Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

What the US has done for us

While the US is not world-renowned for being progressive on climate issues, Heidi Bachram finds that grassroots movements there have something to teach environmentalists.

May 1, 2006
4 min read

The Black Mesa coal mine on Hopi and Navajo land in the US is about to close. This is a rare victory for local activists who have fought the mine, owned by Peabody Coal, for more than 40 years. Except this is not the end of the battle.

Local environmentalists threw another punch by demanding that funds from the closure be used to invest in clean energy to provide jobs for the now unemployed coal miners. The Black Mesa campaign groups state that: ‘For years, the Navajo and Hopi people made major sacrifices … The people provided labour, coal, pristine water and bore the burden of pollution. Now that the facility has closed, we have a right to ask the owners to help us make the transition to a better future, to repay the debt.’

As greens don’t normally put themselves out for jobless miners, this may be a surprising turn of events. However, the unemployed are local people, mostly Navajo, and the principle of ‘just transition’ – building alliances between workers in polluting industries and affected communities – is strong in the US.

The local Black Mesa groups are affiliated to a national movement, the Just Transition Alliance, and its education and training director, Jenice L View explains: ‘Companies will often drive wedges between workers and local communities, primarily by creating “job fear” and painting activists as the environmental bogeyman. Just transition principles bring those two parties together, building political power and identifying who the real culprits are – such as corporations and government institutions.’

The just transition movement was born out of community-based activism. Then, in 2003, mainstream NGOs and big unions in the US took some of these principles and formed the Washington-based coalition, the Apollo Alliance, under the banner of ‘Three Million New Jobs, Independence from Foreign Oil’. This raised hackles among community-based campaigners concerned that the new coalition’s concept of just transition was not necessarily progressive.

According to Tom Goldtooth of the environmental justice group, Indigenous Environment Network: ‘Apollo Alliance’s main focus has been on jobs and energy independence. It’s very white and very top-down. This is a common problem with policy organisations that have no accountability to the communities that are directly impacted by polluting industries.’

‘Just transition is a process, a principle and a practice, not a focused campaign,’ says Jenice L View. Missing from the Apollo Alliance are those key elements of practice and process – a failing that could equally apply to climate initiatives in the UK. On this side of the pond, just transition is barely on the radar of climate campaigners. As Ashok Sinha, director of the recently formed Stop Climate Chaos coalition – whose members include the UK’s largest environmental groups – accepts, ‘Just transition is not at the forefront of our lobbying efforts.’ Stop Climate Chaos has prioritised policy goals by focusing on getting the government to commit to a 3 per cent reduction in carbon emissions per annum.

While environmental groups give just transition low priority, unions have taken on-board some of the ideas, inspired in part by the movement in the US. Philip Pearson of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) explains: ‘Just transition is at the heart of our policies on climate change and we want to develop a UK model. To us, just transition means developing industries around renewable energy to create job opportunities. But you have to have strong grassroots engagement. Action on climate change won’t work if it’s top-down.’

The US debate around just transition is well-developed, in sharp contrast to the level of discussion in the UK. Even so, grassroots activists do see its relevance. Norman Philip, a community organiser based in Grangemouth, a major Scottish petrochemical town, says: ‘This is where America does it so much better. When NGOs don’t use processes like just transition, communities and workers who are at risk from polluting industries while being economically dependent on them, feel ignored and isolated. That doesn’t inspire them to sign up to campaigns on climate change.’

‘Climate change is fought and lost in Grangemouth every day,’ he continues. ‘People here are on the front-line of the main source of the problem, the petrochemical industry. If we don’t have communication and solidarity between fenceline communities, workers and environmental NGOs, then any work on climate change may fail the people most impacted.’

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power