Tag Archives: Environmental Movement

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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Environmental Movements in China and Their Transnational Dimensions

By Setsuko Matsuzawa

During the last quarter century, the Chinese state has been successful in repressing specific types of social movements; those which it considers to be serious threats to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime. Major examples of such repression include the 1999 Falun Gong persecution and the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989. Even during the period leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics the Chinese government maintained its repressive stance, despite TAN (Transnational Advocacy Network) pressures, against domestic protests in the Tibet and Xinjiang autonomous regions by conducting a crackdown and media blackout, among other measures. Continue reading

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How Organizations (Might) Change Climate Policy

(Climate March Sept. 2014) [CC-BY-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

(Climate March Sept. 2014) [CC-BY-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On September 21, an estimated 400,000 people assembled in New York City for the largest climate change protest march in U.S. history (and one of the largest single protest events since the anti-Iraq-invasion protests of 2003). How did Bill McKibben and his fellow organizers generate that kind of turnout? While the particular opportunity of an international climate summit at the UN, the extensive reach social media technologies, the wide viewing of the movie Disruption, and the presence of celebrities all probably helped, the central reason seems to be good, old-fashioned organizing.

The New York Times, reporting on preparations for the march, noted that the event was “organized by more than a dozen environmental, labor and social justice groups” which cultivated connections to “1,400 ‘partner organizations’… ranging from small groups to international coalitions” along with students who mobilized participants on “more than 300 college campuses.” Continue reading

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Direct and Indirect Challenges to the Pipeline

pipeline_protest1Over the course of the last two years, two pipeline projects – Northern Gateway and Keystone – have generated opposition from environmental groups in both the U.S. and Canada. As Rennie of the Canadian Press (June 17) notes, the pipelines have become highly political in both countries. In an article I wrote for Critical Mass, I mentioned that in the U.S., the Keystone pipeline project has posed a problem for President Obama and the Democrats given that environmentalists are against its construction while many others see it as creating jobs. There has been a tremendous push in Congress to get Obama to sign legislation that would allow for Keystone’s construction on the one hand, and Democrats hoping that Obama would veto such a bill on the other. Nonetheless, policy experts seem to believe that the Keystone project would inevitably move forward – if Canada is building a pipeline anyway, why shouldn’t Americans benefit from it? In fact, earlier polls did show that the American public thought energy security was a more important issue than greenhouse gases and a majority favored the pipeline’s construction (although the saliency of the issue among the public has likely varied greatly over the last year). Continue reading

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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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Practice Meets Theory?

An activist who follows Mobilizing Ideas recently brought to our attention a TEDx talk by the social and environmental activist, Eran Ben-Yemini. Eran Ben-Yemini is a well-known figure in the Israeli environmental movement. During the 1990s, he played an important role in the Israeli student movement, helping to found Green Course, a national student environmental organization and the largest volunteer environmental organization in Israel. In the 2008, Ben-Yemini entered the Israeli political scene by working with Alon Tal to establish the Green Movement, a political party that gained some notice in the 2009 elections.

In this TEDx talk, Ben-Yemini shares insights from his work as a grassroots organizer and presents a strategy for mobilizing for social change. The central message is that it is possible to build a movement and make a change with a relatively simple formula: Story + Way + Setting = Change. Come with a story, discuss the way together, set an organization, and change will follow.

Social movement scholars may find it interesting to consider Ben-Yemini’s formula in relation to what we know from research and theory in our field. For example, he suggests that a story based on “big” ideas will attract and inspire people. Developing a way forward involves research, strategy, tools, and milestones. It is necessary to research the problem, offer solutions, and know the political environment (e.g., who is friend or foe). Strategy involves focusing on specific issues and creating the right message. Movements should draw upon many different tools, such as educating the public, legal actions, and civil disobedience. Finally, it is necessary to have milestones that measure progress and highlight successes.

Some of what Ben-Yemini presents relates to ideas found in social movement theories of framing and political opportunities. He offers an approach for diagnostic, prognostic and motivational framing and hints at the role of political allies and opportunities. Do his ideas mesh with what we know from research on social movements?

For example, resources are noticeably absent from the discussion. Yet, we know that resources are necessary to maintain large-scale mobilizations for social change. What kinds of resources are needed? How do activists get them? A 2011 survey of Israeli environmental organizations shows that Green Course received 96% of its funding from foundations. Ben-Yemini’s talk is instructive, inspirational, and perhaps revealing. Is the failure to discuss resources an oversight? Or does it indicate a potential conflict between the norms and effective practice of grassroots organizing?

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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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