Sunday, February 4, 2007

February 4 Week In Review

Week In Review
February 4, 2007
by Bill Onasch

Will the (Inconvenient)Truth Set Us Free?
We’re running out of time and excuses. There’s no longer any rational basis for doubt that Global Warming is destroying the planet as we know it–and that human activity is chiefly responsible. The UN interim report on climate released this week eliminates wiggle room. As one environmentalist summed it up,

“This is the smoking gun. You now have them saying the evidence seems incontrovertible, and we are 90 percent certain. That is as certain as science ever gets.”

The question now shifts from “are we causing Global Warming?”to “can we do anything to stop it?”

Some damage is irreparable. Extinct animal and plant species are gone for good. The glaciers and arctic pack ice already melted are not coming back anytime soon. Some islands and coastal deltas are now doomed to sinking below sea level.

The report estimates that if carbon emissions were frozen at today’s level the planet’s temperature would still rise at least a full degree centigrade by the beginning of the next century. That would produce very unwelcome regional climate change. But the way industrialization and agribusiness farming methods are spreading emissions will go up--driving temperatures even higher. To see some projected scenarios of even greater increase click here.

Most scientists think we have not yet reached the “tipping point”–where we would be unable to make any meaningful change in the outcome of what has been set in motion. But we’re close to that point. Car pooling and recycling are not going to turn this around. Even capping emissions at present levels is not good enough. Urgent, far reaching changes in economic activity to reduce carbon emissions is the only way we can save the day.

If the Vulcans were watching us they would undoubtedly conclude that action on this planetary crisis would be the logical first point on everyone’s agenda. But Spock’s people never understood the dynamics of market capitalism and, anyway, the Prime Directive forbids them from helping us out.

Those that run the industries and governments that have created this environmental catastrophe don’t personally want to see destruction of our world any more than the rest of us. It is an unintended consequence of their actions. But they are guided by the market laws of what they have euphemized as Free Enterprise. Their goal has to be getting the maximum profit possible from capital investment, often in competition with others, and in conflict with their employees. Next quarter’s bottom line trumps next century’s global temperature every time.

No oil company is going to shut down their oil fields as a voluntary contribution to reducing CO2 emissions. No auto corporation is going to cease car production and urge everybody to take mass transit to slash greenhouse gasses. No building contractor will declare a moratorium on suburban expansion in order to reduce Urban Sprawl and rebuild a green urban core. Any who did take such unlikely steps would simply vanish from the scene, and their market share would be eagerly gobbled up by competitors.

If we can’t count on initiatives from those who currently run the show, whose profit and privilege is tied to the system that created Global Warming, then who can we expect to step up to the plate? Well, welcome to the Major Leagues–it’s working class folks like you and me, along with the family farmers, the youth who both want to understand and change the world, scientists and the “Tree Hugger” environmentalists. It’s going to be up to us, and us alone, to literally save the world as we know it.

For too long our labor movement demonstrated fear and hostility toward those raising environmental concerns. Too many bought the plea of their bosses to support their polluting ways in order to preserve jobs. Some even tied in to truly junk science scams, partnering up with employers in projects such as Unions for Jobs and the Environment.

But, as the truth seeps through the propaganda smog paid for by the polluters, attitudes have begun to shift. There have been modest efforts, such as the strategic partnership between the Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, and the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, working on wildlife conservation issues. A mainstream North American Labor Assembly on Climate Crisis has been scheduled by Cornell University in New York in May.

An even more inspiring example was the recent Labor & Sustainability Conference in St Paul. There union leaders and activists teamed up with environmental leaders and activists to present a wide ranging examination of the problem and a look at some bold solutions. Out of the gathering a Continuations Committee has been established to keep the process going.

(I made a presentation at the conference opening plenary, Labor and Environmental Movements Are Natural Allies. We’ve also revamped our Environment page on the KC Labor site.)

Such small first steps are part of every journey. But this march will be particularly arduous and crucial. Global Warming needs to be a regular, priority part of the agenda of our unions--and our Labor Party that pioneered the concept of Just Transition to protect our jobs as we reorganize our production and consumption.

More On the Danbury 11
The case of 11 immigrant workers being arrested in a sting offer of day labor work continues to build solidarity in the community as reported in this TV news video clip. You can find out more of the story at the Stop the Raids web site.

Our ‘Friends’ In the Senate
Less energetic than their House colleagues, who promised great change in the first 100 Hours, the new Democrat controlled Senate has so far produced more candidates for President than major pieces of legislation. Nevertheless, labor’s friends, including two “independents,” one a “socialist,” did cook up a couple of deals last week.

It appears they will make common cause with about ten Republicans to pass a nonbinding resolution criticizing the escalation of the war in Iraq while at the same time promising full funding for the war.

Also, by a 94-3 vote, the upper chamber attached employer tax breaks to the first increase in the minimum wage in a decade–shooting it up to the princely sum of 7.25 an hour in phases over two years.

Let Them Eat Wonder Bread
The AP reported from Mexico City, “Some 75,000 unionists, farmers and leftists marched to protest price increases in basic foodstuffs like tortillas, a direct challenge to the new president's market-oriented economic policies blamed by some for widening the gulf between rich and poor.” Of course, the push for ethanol production has driven up the price of U.S. corn that Mexico has come to depend on since NAFTA devastated Mexican corn production.

Looking for Brotherly Love
I’ll be traveling to Philadelphia later this week to attend a meeting of the Labor Party Interim National Council–the equivalent of a national committee. I’ll have something to say about the gathering next week.

About That News
In a message to the KC Labor E-mail List I said, “I envision the Labor Advocate blog replacing the Daily Labor News Digest we have maintained for nearly seven years on KC Labor. Instead of wholesale posting of raw links to stories the plan is to be more selective in choosing fewer stories offered in context, with commentary.”

I was unprepared for the response from a number of you expressing disappointment, if not indignation, about the loss of the “news.” In the best spirit of compromise I will resume the Monday-Saturday posting of the Daily Labor News Digest after I return from Philadelphia, on Monday, February 12. I will also continue the new Labor Advocate blog with commentary on most days as well. Of course, all this is contingent on keeping the FrontPage 2003 software up and running. Right now it has resumed functioning as mysteriously as when it ceased.

That’s all for this week.

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