Robin Jourdan checks the possibility of solving insolvable problems in her new blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Labor and environmentalism are often portrayed at odds with democracy and capitalism. Is labor environmentalism compatible with democracy/capitalism? For over a century, labor championed an evolving environmental movement. Labor promoted conservation of the national resources and opposition to industrial exploitation of public lands for profit. Since World War II, labor union members linked the dangers of pollution in the workplace with the contamination of the surrounding communities. Labor unions were also essential organizers of the first Earth Day. Earth Day has grown to become the largest nonspiritual celebration. More than a billion people take part every year, stirring policy changes.
By joining forces, labor and environmental organizations had increased business regulation to protect workers. Until the mid-1980s. Industry's response exposed workers by using claims that lost profits could result in layoffs or complete shutdowns. Such assertions change the conversation for workers and union representation. This results in pitting jobs directly opposite to safety, health and environment. Today's business hostility and centralized government ambivalence create a formidable front to environmental quality. A response is birth of the green labor movement. Itself a new model, it holds promise to disrupt political alignments.
Union environmentalism that protects members from unsafe conditions has risen. This outcome has also benefitted the natural environment as a byproduct. Increased use of machine workers, especially in dangerous and hazardous situations may result in a whole new thinking. Globally today, nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air. The United Nations Environment is focusing on tackling the growing yet overlooked threat of air pollution. To a large extent, this a response to accelerating carbon emissions via increased energy demands, especially in China, India, and the US.
Beijing has shown what is possible to reduce air pollution and are increasing their actions and ambition for the next 20 years: a model for others to follow. World Heritage sites will face heightened threats; especially crucial to nations who value their long heritage. Going forward, leadership will be judged on its capacity to resist temptations to manipulate the system, versus commitments, met as a proactive and responsible role model. A wildcard is recently surfacing in the US as a group of young people have begun lawsuits over climate change inaction.
Today's technocrats can take advantage of their ability to consider and grow in the face of issues such as proper workforce planning for health issues. As the number of active workers declines, elderly non-workers' health issues will increase similarly.
New Environmentalists, new hope? Global leadership who take on fighting inequality, including that induced by climate change, will be rewarded. Efforts reversing climate change will be challenged by a more significant influence of urban areas. Ignoring climate change will come at a cost in the Trillions of dollars antithetical to capitalist goals.
Is labor environmentalism compatible with democracy/capitalism? Approaching tipping points at work in today's short-termism world can provide specific incentives. For an economic incentive market truth offers the highest reliability. For example, in the future, holding jobs hostage over environmental concerns will diminish as AI and machinery take over dangerous front-line work and lowering costs. This change could cause the market into a full-court press protecting Spaceship Earth. Problems without solutions may be only a temporal issue. Given additional information and evolution, even the toughest solutions can be found.
© Robin Jourdan 2019