Workers of the World, Divest! (Or lose everything!)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The movement to divest from fossil fuels is strong and growing. It’s time for the labor movement to join that process.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


by Steve Ongerth
IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 20, 2014

Fellow Workers:

It’s time for us to demand that our unions divest our pension funds from fossil fuels, dirty energy, and strip mining.

It’s time to divest from mountaintop coal removal, offshore oil drilling, natural gas (and oil) fracking, tar sands and shale mining, coal seam gas, so-called “clean” coal, and all other forms of “extreme” energy

Why We Need to Do This

Fossil fuels and dirty energy are the past, not the future:

Global Warming is real and caused by human (mostly corporate and military) activity. The root causes of global warming are the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. The scientific consensus on this issue is solid and well researched. All of the claims to the contrary are nonsense, unscientific, and largely funded by those industries that profit from the activities that cause global warming

The atmospheric concentration of CO2, the most abundant greenhouse gas (GHG) has surpassed 400 ppm, well above the 280 ppm level that has been consistent throughout human history. Most climate scientists agree that the upper tolerable limit of CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 ppm, which would still result in a 2-degrees C increase in global average temperature by 2100. To return to a level below 350 ppm, the world needs to transition away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible.

Because of this need, at least 80% of the known carbon / fossil fuels must remain unextracted, in the ground. Unfortunately, investors have banked on 100% of those fuels being extracted. That means that these “assets” are overvalued, and there is a rush on to extract them as quickly as possible, which explains the push to “drill-baby-drill”, mine, and frack to the extreme. When this “Carbon Bubble” bursts and these assets are stranded, the investments in them will be essentially worthless. There are even signs that we’ve reached this point already!

The driving forces behind the rush to extract include the Koch Brothers. They are also a major financial supporter of the climate change denial machine, the efforts to thwart the deployment of clean energy (no doubt because these alternative technologies threaten the Koch Brothers’ monopoly), and the anti-union National Right to Work Foundation.

Fossil Fuels do NOT mean more jobs

Far too many union leaders have joined the bosses in calling for more investments in fossil fuel enterprises, including the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, natural gas exports, and fracking, because they’ve swallowed bosses’ rhetoric that these projects will bring new, much desired jobs to our unions, but this is not so. These three sources explain why in more detail:

Far more jobs can be created by deploying clean, renewable energy technology, more public transit,repairing existing infrastructure, or retrofitting buildings to be more efficient.

There are plenty of potential pension fund investments that could potentially fund such projects.

An injury to one is an injury to all!

There is no question that the current carbon fuel boom is having an increasingly devastating impact on our communities and our environment. Just search the web for “Lac Magantic”, “BP Horizon”, “Richmond, California”, “Mayflower, Arkansas”, or “Eden, West Virginia” to name just a few examples.

Our news media outlets are filled with stories of oil spills, exploding refineries, derailed and exploding crude oil trains, coal ash spills, burst pipelines, and countless other industrial accidents resulting from the bosses’ rush to extract every last ounce of carbon from our Earth.

What’s often overlooked is the fact that the workers involved in extracting, refining, and transporting this stuff are often those most exploited and most endangered by these accidents. Here are just a few examples:

Many international unions have joined the fight against climate change; for example:

And it’s urgent that more do so.

Where Will we get Our Energy?

In spite of what you may have heard (from misinformation funded by the Koch Brothers, most likely) civilization can transition to 100% renewable energy.

We must, of course, make sure that these sources are actually clean. Sometimes, unfortunately, even wind and solar are not, due to poor environmental practices in the production, transportation, or deployment of the equipment primarily. Here are some handy guides on making the best choices:

We must also sure that these new, “clean” technologies actually work, and that the workers manufacturing, transporting, installing, operating, and maintaining them are well compensated and allowed to organize into unions.

But these challenges are small compared to those humanity will face if the portending disasters come under business as usual.

The movement to divest from fossil fuels is strong, and growing. Many educational institutions, cities and counties, utility districts, and religious organizations have divested from dirty energy. There’s no reason why the labor movement cannot join that process.

In most cases, the union’s pension is invested in some sort of mutual fund, so determining whether any part or all of the specific investments are actually in fossil fuel and/or dirty energy interests will require some digging, but it’s good practice for union members to know that information in any case, as a democratic practice in general.

The union movement must join in the fight to save life as we know it from certain destruction. The best place we can start is by divesting our pension funds from dirty energy investments. Let’s do this now!