A just-published article by Todd E. Vachon, “Climate Justice for All: Pursuing a Just Transition in the Education Sector”—published in the American Federation of Teachers journal The American Educator—lays out in detail “what educators can do—and many already are doing—through their unions to promote climate justice and equity in their schools and communities.”

Vachon is an assistant professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University, the director of the Labor Education Action Research Network, and the author of Clean Air and Good Jobs: U.S. Labor and the Struggle for Climate Justice. He is also a co-author of the Labor Network for Sustainability report “Workers and Communities in Transition”.

Vachon argues that “the world is in the midst of two simultaneous and interconnected crises: a crisis of ecology and a crisis of inequality.” But “the good news is that there is an important role that students, educators, our local unions, and community allies can play in addressing the dual crises of climate change and inequality.” Confronting the climate crisis offers “a potential pathway for making some of the important changes in our economy that are needed to recenter the lives and well-being of people.” Such a “just transition” offers “a vision of economic democracy, including public investments to account for the full social costs and benefits of environmental and economic policies to create the most just—not necessarily the most profitable—outcome for all.”

Educators can start by promoting “green and healthy schools” that involve “installing renewable energy generation and storage systems, renovating existing school buildings to improve efficiencies, constructing new green buildings, securing strong labor standards, ensuring an open and democratic process for all stakeholders, and requiring local and preferential hiring to ensure that local communities and displaced workers benefit from the jobs that are created in the process.”

Forging a just transition in education with healthy green schools and social and economic justice requires “grassroots organizing and power building,” such as “forming local union climate justice committees, building strong partnerships with students and community groups, bargaining for the common good, and holding decision makers accountable.” The cross-union Educators Climate Action Network, convened by the Labor Network for Sustainability, brings together over 100 union educators from across the country to tackle climate change and promote climate justice in education.

Vachon ends with a challenge and an invitation: “Perhaps your local union will be the next to take bold climate action and become a part of the solution by helping to forge your own local Green New Deal and joining the national effort.”

Link to the article: https://www.aft.org/ae/winter2023-2024/vachon

Link to ECAN: https://www.labor4sustainability.org/ecan/

Link to LNS Just Transition Listening Project report: https://www.labor4sustainability.org/jtlp-2021/