Since UE’s convention in 2015, the climate change crisis continued to worsen. July 2017 marked the 41st consecutive July and the 391st consecutive month with temperatures at least nominally above the 20th-century average. The earth’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and human-made emissions. Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001.
The science is unquestionable: 97 percent of peer-reviewed scientific literature affirms that human activity is causing global warming. Global warming is causing stronger storms, more flooding, longer heat waves, crop damage, and sea level rise. Up to 600 million people could become “climate refugees” because their current communities become uninhabitable by 2050.
The United Nation’s Paris climate agreement was adopted in 2015 and signed by 195 countries, including the U.S. The agreement aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius through curbing greenhouse gas emissions and advancing sustainable development.
One of Donald Trump’s first acts as president was to denounce and pull out of the Paris Climate Accords, jeopardizing the future of our planet. He has filled his cabinet with climate-change deniers. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt has already moved to block more than 30 environmental rules, a regulatory rollback larger than any in the EPA’s history. The Secretary of State is the former CEO of ExxonMobil, the largest fossil fuel company in the U.S.
Energy profiteers have been proposing and building new pipelines for fracked gas, such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) being built by Duke Energy, Dominion Resources and Piedmont Natural Gas through West Virginia, Virginia and eastern North Carolina. The growing use of fracked gas is deepening climate impacts due to leakage and intentional venting of natural gas from drilling sites, pipelines and even gas power plants. Pipelines have extensive health and safety impacts on communities in their path, which tend to be African American, Native American and low income communities. Landowners in pipeline corridors who depend on their land for retirement security or for agricultural uses may lose land value, forest, control of land use, and productivity while still having to pay taxes on it.
UE rejects the false choice between jobs and the environment. Destruction of jobs and threats to our planet have a common cause: corporate desire to privatize profits and socialize costs. Environmental destruction disproportionately affects the poor, working class, communities of color, and indigenous people. UE has long called for public ownership of the energy industry to prevent racketeering and price-gouging. It is now clear that this step is also necessary for the survival of the human race.
Transitioning away from fossil fuels is not about people losing good paying union jobs — the majority of jobs in coal mining and in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” to yield natural gas are non-union. It is about creating better, safer jobs. Basing our nation’s economy on energy efficiency and sustainable energy not only protects our planet, but has the potential to create millions of well-paying jobs, in industries that many UE members already work in.
UE has been a leader in bringing a labor voice to struggles for environmental justice. Over the last two years UE members and leaders have attended the Paris Summit for the Climate Change Accords and numerous immersion classes and educational sessions on climate change and the trade union response to it sponsored by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED). UE signed on to a letter of a coalition of U.S. labor unions denouncing the Dakota Access Pipeline and supporting the sovereignty and rights of the Standing Rock Tribal Council to stop its construction. Bringing the voice of workers and UE members to environmental issues is necessary not only to protect our economic interests, but also to develop creative solutions that can stop global warming and preserve the environment.
UE fully supports the concept of a “just transition,” whereby workers and their communities don’t bear the burden of the transition from a fossil-fuel-based economy to one based on renewable energy and where workers continue to receive pay and benefits, during their transition and in their new renewable energy job, substantially equal to what they made in their previous job. Additionally, a just restructuring of our economy should allow workers to more easily form unions. A just transition would create opportunities for displaced workers and their communities to participate in the new economic order through substantial compensation for layoffs, loss of tax base, and other negative effects.
The energy profiteers want a world where both labor and environmental standards are in a race to the bottom. If they get their way, we get poverty and a poisoned planet. To defeat them and ensure the right of all people to live, work, and play in safe, healthy, and clean environments, we need to form stronger alliances between trade unions, communities, and the environmental movement.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 75th UE CONVENTION:
- Encourages the union at all levels to educate members about climate change and creative solutions that reduce carbon output while creating good union jobs;
- Encourages the union at all levels to educate our members about environmental justice struggles, including the struggle of UE Local 150 members and Butner, NC residents for clean and safe drinking water in their community and workplace, as well as communities in West Virginia and eastern North Carolina threatened by pipeline projects in their areas;
- Actively urges the environmental movement to incorporate just transition into their platforms, and to push for solutions that curb the power of corporations rather than create market incentives;
- Demands that all environmental policies, including those targeting climate change, incorporate just transition for workers and communities affected;
- Seeks renewable alternatives to environmentally-destructive methods of energy production and distribution;
- Supports legislation mandating massive investments by state and federal governments and U.S. businesses to convert to a clean-energy economy and create millions of good jobs in the process;
- Supports UE’s active participation in worker-oriented efforts to address climate change such as Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), Labor Network for Sustainability, the Blue-Green Alliance, and the Just Transition Alliance;
- Reaffirms the solution UE proposed to the energy crisis in the 1970s: public ownership of the energy industry in order to end price gouging and preserve our environment;
- Supports the continuing efforts of the UE to build alliances with environmental and community organizations and in developing organizing strategies for renewable energy workers;
- Supports the current ban on oil and gas exploration and drilling off the Atlantic coast;
- Calls for a moratorium on the construction of any additional nuclear power plants.