[LNS has been hearing from members that some in the environmental movement have been struggling with how to talk with labor allies about climate change. So we decided to put together some talking points to help enviros jump start these vital conversations. Next up is a companion piece for labor movement folks on “Talking to Environmentalist About Climate Change.”]
* Like it or not, climate change is coming: Focus on the inevitability of climate change and impact on the working lives of current union members. For example: Sir Nicolas Stern, former Chief Economist of the World Bank, predicts that global warming will have an economic impact greater than the Great Depression and World Wars I and II combined.
* Explore the positive aspects of this change: Massive new investment is needed to completely transform the energy and transportation infrastructure, producing millions of new jobs. Identify those union sectors that will benefit most from the transition to a low carbon economy; promote apprenticeship and training programs for existing union members so they can actively participate in the emerging green economy.
* Forthrightly confront the negative aspects of climate mitigation: Admit that some jobs will be lost and that the green economy should not be built at the expense of working people. Environmental activists and unions need to step forward together with transition and economic development plans to deal with job loss and economic dislocation.
* If we don’t someone else will: If unions and environmentalists don’t proactively develop just green transition strategies together, powerful corporations and their political allies will dominate the transition process. We saw what happened in the era of globalization; this time around we need a new strategy.
* Acknowledge the conflicted history between labor and environmental movements: Environmentalists and other climate change mitigation advocates are often viewed with suspicion by labor because they have often not adequately considered the potential economic and social costs of climate change mitigation policies on workers and their communities. The challenge ahead demands that we band together under the banner: “An injury to one is an injury all.”
* Climate change presents an opportunity to create a just and sustainable economy: Unions need allies””environmentalists, community based organizations, and worker friendly political allies””to ensure that green jobs are good jobs and that labor and employment standards are included in green jobs subsidy programs. If labor is seen as an obstacle to change they will not attract these allies.
KEY QUESTIONS TO BE ASKED OF LABOR LEADERS
What’s your understanding of the impact that global warming will have on your industry(s) and your members?
What do you know about the economic effects of global warming?
How do you see the economic impact affecting your industries and your members?
How do you see efforts at climate protection affecting your industries and your members. Creating new jobs, destroying jobs, changing the character of jobs.
Do you believe what scientists are saying about climate change — do you believe it’s an imminent threat.
What are your personal views of environmental efforts — have you ever worked on environmental issues, like water quality?
What do you see as the labor movement’s responsibility in relation to global warming, and what do you see as your union’s responsibility?
Where do you think your members are on the climate change issue? How do you think your rank and file member see the issue of global warming, and how do they see the union’s role?
Do you think labor’s response to climate change so far is adequate?
Do you think labor needs to engage more around climate change issues?
If so, In what ways?
Would you be willing to have discussions with climate activists and environmentalists and other unions around areas of common interests?
What do you think about continued burning of coal and other fossil fuels?
Can climate protection create jobs for present or future members of your union? If so, how? What jobs? What policies can promote that — what can you do to promote it?
Are there new skills that your membership needs, and do you have existing apprenticeship programs or training programs to prepare your members for the new green economy?
What would help you expand those programs?
If you’ve worked with environmental groups before, what have been the challenges and obstacles to building those relationships.
What conflicts exist? What problems do you anticipate arising between labor and climate protection advocates.
[For more read LNS’s activist guide “Labor and Climate Change: A Briefing Paper for Activists“]