TINA or Greener

Political parties in government throughout the western world are reducing the rights of workers at the same time as they are refusing to recognize and act on greenhouse gas emissions. Both approaches reveal a very blinkered view of the world, and both spell catastrophe for the people who live in it. Increased political and economic power to the few, sharp rises in inequality, and increases in disease, famine and “natural disasters” are features of the world we have made. The US, Australian and UK administrations' responses have been to batten down and continue the exploitation while there is still a buck in it.

Thanks to Scratch.

We should not be sidetracked by diversions about jobs in the coal and energy industries. These will amount to a hill of beans in a very short space of time unless workers grasp the initiative and campaign, debate and act to reduce greenhouse gases by 70% by the year 2050. This means starting NOW.

It also means the revival of thinking globally and acting locally, and real worker control of industries based on human scale, resource efficiency and knowledge intensive production.

Renewable Energy

One source of energy that is promoted as having no greenhouse consequences is nuclear power. But as Professor Ian Lowe puts it, “If nuclear power is the answer, it must have been a pretty stupid question.” Nuclear proponents are fond of rubbishing renewable energy advocates. It is true that with current levels of efficiency and capability, it is hard to see how the combination of solar, wind, tidal, biomass and ethanol could replace oil, coal and natural gas.

However, when we compare the funding of the nuclear industry over the past 50 years to funding of the renewables sector, we can see that the improvements needed could be possible with matching funding. Ian Lowe said to the National Press Club in October last year:

“The economics of nuclear power just don't stack up. The real cost of nuclear electricity is certainly more than for wind power, energy from bio-wastes and some forms of solar energy…In the USA, direct subsidies to nuclear energy totaled $115 billion between 1947 and 1999, with a further $145 billion in indirect subsidies. In contrast, subsidies to wind and solar during the same period amounted to only $5.5 billion. That's wind and solar together.” http://www.acfonline.org.au/news.asp?news_id=582

For workers, the scope for decent and rewarding work in the renewables sector far outstrips the potential employment in the current energy industry regime. Job creation in Europe through the various renewable energy plans developed in 2002 show the potential: greener energy sources in general employ far more people than more polluting sources: Nuclear power sustains around one sixth of the jobs sustained by wind energy, per unit of power produced. Wind energy is four times better than coal at sustaining jobs.

Pie in the Sky or Reality

Actions are already underway which demonstrate that there are real alternatives available. In South Australia a group has a proposal underway that will see 10,000 homes fitted with photovoltaic cells at no upfront cost to the owner. There are thousands of potential sites for solar cells and/or solar hot water systems, both important contributors to reducing household production of CO2. These cells in Adelaide could reduce household electricity costs by $200-300 per year and generate a profit for the company supplying the cells. Skilled workers will be needed to make, install and maintain the systems, in jobs more pleasant than coalmining or working in power stations. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/natint/stories/s1441697.htm

Suppliers will come to the party if the demand exists. In Australia we can purchase green energy from many large suppliers. One way to advance the demand, which forces suppliers to provide green energy, is the strategy Planet Ark seem to be taking through www.jackgreen.com.au If they sign up customers on the basis that their electricity will come from renewable resources, then Jack Green bulk demand will act to push Energy Australia or other generators to develop renewable supply. Origin Energy is a big part of the South Australian initiative described earlier. Energy suppliers could take similar action in Western Sydney, rather than build another coal station. Coalminers and electricity specialists should be connected with sustainable and rewarding employment in the new industries and help create a future for their kids.

Kids can also be directly involved by expanding programs that are currently running such as Solar Schools. This program along with subsidies for home photovoltaics and water tanks are currently threatened with the removal of funding. Governments claim to be taking initiatives but put minimal resources behind them. If the NSW Government, for example, took the billions it had planned to spend on the desalination plant and put it towards housing-based renewable energy production, the long term benefits would be real, with minimal carbon emissions through manufacturing, and none when in use.

Melanie Jarman in Red Pepper magazine, reports that the UK environmental charity the Green Alliance has calculated that if, between now and 2020, just a quarter of the million-plus gas boilers removed in the UK annually were replaced with micro-CHP (Combined Heat and Power) systems, this alone would deliver half of the domestic sector carbon reductions set out in the government's energy white paper.

High Road Economy

As we have begun to consume more and more energy, and as productivity across the globe has increased, the wages of workers have been in relative decline. US economist Joel Rogers argues that there are “Two ways to compete: high road and low road. One's good for workers and the other's not. One's sustainable and the other's not. One's socially accountable and the other's not. Both are profitable.”

We need to improve the quality of our outputs, not the quantity. We can't go on growing indefinitely, but we can keep improving. Herman Daly suggested, in 1973, a limit to energy throughput (given that energy is essential for all production). In a spaceship earth, production, growth and quantity (the be all and end all for our system today) must be “replaced by protective maintenance, stability and quality”.

By tying workers to the workplace for more hours with less control over the way they do work in the name of productivity measures that boost accountants' bottom lines, we are trapping ourselves in the CO2 cycle. We are also, as Andre Gorz has said, trapping ourselves in a low productivity cycle because the creativity that makes us human is not allowed to inform the way we work. Unless we act now it will be too late to use that creativity to improve the quality of our own and our children's lives.

In 2002, the European Commission looked at the potential for new jobs in renewable energy in each European country (the MITRE study). http://mitre.energyprojects.net/

They estimated what would happen if each country achieved its current renewables target (10% for the UK by 2010, 22% for Europe as a whole). This was compared with what would happen if each country worked to exceed the 2010 targets (about 14% in the UK by 2010) and extended this enhanced commitment until 2020.

The net number of full-time equivalent jobs that would be created in the UK is shown below. These figures take into account any reduction in jobs in traditional energy industries.

FTE jobs in renewable energy

  Current policy Advanced policy
2010 49,000 105,000
2020 113,000 230,000

The number of extra UK jobs created in each sector of the economy with an advanced energy policy (number of jobs in 2020 vs 2000):

Small hydro 2,000
Wind 35,400
PV solar 1,500
Biomass/biofuels 124,200
Waste/biogas 17,500
Solar thermal 2,400
Agricultural fuels 40,400
Total 223,600

The figures above do not include any work done towards exporting these technologies, but there is of course also an enormous export market available to European countries that pioneer renewable technology. http://mitre.energyprojects.net/

At a time of crisis in the global economic system in the 1930s John Maynard Keynes wrote, “[Capitalism] is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous – and it doesn't deliver the goods. In short, we dislike it, and we are beginning to despise it. But when we wonder what to put in its place, we are extremely perplexed.”

We are locking in to a high consumption and high growth system by trying to find ways to continue as we are. Herman Daly's message that sustainable growth is logically and practically impossible should be heeded.

The impact of climate change requires peoples to think of alternatives because if it is true that There Is No Alternative (TINA) then there is also, as The Sex Pistols put it, No Future.

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