As one of the more enduring conflicts within the Democratic Party, environmentalists and unions have been mired in polarizing disagreements over the employment effects of proposed environmental reforms for decades. Timber workers, auto unions and oil industry employees, to name a few, have all butted heads with greens over environmental policy reforms, and sometimes the fallout has had negative political consequences for Democrats.
Jock Young has a post on “Labor and Climate Change” over at The Daily Kos, discussing some of the sources of the conflict in the 21st century and a possible approach for healing the brach. Says Young:
As an environmentalist, I am keenly aware of the need for making Common Cause with Labor, and with the attempts by business and free-market idealogues to drive a wedge between our groups with the “jobs vs. envirnoment” trade-off myth. At no time will the need to bridge this gap be greater than in the coming debate over climate change policy.
To start with a simple example, auto workers (and the Michigan politicians they elect) are convinvced that raising fuel-economy standards will cost jobs. On the surface it seems ridiculous that building better cars that more people want to buy should require fewer jobs. But apparently the assumption is that raising CAFE standards will increase the price of cars and people will buy fewer of them, even though there seems to be little evidence for either part of that equation. Nevertheless, we can’t just wave off such concerns and claim everything will be fine. We need to work through the problem together and work out policies to mitigate any costs that do actually turn up.
…A more fundamental, economy-wide concern is that reducing carbon emissions will require reducing energy use, and this will translate directly into lower economic productivity in all sectors. This is a much more complex concern to address, and may require some careful framing along with thorough research and information sharing. We need to really sell the fact that if we “do it smart” through increased energy efficiency and the use of only the most cost-effective renewable energy sources, the long-term effect will be a streamlined economy and increased competitiveness. Renew the faith in American Ingenuity, and the fact that American Ingenuity requires American jobs.
…The more we can sit down with Labor groups and go through specific calculations showing the expected net result on job creation from these policies, the faster we can build a strong coalition. Even better if Labor is included in the coalitions writing up these policy packages in the first place.
Young rolls out some basic principles of environmental reform he feels can win Labor’s support, and quotes from Eban Goodstein’s book, The Trade-Off Myth: Fact and Fiction About Jobs and the Environment about the importance of guaranteeing job security as a prerequisite for meaningful environmental reforms. All well and good to know that environmental reforms produce net job creation. But it is critically important that workers know that their employment will be secure when reforms kick in.