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Climate Change Should Top Washington’s Agenda

Too many people of power in government and big business deny humanity’s influence on climate change, so the continent’s biggest progressive forces are stepping up their involvement and a best-selling author is encouraging that interaction. According to a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – its fifth such assessment – there’s no doubt that Earth is warming at an accelerating rate, human activity caused it (with 95 percent certainty), and the last 30 years have been the hottest decades since the mid-19th century,

Ben Santer, an atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California added, “The Fifth Assessment shows that [the ocean is] warming in the deep ocean, in the intermediate ocean and in the lower atmosphere. The observational evidence for human-caused warming is overwhelming, compelling and irrefutable."

More and more Americans accept the reality of climate change, but almost a third of Congress denies it, according to the Center for American Progress. Those 161 representatives (out of 535 House and Senate members) have taken more than $54 million in political contributions from the fossil-fuel industry.

Meanwhile, according to an independent analysis of 3,895 annual reports from U.S. corporations, just 27 percent of them even mentioned climate change or global warming, according to the Society of Environmental Journalists. But in the last few weeks in Toronto and Los Angeles, people with far less power have started pooling resources. Author Naomi Klein addressed the founding convention of UNIFOR (Union for Canada, after a merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers unions) and said, “Our movements need each other.”

Klein wrote the book “Shock Doctrine,” which argues that over the past 35 years, corporate interests have exploited crises – economic shocks, natural disasters, wars – to ram through policies that enrich an elite, by shredding regulations, cutting social spending and expanding privatization.

She said, “All our fates are interconnected [and] there’s little time left.”

At its L.A. convention, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka explained its new strategy of broadening its outreach: “None of us are big enough” to create needed change, he said, speaking of unions, environmentalists, civil rights groups, churches and other liberal advocacy groups.

“We’ll have conflicts,” he conceded. “We’ll work them out.”

Klein addressed the jobs-vs.-environment conflict, saying, “I know talking about climate change can be uncomfortable for those of you working in the extractive industries, or in manufacturing sectors producing carbon-intensive products like cars. [But] this is about more than strategic alliances. [It’s] people and the Earth itself on one side, predatory capitalism on the other.

“Our current economic model is not only waging war on workers, on communities, on public services and social safety nets,” she added. “It’s waging war on the life support systems of the planet itself. It is a civilizational wake-up call, a powerful message spoken in the language of fires, floods, storms and droughts.”

Environmentalists cannot succeed alone, said Klein, who noted complementary skills.

“Social movements bring a lot to the table – the ability to mobilize huge numbers of people, real diversity, a willingness to take big risks, as well as a commitment to deep democracy,” she told the unionists. “But these movements also need [unions’] institutional strength, radical history, and [the] ability to act as an anchor so that we don’t keep rising up and floating away.”

At the AFL-CIO, leaders said campaigns representing the 99%, not the 1%, will require working continuously with community allies to push for government reforms. Such legislative objectives are as admirable as more jobs and better pay, but if the environment is destroyed, that’s all insignificant, said Klein, who commented, “The International Energy Agency – not exactly a protest camp of green radicals – says we’re in for six degrees of warming this century, with ‘catastrophic implications’.”

She told the union delegates, “We have to stop running away from the climate crisis. It’s not a threat to your jobs. It's the key to liberation from a logic that is already waging a war on the entire concept of dignified work. Spend money on a pipeline, you get mostly short-term construction jobs, big private sector profits, and heavy public costs for future environmental damage. Spend that money on public transit, building retrofits and renewable energy, and you get three times as many jobs … not to mention a safer future.

 “The battle lines have never been clearer,” she continued. “Climate change is the argument that must trump all others. The health of our communities and our planet is just a little more important than obscene profits.”  

Bill Knight’s newspaper columns are archived at

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.