Preventing the worst catastrophes of climate change will require a fast and radical restructuring of our society and economy. Not only a switch to 100% renewable energy, but also huge, disruptive changes in transportation, housing patterns, agriculture, manufacturing, and more.
“Just transition” is the goal of making these changes in a way that promotes justice — both overcoming current injustices and preventing injustices that could result from all these disruptive changes. People use the term “just transition” to talk about several intersecting issues.
1. The term comes out of the labor movement, from a visionary leader named Tony Mazzochi, former president of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union (now merged into the United Steelworkers). Mazzochi said that when workers lost their jobs as a result of environmental policies, which he embraced, society should take responsibility for providing them with income support, job retraining, early retirement, and a range of other benefits.
This concept was soon expanded to include measures to support communities like California’s refinery towns, which are dependent on economic activity and tax revenue from industries that need to be closed.
This idea has been controversial within the union movement. Many unions have embraced it, others have opposed it, most famously in a quote from AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who called just transition “an invitation to a fancy funeral.”
2. More recently, the climate justice movement and people in “frontline communities,” (those near sources of pollution and greenhouse gases) have been using the term “just transition” to mean prioritizing the needs of vulnerable communities — and building their economic, social, and political power.
3. Another aspect of just transition is “energy democracy” — the goal of taking democratic control of our energy system, taking it away from the corporations that are using it to destroy the planet.
4. Less often included in the term “just transition,” but also a central justice issue, is the effort to make sure that policies to protect the environment don’t add to current injustices. For example, countering the gentrification that often happens as a result of “transit oriented development” (building new housing near transit facilities). And protecting lower-income people from the effects of increasing energy costs.
Here are some articles explaining each of these key ideas, followed by a list of articles that give examples of just transition policies and practices.
1. Just transition for workers and communities dependent on fossil fuels
♦ Labor Network for Sustainability,
Climate, Jobs, and Justice: A Plan for a Just Transition to a Climate-Safe Economy
♦ Robert Pollin and Brian Callaci, The Economics of Just Transition. https://www.peri.umass.edu/publication/item/762-the-economics-of-just-transition-a-framework-for-supporting-fossil-fuel-dependent-workers-and-communities-in-the-united-states
♦ (The above academic paper is summarized in a magazine article, A Just Transition for US Fossil Fuel Industry Workers, https://prospect.org/article/just-transition-us-fossil-fuel-industry-workers )
♦ Steve Ongerth, IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, Just Transition, System Change, and Revolutionary Green Transformation, https://ecology.iww.org/PDF/x344543/JustTransition.pdf
♦ The Labor Network for Sustainability website has a history of environmental/labor politics on this issue, http://timeline.labor4sustainability.org
2. Just transition that prioritizes frontline communities, environmental justice, and grassroots power
♦ Movement Generation, From Banks and Tanks to Cooperation and Caring, (also available in Spanish), http://movementgeneration.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/JT_booklet_English_SPREADs_web.pdf
♦ Climate Justice Alliance, A Green New Deal Must Be Rooted in a Just Transition for Workers and Communities Most Impacted by Climate Change, https://climatejusticealliance.org/green-new-deal-must-rooted-just-transition-workers-communities-impacted-climate-change/
♦ Movement Generation, Transition is Inevitable, Justice is Not, https://movementgeneration.org/transition-is-inevitable-justice-is-not-a-critical-framework-for-just-recovery/
♦ Dimitris Stevis, (Re)claiming Just Transition, https://medium.com/just-transitions/stevis-e147a9ec189a
3. Taking democratic control of energy
♦ Al Weinrub and Anthony Giancatarino, Democratizing our Energy Future, http://www.localcleanenergy.org/files/Climate%20Justice%20Energy%20Platform.pdf
4. Making sure policies to protect the environment don’t worsen current injustices.
♦ Julia Conley, Yellow Vest Uprising Exposes Urgent Need for Rapid Energy Transition That Stiffs Elites, Lifts the Working Class, https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/12/13/yellow-vest-uprising-exposes-urgent-need-rapid-energy-transition-stiffs-elites-lifts
♦ Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, Safeguarding Against the Displacement of Low-Income Communities, https://www.publicadvocates.org/resources/blog/safegaurding-displacement-low-income-communities/
Examples: History, policies, and proposals to advance just transition
♦ Center for Labor Research and Education, UC Berkeley, Advancing Equity in California Climate Policy: A New Social Contract for Low-Carbon Transition, http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/pdf/2016/Advancing-Equity.pdf
♦ Coal Transition in SPAIN: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/26/spain-to-close-most-coal-mines-after-striking-250m-deal?fbclid=IwAR0iaBEf-2POHIPn17jt7MWRTl8b4RXJVcBp0gcvVs5X-dDM5hw9iYZgmy8
♦ Two state-level proposals both developed by broad coalitions of environmental, labor, and community groups:
>Recent Washington ballot measure (defeated): https://ballotpedia.org/Washington_Initiative_1631,_Carbon_Emissions_Fee_Measure_(2018)#Text_of_measure.
>New York State bills introduced in 2018: http://www.nyrenews.org/what-we-do
♦ Steven Greenhouse Connecting Public Transit to Great Manufacturing Jobs
♦ Elizabeth Perry, German Unions Call for Mass Retraining to Support the Electrification of Vehicle Manufacturing by 2030, https://workandclimatechangereport.org/2018/06/18/german-unions-call-for-mass-retraining-to-support-the-electrification-of-vehicle-manufacturing-by-2030/