Saturday 24 November 2007

Climate Change, Unions & Jobs

On Thursday evening I attended a very thought-provoking rally about Climate Change.

Too often, when trade unionists think about this issue, thinking is clouded by fears for jobs - whether in the motor industry, aviation or other sectors.

Similarly, one of the fears held by the public generally (and exploited by politicians who want to hide behind the public) is that tackling climate change will necessarily mean "sacrifices" for ordinary people, rather than just big "changes" (positive too).

One of the ideas that came out of the meeting was why can't trade unionists start a positive campaign for the things we want and need to tackle climate change. Here are few initial thoughts:

  1. A massive programme of insulating homes
  2. Encouraging councils to build homes again, to the highest environmental standards
  3. Planned and urgent development of the industries necessary for a low-carbon economy, such as renewable power generation and distribution
  4. A massive increase in public transport
  5. Massive investment in alternatives to cement in construction (the cement industry is one of the biggest producers of CO2)
  6. A big push for localised production, rather than the drive to move work offshore and unnecessarily transport goods half way round the world. Not only could this help reduce our carbon footprint, but help reverse the decline of manufacturing jobs
A big theme of the meeting was that when governments really want to act, amazing things are possible. Speaker Jonathan Neale grew up in the USA, and he described the redirection of industry when WWII broke out. Full employment and other measures meant that the US spent as much on armaments in the first year of the war as the size of the whole economy the previous year. Another speaker talked about the (free to the public) conversion of coal fires to smokeless fuel in the UK when the Clean Air Act came in. Can we mobilise the same determination to tackle climate change, or will we allow the "neo-liberal" free-market dogma to continue wrecking our world?

I've previously posted about the trade union conference on Climate Change, which the national sector committee for the Electrical Engineering, Electronics & IT sector of UNITE is sending a delegation to. I really hope that conference comes up with a campaigning agenda that we can all work to get our unions behind.

And for those few who still doubt that Climate Change is a real issue - think about this. Depending who you listen to, global oil production either has peaked, is peaking, or is about to peak in the next few decades. Even if Climate Change proved not to be an issue (highly unlikely), many of the measures would still be needed to adapt to a world with less oil supply. Wouldn't it be wise to start making those changes now?

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