” job.

The shift toward an information society also coincided with the rise of precarious work: temporary, part-time, and/or contracted, with little or no job security and often low wages. This trend was worldwide, and has hit women especially hard. Many precarious workers are not hired by their ultimate employers, but instead work for or through contract agencies. In many countries, including the U.S., such employees must negotiate with the contract agency, the ultimate employer, and any existing union at the ultimate employer in order to form or join a union. In practical terms, that makes it all but impossible for precarious workers to organize.

That is the broader context within which organized labor groups consider “sustainability.” That begins at the individual employer-employee level: how sustainable is that job with that company, and Sigurt Vitols argues the key issue there is a transition from the traditional shareholder model of corporate governance. The International Chamber of Commerce offers an excellent nutshell comparison of shareholder and stakeholder models. The key, from a labor perspective, is recognizing that the worker who went to school or apprenticed for a job and has spent several years working with a company may have a greater stakeholder interest in that company than an investor who bought a few hundred shares based on a stock tip. But only the investor gets a vote in corporate governance under the shareholder model.

But over the short term, the different interests and goals of stakeholder-governed firms make it hard to compete with shareholder-governance. Thus Tim Page writes on the need for national policies to encourage more “patient” capital investment. Other authors advocated a financial transactions tax, both to regulate financial markets by discouraging fast-paced speculation and to curb the financial sector’s growing share of the overall economy. That and other policies would make stakeholder-governed firms more competitive and sustainable.

Sébastien Dupuch emphasizes a need for public services. This includes building and maintaining ‘hard’ infrastructure, as well as ‘soft’ infrastructure such as education, health care, and scientific research. These often require economies of scale to be affordable, and Dupuch argues that these should only be privatized when “there is clear evidence that competition would be both genuine and beneficial.”

A new paradigm

Anabella Rosemberg and Lora Verheecke then discuss the new economic paradigm that will be needed to address issues like climate change. They review the arguments in favor of “green growth” – a growth-based economy focused on environmental issues – and note several significant problems in that approach. Price incentives do not always push investors and consumers toward earth-friendly businesses, such shifts are largely limited to developed countries. In the developing world, urgent needs for basic goods and services at the lowest possible prices often trump environmental concerns. Rosemberg and Verheecke also discuss alternatives such as prosperity without growth and greenhouse development rights, which seek to ensure developing economies are not sentenced to perpetual poverty as we address climate change.

We must weigh all of these concerns, Béla Galgóczi concludes, when we talk about a “green transition.” While that transition will create “green jobs,” it will also destroy many “non-green” jobs. As progressives, we must ensure the burden of that transition is not borne entirely by the (often union) workers in those “non-green” jobs. And we must ensure that unions can organize in those “green jobs,” to ensure those become sustainable and not precarious labor.

Environmental progressives who ignore these issues risk alienating labor progressives, and vice versa. To build a more effective progressive coalition – in the U.S. and worldwide – we must avoid wishful thinking and work through the difficult challenges to sustain both workers and the environment. People matter more than profits, and each person matters equally. The earth is our home, not our trash can. And we will need good government to make those happen.

To get that, we’ll need solidarity.

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (BPICampus.com))