Tag Archives: climate change

The Green New Deal and the Future of Work in America Conference

Last month, the Center for Work and Democracy at Arizona State University hosted a two-day conference titled The Green New Deal and the Future of Work in America. The conference was organized by Craig Calhoun (University Professor of Social Sciences, ASU) and Benjamin Fong (Lecturer, Barrett Honors College, ASU) and included a keynote address by Frances Fox Piven (Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center). The conference gathered leading scholars on labor, the environment, and social movements to “discuss the Green New Deal and its potential to both respond to the climate crisis and plot a path forward to a more just and fair nation.”

I interviewed Dr. Todd E. Vachon, a postdoctoral associate at Rutgers University in the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations and conference attendee, about what social movement scholars can take away from the conference. Todd is currently working on a book manuscript about the emerging movement of climate activists within the U.S. labor movement. The findings in the book are based on four years of participant observation with three labor-climate movement organizations and builds upon Todd’s 20+ years of participation in the labor movement as a carpenter, organizer, and a union leader. The manuscript, which explores the collective action framing processes around the contested concept of a “just transition” for workers, is currently under review at an academic press. He has also published research examining the environmental attitudes and behaviors of U.S. workers and the political-economic predictors of greenhouse gas emissions cross nationally.

What are a few of the “big ideas” you’re taking away from the conference? 

Well, for starters, the Green New Deal (GND) has inspired a new wave of organizing and movement building to confront the climate crisis. It’s not just a plan to address climate change though. It’s also a roadmap to a democracy revival movement. The shared understanding among most attendees of the conference was that merely electing the right president, while certainly a worthy goal, is not alone going to prevent climate catastrophe. Stopping the worst of climate change is going to require collective action. And that action is going to have to demand more than just greenhouse gas emissions reductions, it’s going to have to center social and economic justice for workers, Tribal communities, and people of color if it’s going to have any chance of succeeding. Anything less will pit workers against the environment and against frontline communities—as has so often been the case in the past—rather than uniting these groups in shared purpose against their common foes, the real purveyors of social, economic and environmental injustice.

Why should sociologists, and social movement scholars in particular, be interested in the topic of the conference? 

As with the original New Deal, a major reorientation of society like that envisioned by the GND is going to involve massive amounts of civic engagement and collective action at levels not seen in decades. Such periods of widespread and continuous social action typically invite experimentation and innovation on the part of activists. These periods also create a great opportunity for social science research to address questions related to social movement formation, tactical repertoire development and deployment, movement outcomes, and more. For example: how is it that people come to realize that their individual wellbeing is wrapped up in the collective wellbeing of everyone? Under what circumstances does this realization foster concerted action? How then are movement targets selected? How and when do climate movement organizations win or lose? And what types of coalitions are able to build the broad base of support required to successfully challenge the hegemony of the fossil fuel industry and it’s supporting neoliberal governing ideology?

The youth Climate Strikes and the direct actions by groups like Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement already represent a new wave in climate activism; one that embraces many of the demands of the environmental justice movement but also some demands of the mainstream environmental movement as well as the labor movement. This new wave of climate activism is inherently cross-class in nature. Activists are targeting states, producers, and consumers alike and are making demands that are simultaneously material, non-material, and cultural in nature. These developments challenge some long-held beliefs among scholars regarding the nature of movements, their targets, and their goals, and thus warrant new streams of research. Further, these events are unfolding in real time and provide a tremendous opportunity for qualitatively rich, empirically rigorous research that not only improves our understanding of social movements but may also contribute to saving humankind from its own worst tendencies.

Is there any work you came across at the conference that you think should be “required reading”? 

I think everyone who has not already done so should take 10 minutes and read H.Res 109, the Green New Deal resolution submitted to congress by Representative Ocasio-Cortez-Cortez and Senator Markey. Unlike previous proposals to address the climate crisis, this resolution explicitly acknowledges the social and economic disruptions that will ensue as a result of decarbonizing our economy and it lays out a broad vision for some of the ways we can create a sustainable society with justice and equity for all.

Beyond that, hearing Francis Fox Piven discuss some of the ways in which the climate movement might succeed or fail in its efforts to win a GND reminded me that it is never a bad time to re-read Poor People’s Movements. The crucial role that structural crises in social and economic institutions played in the formation of the movements studied in that book can offer much insight into our contemporary climate conundrum and the resulting movement growing to address it. Other required reading will be the edited volume based upon conference participants presentation which should be available sometime in 2020 or 2021.

Finally, I would also recommend that interested readers check out the websites for two movement organizations, the Labor Network for Sustainability and the Climate Justice Alliance, if they would like to learn more. These organizations both offer lots of insights from the perspectives of activists, scholars, and practitioners into the real challenges involved with forging durable alliances and building a movement for a climate safe and just society for workers and frontline communities.

You can learn more about the conference here and also watch the archived livestream on the conference’s Facebook page, facebook.com/GNDWork/.

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Youth for Climate Belgium: The narrative of an exceptional protest wave

By Ruud Wouters & Michiel De Vydt

All across the globe, youngsters are staging protest, demanding politicians to take the climate crisis seriously. What started with a lonely, striking Swedish schoolgirl giving an inspiring speech at the COP24 Climate Conference in Poland, quickly became an international movement and culminated in a global day of action on March 15th. On that single day, no less than 1.6 million people in more than 125 countries at 2000 different locations walked the streets and demanded better climate policies.

In this contribution, we focus on one of the more noteworthy national protest waves within this larger international cycle of protest. Our focus is on the case of Belgium, which—we believe—both in terms of mobilization and in terms of its subsequent public and political consequences, deserves to be on the radar of activists and scholars alike. Many elements of the protest wave we will describe in the following paragraphs resonate strongly with theories of social movements (political process, opportunity, framing, resource mobilization, etc). Here, however, we put the case up front and stick to a detailed description of the events that captivated Belgium between December 2018 and April 2019. What made so many youngsters skip school for so many weeks in a row? And what were the consequences of their protest actions? Continue reading

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Agriculture and Climate Change: Via Campesina and the Challenge to the Corporate Food System

By Pablo Lapegna

“Together we can cool the planet.” With this phrase (explained in an accessible 15-minute clip), the global social movement Via Campesina launched a campaign in 2015 to draw attention to the role of industrial or corporate agriculture in global warming and to advocate for solutions that promote agroecology and social justice.

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The Promise of Shareholder Activism?

Recently, ExxonMobile made headline news for agreeing to shareholder requests for greater transparency regarding risks associated with its fossil fuel assets and shale gas activities. In late March, the company agreed to publish information about the risks that stricter limits on carbon emissions would have for its current portfolio and for future development of its deep-water oil reserves. This was quickly followed by a move to address growing concerns over the environmental impacts of fracking. In a major turnaround, ExxonMobile agreed to report how it manages risks associated with fracking such as those related to air quality and the use of water and chemicals. These concessions are the result of sustained mobilization by shareholder organizations including Arjuna Capital, a wealth management firm that focuses on sustainability, and As You Sow, an advocacy group for social corporate responsibility. Similarly, the electrical company, FirstEnergy recently agreed to release information about the effects of changing climate policy on its business model. These events signal that corporate actors increasingly view shareholder activist organizations as legitimate claims makers. It also points to new directions for social movement research. Continue reading

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Can Grassroots Campagins Boost the Climate Movement?

Recently, an environmental youth summit called Power Shift was held in Pittsburgh, PA. The event is held every two years and brings together youth leaders and other activists to mobilize around issues related to clean energy and climate change. 7,000 people registered to attend the four-day summit, which entailed an environmental conference held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and direct actions (e.g., marches and other demonstrations) throughout the city.

The Energy Action Coalition (EAC) sponsors Power Shift. The EAC was founded in 2004 to build a youth clean energy and climate movement and is composed of 50 youth-led environmental and social justice groups from across the country. The EAC also maintains a professional staff located in Washington, D.C. where the first Power Shift conference was held in 2007. This conference drew over 5,000 attendees and subsequent summits, also held in the capital have garnered increasing numbers and high profile speakers such as Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Bill McKibben and Ralph Nader. Continue reading

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Will Climate Change Denial Inherit the Wind?

By Josh Rosenau

In 2012, 87 years after its first famous Monkey Law, Tennessee passed a law attacking evolution, labeling that foundation of modern biology “controversial” and purporting to grant public school teachers and students “academic freedom” to challenge it in class. Unlike 1925’s Butler Act, 2012’s Monkey Law broadened its scope beyond evolution, also sweeping in the similarly scientifically uncontroversial but socially contentious topic of climate change. Continue reading

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Five Myths about Science, Politics, and Social Movements

By Kelly Moore

1. If only political activists would stay out of science, scientific ideas could be used to make the right political decisions.  

Whether conceived of as a field of action, as an institution, or as a component of elite power, science is not, and has never been since its formation in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, separate from questions of power.  Who pays for science, how nature should be manipulated, who can participate in it, what counts as fact, and what questions are worth asking are shaped by political relationships.  Africans and women, for example, were excluded from its ranks for centuries, and biological ideas about these groups’ inferiority were built into science as a result.  These very same ideas are still used today to explain women’s underrepresentation in science.

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