2020 exposed many areas in our supply chain where resources were finite, and showed us what could happen should we start to run low on any such resource.
We saw it with masks, Boba for tea, toilet paper, bicycles…
And gas, oil, and coal.
Two of the biggest problems facing our commitment to green energy – whether you support the Green New Deal in its current presentation or not – have been how to manage enormous industrial travel, and what to do about the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on transforming energy the world doesn’t want anymore.
Those jobs have worsened in their guarantees, and the people who work them have given their lives and bodies in service of our energy.
They can’t be left behind.
And any system we adopt moving forward which leaves people behind will end in a wider wealth gap and more devastation for communities that have already suffered immensely.
So in the last several weeks, a few important things have happened which point to a reconciliation of values and commitment to doing good work together in the future.
The first is that the largest miner’s union in the U.S., the United Mine Workers of America, agreed to support President Biden’s plan to begin an energy transition away from fossil fuels, promising jobs in clean energy to former fossil fuel energy workers.
Let’s tease apart the details.
There’s a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan in the works, and it’s pretty ambitious.
Framed as “The American Jobs Plan” ostensibly seeks to switch the track the country was on before the pandemic. As the plan itself states,
“Our roads, bridges, and water systems are crumbling. Our electric grid is vulnerable to catastrophic outages. Too many lack access to affordable, high-speed Internet and to quality housing. The past year has… erod[ed] more than 30 years of progress in women’s labor force participation. It has unmasked the fragility of our caregiving infrastructure. And, our nation is falling behind its biggest competitors on research and development (R&D), manufacturing, and training.”
But we won’t get too far into the weeds on all of the details of this plan. What’s important right now is the feature it borrowed from the Green New Deal: justice, training, and equitable transition for energy workers into the clean energy economy.
Congress is currently debating the bill… and as that’s happening, Senator Manchin, from West Virginia, endorsed it and stood with the miner’s union in supporting their demands.
Essentially, the union wants coal workers:
- Get significant tax incentives for building clean energy infrastructure
- Be preferred when hiring green energy workers, especially as they’re dislocated during the transition
- Receive full funding for programs that will plug old oil and gas wells and clean mines
- And continue to receive funding for carbon capturing.
All seem like demands that will be possible to meet.
This is a contentious conversation, but not because America has never experienced a national transitioning.
On the contrary, nearly every generation during the last 250 years has seen an enormous transition in which all sectors have had to bend and reshape themselves.
The United Mine Workers of America recognizes that, and wants this transition to be equitable.
But that’s not all that’s been happening.
The Virtual Climate Summit
More than 40 heads of state and leaders in the business world met a couple of weeks ago and Biden’s virtual climate summit.
Some pledges were renewed, some strengthened, and some introduced to curb emissions globally.
Biden, for example, doubled down on Obama’s previous promise to reach a 25% emissions cut (from 2005 levels) by 2025, setting a goal instead of a 50-52% decrease by 2030. Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, promised a 40-45% cut (from 2005 levels) by 2030.
Japan agreed to reach 46% lower than its 2013 emissions levels by 2030.
South Korea will end all financing for new coal projects moving forward.
Even Bolsonaro swore to end illegal deforestation by 2030, a major contributor to the Amazon rainforest fires of last spring.
China and India made no new pledges, but reaffirmed their previous promises to limit coal consumption over the next five years; India and the U.S. announced a new climate partnership.
All of the above reasserted its commitments to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Green advocates (like me), members of frontline communities, energy sector workers, and citizens of the world alike know that their work isn’t over.
But it is essential that we stay informed and engaged in what kind of world those who represent us plan to create, and how they aim to repair the damage we’ve done.