By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.
December 10, 2019
Let's end 2019 with an existential downer. Climate Change Is Accelerating, Bringing World 'Dangerously Close' to Irreversible Change 1 was an alarming, but no longer shocking, New York Times front page headline on December 4. Don't blame the headline writer for the alarm, the column's content was just as bad. I've been immersed in climate change developments since Sallan opened its doors 15 years ago and have paid attention to climate change since hearing a James Hansen talk in the 1990's. Until recently, both climate science and media coverage, spotty though such coverage could be, told us the impacts of climate change would start rolling in mid-century, with 2100 as the time when the oppressive weight of these impacts were predicted to be felt. But all that's changed. Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the UN World Meteorological Organization has bad tidings. Things are already getting worse. The climate crisis is upon us. Now.
Fossil fuel companies and electric utilities have long used their political clout to deny, delay or dilute public action on climate change when it was a late 20th century problem but not yet a clear and present danger. In the second decade of the 21st century, the focus of attention is expanding to the culpability of investment and insurance sectors without whose support, the fossil fuel energy economy would not dominate and endure. Since I wrote about the need to better understand the role of the financial sector in my last column, We're In The Money?, I've been on the lookout for related material so Sustainable Finance's Biggest Problems by the People Who Know Best 2 grabbed my attention. Politely put, this feature story pointed a finger at the industry's greenwashing practices. Less politely, it made for a kiss-and-tell piece filled with quotes like for investment banks, "These (sustainability) commitments are just nonsense." You get the idea. The takeaway from "Biggest Problems" is there's simply no leverage to demand accountability.
Where are the sharpest tools to be forged for demanding accountability? On the street with Sunrise Movement demonstrators? High profile Presidential campaigns where vowing commitment to a Green New Deal, in some shape or form, can get media attention and climate-centered televised candidate debates? A refocused US labor movement? Sustainable finance and regulators with guts and where metrics matter? Federal elections? State elections? Local Elections? All of the above? None of the above?
I leave to others the work of doing deep dives into what Ocasio-Cortez, Markey, or for that matter Presidential candidates Biden, Sanders or Warren are stating, implying or inferring when they embrace a Green New Deal and if that's the best or only path to achieving climate security for all. For a politically progressive accounting, The American Prospect devotes its December 2019 issue to the Green New Deal. 3 Robert Kuttner introduces this theme with a call to create the political leadership needed to advance the demand for accountability "As we demonstrate in this special report, the needed technologies and strategies exist. The challenge is rallying a national commitment to pursue them. Leadership has to begin in the U.S., because we are both the worst climate offender as well as the one nation capable of spearheading a global reversal." In short, for Kuttner it's the politics, stupid. We will see soon enough if the 2020 elections can bring about a climate regime change in the US.
Elections get won or lost for myriad reasons and the ways political influence is wielded is rarely transparent. When it comes to climate legislation and policy making — the fossil fuel, utility and auto industries in concert with the elected officials who protect their interests — the historic record is clear. As well, this carbon-coalition has not always acted alone. While the role of organized labor in the US elections and law-making is much diminished since its salad days in the mid 20th Century, union opposition to environmental and climate legislation is well known + that still carries clout. Organized labor hasn't shunned capital's carbon-coalition to join the ranks of climate activists. Not quite yet. If this reflects a gap between union leadership and a greener rank and file, it's time for the rank and file to demand accountability. Trade union member Ryan Pollock recently wrote 4:
The building trades have often been one of the more reactionary elements of organized labor in the United States. Even as a tradesman myself — an inside wireman with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) — I had my own doubts about how much support for the Green New Deal (GND) could be garnered from the building trades.
My recent experience at the 60th Annual Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention shattered that understanding.
By now, you've noticed a theme in my 2019 wrap-up. As we hurtle into 2020, let's acknowledge the urgent need for deep, durable and just climate action. Let's agree it requires us — as voters, opinion shapers and policy makers, as owners, investors and workers, whatever our collar-color, and as families, neighbors and bequeathers of Planet Earth to future generations — to demand accountability in confronting our climate crisis.
- Fountain, Henry. "Climate Change Is Accelerating: 'Things Are Getting Worse'." The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Dec. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/04/climate/climate-change-acceleration.html. ↩
- Avery, Helen. "Sustainable Finance's Biggest Problems, by the People Who Know Best." Euromoney, Soledad Contreras, 3 Dec. 2019, https://www.euromoney.com/article/b1j97rjr74vd00/sustainable-finances-biggest-problems-by-the-people-who-know-best. ↩
- "Green New Deal Issue." The American Prospect, The American Prospect, Inc., Dec. 2019, https://prospect.org/greennewdeal. ↩
- “Pollock, Ryan. "The Case for an Ecosocialist Rank & File Strategy in the Building Trades." THE TROUBLE., 28 Nov. 2019, https://www.the-trouble.com/content/2019/11/28/the-case-for-an-ecosocialist-rank-amp-file-strategy-in-the-building-trades ” ↩