Thursday, March 6, 2008

Green Around the Gills

I always get kind of nervous when the House of Labor’s equivalent of the College of Cardinals–the AFL-CIO Executive Council–gathers, as they have this week in San Diego. Seldom does anything good come as a result of them putting their feet under the conference table–presumably first checked by Tom Buffenbarger to ensure none were shod in Birkenstock. After I read their new encyclical, Greening the Economy, I was a little green around the gills.

This looks like a boiler plate document circulated by the Chamber of Commerce. The federation comes down firmly on the side of:

Cap and Trade
The bosses love markets. The Kyoto Treaty–rejected by the Bush administration–established a commodity market for pollution. 1990 was set as a base line for pollution, along with a modest goal of 5.2 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2011. Polluters didn’t have to actually stop polluting. They could buy credits from companies and countries that don’t pollute as much. And they could and did, of course, also shift a lot of pollution to developing countries through offshoring of industrial production. Kevin Smith of Carbon Trade Watch summed up this scam well, “The problem lies in the fact that carbon trading is designed with the express purpose of providing an opportunity for rich countries to delay making costly, structural changes towards low-carbon technologies. This isn’t a malfunction of the market or an unexpected by-product: this is what the market was designed to do.”

More Coal and Nukes
The fed document says, “The federation supports the expansion of both IGCC coal plants with carbon capture and sequestration and new nuclear technology...” Both integrated gasification combined-cycle technology (IGCC), and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) are unproven, and somewhat dubious technologies aimed at cleaning up coal. Truly clean coal would be a wonderful thing. By all means research in this area should continue. But until the unlikely day comes of demonstration of viable science and economic feasibility for this dream at the very least there should be a moratorium on construction of any new coal fired plants. We don’t know what “new nuclear technology” the executive council has discovered. Even if catastrophes such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are avoided there is still no safeguard for protecting the planet from the radioactive waste that remains dangerous for centuries and there are still big environmental threats from the mining, processing, and transport of uranium–a nonrenewable resource.

For Biofuels
After devoting an entire sentence to expanding passenger rail and mass transit the document goes on to hail biofuels and “UAW supported CAFÉ [auto fuel consumption] standards.” Coincidently, the UAW standards are identical to those acceptable to the Big Three and other car makers in the USA. The jury is no longer out on AgriBusiness’s biofuel schemes. On balance, the drive for biofuels is more harmful to the environment than conventional reliance on petroleum fuels--and is driving up food and fiber costs around the globe to boot.

I guess the fact that our labor statespersons made time in their busy schedule to comment at all on the greatest crisis facing civilization in recorded history should be recognized as progress. To have expected any independent thinking about a working class response to the crisis would have been as delusional as counting on clean coal. Still, one always hopes.

More progress on this issue–and many others–is more likely at the
Rebuilding Labor’s Power conference, sponsored by Labor Notes, to be held next month in suburban Detroit.