Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Affirming a Just Transition
distributed 9/7/18 - ©2018

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Ron and Trudy Zimmerman of Thornton, Colorado. Their generous support helps make this publication possible.

It is a simplification, but not an extreme one, to say that there are only two possible courses for facing the climate crisis.

  1. We can continue with some variation of "business as usual," continuing to release massive amounts of greenhouse gasses. Runaway climate change will result. This path is suicidal and ecocidal.
  2. We can take dramatic action to reduce those emissions. If communities, countries and corporations are bold in turning from all fossil fuels, there is a chance of keeping climate impacts within survivable levels.

From any morally responsible perspective, the first option is unacceptable, and the second option is essential. It will be incredibly difficult, but it is the course that we must take as a global society.

A rapid shift away from coal, oil and gas is the path toward justice for those who face the most extreme climate impacts -- the ones who will see their homelands flooded by rising seas, who will become refugees fleeing drought and unsurvivable heat, who will lose reliable water supplies as glaciers and snowfields melt. Slashing greenhouse emissions is the path toward justice for future generations, and for all creation.

A rapid shift away from fossil fuels is a difficult moral challenge when we consider the communities and individuals whose livelihoods are tied to those fossil fuels. Ethics and compassion insist that there must be justice for those who are impacted or displaced by our bold climate action.

Addressing the needs of all who are impacted is the principle at the heart of the phrase, "just transition." That is why a just transition is at the heart of tomorrow's global day of action, Rise for Climate.

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In two sentences, the Rise for Climate website names all these pieces.

On September 8, we're planning thousands of rallies in cities and towns around the world to demand our local leaders commit to building a fossil free world that puts people and justice before profits. No more stalling, no more delays: it's time for a fast and fair transition to 100% renewable energy for all.

An email from the Rise for Climate organizers, sent out on Labor Day, got more specific.

In no uncertain terms, we must stand united behind all of our country's working people, and demand a just transition to a 100% clean and renewable energy future that creates millions of family-sustaining, union jobs, and ensures that racial and economic justice are key to action on climate in every community.

At many of tomorrow's events, we'll see new levels of collaboration between long-time climate activists and representatives from organized labor. These have been challenging partnerships to build, as constituencies with differing interests and priorities have struggled to discern a path to a rapid renewable energy transition that is fair to workers.

In Denver, I am looking forward to tomorrow's Colorado Climate, Jobs and Justice Summit, where workshops and speakers will deepen our understanding and commitment for a just transition, and help us organize ourselves for the long work that lies ahead. Similar programs to build coalitions for a just transition will be part of many of the other Rise for Climate events held across the US and around the world.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I strongly urge you to find a Rise for Climate event in your community, and to take part. (Search for events on the Rise for Climate website.)

The Rise for Climate events are a prelude to the Global Climate Action Summit, taking place next week in San Francisco. At that summit, cities and states, companies and investors will build strategies and collaboration for the essential work that must be done alongside (or even in opposition to) the work of national governments. On Wednesday, September 12, a multi-faith service of worship will be held in conjunction with the summit. You can join that service through a live stream, to be inspired and to commit to ongoing action.

The need for a just transition away from fossil fuels, and toward climate justice, still is an emerging theme at the street level of climate activism -- at the rallies and political protests. The huge People's Climate March of 2014, with half a million marching in New York City, was one of the first big events to really try and pull all these strands together, and it was a thrilling, politically powerful new movement.

The idea of a just transition, though, is not new. The Just Transition Alliance -- "Front-line workers and fence-line communities united for justice" -- was founded in 1997. Based in their 20+ years of work, the Alliance outlines six just transition principles that all of us should study.

The Just Transition Collaborative of the University of Colorado Boulder has a strong history of both research and action toward environmental justice and a just transition. They list several of the challenging questions, for both policy and procedures, which are inherent to the careful and responsible action necessary in building a just transition.

The work for a just transition will be hard -- and it is work that is essential if we are to achieve the turn away from fossil fuels and turn toward a stable and livable climate. In last week's Notes, I affirmed that humans, as responsible moral agents, are capable of understanding and acting on the long-term and complex issues of climate justice. A just transition is part of our moral framework as we commit to bold climate action.

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I'll add a brief footnote to some news that I find hopeful as we seek a just transition.

Clearly, a "renewable energy future that creates millions of family-sustaining, union jobs, and ensures that racial and economic justice" will call for big financial investments. Old industries will go away, and new jobs created. Entire communities will need to be restructured.

An article this week by David Roberts tells of research about the economics of transitioning to renewable energy. He tells us that a global shift to sustainable development could save $26 trillion by 2030. Those are savings. Shifting to renewable energy is an excellent economic decision, as well as the only appropriate moral choice.

$26 trillion dollars in savings looks to me like a substantial pool of cash that can be appropriated for some of the costs of making that transition fast, fair and just.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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