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On the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis: CFT Co-Sponsor’s Report on how a Bold Clean Energy Transition in California is Possible

Aug 16, 2021

In recent weeks, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its most alarming report yet on the climate crisis.  The UN Secretary General hailed it as a “code red for humanity” in that it outlined how the dire effects of continued warming will go from disruptive at present to apocalyptic in short order unless we start with bold, transformative policies to reduce carbon emissions NOW.

If there was a silver lining to the report it was that there is still time to act if we do so urgently, and with the potential of a $3.5 trillion budget package with significant climate provisions at the Federal level, it’s possible that a window for real climate action is now open.  In that vein, just this summer, a coalition of unions has come together to promote a rapid and just transition here in California.

The Educators and Classified Professionals of CFT are pleased to stand with our brothers and sisters in labor in calling for an equitable transition for California.  As educators we believe our interests are inextricably bound to the futures of the students and the communities we serve, and, as we begin to emerge from the trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic, we know we must do all we can to avert the looming crisis of catastrophic climate change.

At the 2015 CFT Convention, the delegates passed a resolution committing the CFT to a climate justice agenda which recognized that we are currently facing a historic environmental crisis that demands immediate action.  In the time since that Convention, the science on climate change has only presented us with more and more severe warnings about the dire consequences of continuing on the same course, as the IPCC report illustrates.

As a historical force for progressive change and social justice, the labor movement can and must play a powerful role in calling for swift action to address the climate crisis and in producing tangible solutions that will ensure we are strengthening, not weakening, our middle-class as we transition to a more sustainable society. The idea that the market is the only thing that truly matters in human existence is a central obstacle to achieving economic and environmental justice. We know from experience that the labor movement must be at the table to help shape the conversation if we are to effect positive change for working people.

Historically, we have been sold the myth that we must choose between good jobs and a clean environment. This is a false choice that has been perpetuated by a multi-billion-dollar corporate network that dominates the political and public sphere.  We even face challenges inside our own labor movement from those who acknowledge the existence of climate change but refuse to come to terms with the political and economic changes we need to make in order to address it.  Thus the challenge is big and the answer is to change the game.

In concert with our labor partners in SEIU California, AFSCME3299, AFSCME Council 57, AFSCME UDW, SEIU 1021, SEIU 721, United Steel Workers 675, Communication Workers of America District 9, IFPTE Local 21, California Faculty Association – San Francisco State University Chapter, UAW 5810, UAW 865, Unite Here Local 30, UPTE-CWA 9119, and the Alameda Labor Council, the CFT is pleased to announce the release of a seminal report that illustrates that an equitable transition to a sustainable economy is indeed possible.

Here is the good news for California: A clean energy transition in our state is a realistic goal and workers do not have to be left behind to accomplish it.  In “A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California,” Robert Pollin, Jennette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakroborty, Caitlyn Kline, and Gregor Semieniuk of the Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst note that with the Covid-19 pandemic beginning to recede, our national focus should turn toward an equitable and sustainable recovery:

Both at the national level and within California, the focus of economic policy should therefore start shifting to the question of how to advance a recovery that is strong, equitable and sustainable. This study presents a recovery program for California that will also build a durable foundation for an economically robust and ecologically sustainable longer-term growth trajectory. As we emerge from the pandemic experience, we can also regain focus on the reality that we have truly limited time to take decisive action around climate change.

The program the authors present is based on the climate and emissions reductions goals set by Governors Brown’s and Newsom’s executive orders that commit the state to becoming carbon neutral by 2045 with all new cars and vehicles being zero-emission by 2035.  Given the grim prospects we face if we continue with business as usual and continue down the road toward catastrophic climate change, the conclusion of the report is indeed heartening:

[A] robust climate stabilization project for California that is able to achieve the state’s established emissions reduction commitments is a realistic prospect. The climate stabilization project can also serve as a major engine of economic recovery and expanding economic opportunities throughout the state. This includes an increase of over 1 million jobs in the state through investment programs in energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, public infrastructure, land restoration and agriculture.

More specifically, the level of investment it will take to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and then reach net zero emissions by 2045 amounts to $138 billion per year in clean energy, manufacturing infrastructure, and displaced worker programs.  Pollin and his team estimate that half of that could come through public funding with the other half through private investment.

On the jobs front, the report estimates that this level of investment would create an average of 418,000 jobs per year in in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, an average of 626,000 jobs per year in manufacturing, critical infrastructure upgrades, land restoration, and agriculture, and 96,000 in the public sector.

What about the 112,000 workers employed in California’s fossil fuel industry?  For the oil workers who will be displaced, the report documents how a planned, steady transition off of oil and gas is significantly cheaper and better for workers.  This means assuring that workers at all stages of their careers have health care, that entry and mid-career workers get wage insurance, retraining and reemployment guarantees, and that workers close to retirement get pension guarantees.  A steady closure of the fossil fuel industry would mean about 3,200 workers per year would require reemployment between 2021 and 2030 at a cost of $470 million per year for a generous just transition package.  An uneven, sudden transition would cost 78% more so it will pay off to take a gradual, worker-centered approach rather than lurching toward big closure events.

The bottom line is clear: California can pull off an equitable transition that creates a net gain of jobs.  If we have the political will and long-term vision to do it, a sustainable future for California will also mean lots of good union jobs in clean energy industries and a better future for all of us.

To read the full text of “A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California”, go here:


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