Trade Union and Social Movement Approaches to Climate Change and Ecological Degradation

Sweeney picunnamed(2)




New!  Essay questions and final presentation:

Mid-term, due April 7th, not more than 3,000 words:

Different traditions of political economy offer different solutions to the climate crisis. Briefly explain the differences between neoliberal, Keynesian, and ecosocialist approaches to climate protection Which of the theories offer the best explanation of the nature or the crisis? Which theory can help the most in terms of solving it?

Final paper, due May 20th, not more than 3,000 words:

Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything advocates ‘moving from extraction to renewal.’   Can it be done?  What role can unions play? Using examples from different struggles and movements described in her book, and drawing on the issues discussed in class, provide your own assessment of the prospects for a political economy built around a new set of principles and values.

Final presentation, delivered May 13 or May 20

Prepare a 8-10 minute presentation, with or without visuals, on the main themes and ideas covered in both of your papers (mid-term and final).  The presentation should touch on theoretical or ‘big picture’ ideas; refer to the work of at least one social movement or struggle, and conclude with your assessment of possibilities for addressing climate change and ecological degradation in the coming years. 

Dear students —

I have created this webpage in order for you to have easy access to the readings for the graduate level course, Trade Union and Social Movement Approaches to Climate Change and Ecological Degradation, Spring 2016, at the Murphy Institute.

LABR 669 – 02 Special Topics — Spring  2016 — Thursdays, March 4 to May 20 @ 6:15-8:45pm


Your grade will be determined by:

  • Mid term paper – 30%
  • Final Essay, maximum 3,000 words – 30%
  • Final presentation — 10%
  • Class preparedness, attendance, and participation – 30%

Mid-term and Final Essay Questions: These will be distributed and discussed soon after the course has started.

Structure of the course:

PART ONE `           Sessions 1-5:                        Theory, Policy & Politics
PART TWO            Sessions 6-13:                       Specific struggles and issues
PART THREE        Sessions 13-15:                     Solutions, and the Future Role of Organized Labor

Course Readings:

Required text: Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

Suggested additional book: David Ray Griffin, Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis?  (2015)

Other important  texts:

  • Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20 (1992-2012) United Nations Environment Program, Nairobi. Published October 2011

UNEP Rio+20 doc keeping_track  (read pages 18-47)

  • Encyclical Letter: Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis, On Care for Our Common Home, Vatican 2015

Chapters 1 and 4


  • Each class session will require one or more preparatory readings. See titles and links below

There are no readings assigned for Part 3. This is a time for writing and using the material already discussed in class

Session 1:  February 4, Overview of the structure, content and goals of the course, including readings and assignments.

Advance showing of the film: This Changes Everything by Avram Lewis and Naomi Klein

password: TCEverything0710

Session 2:  February 11The theory and (attempted) practice of green capitalism (“ecological modernization”)

Readings:            More Profit, Less Carbon, Amory Lovins from Scientific American


This was a landmark article — it argues that capitalism will solve the environmental crisis because reducing the use of resources saves money and improves competitiveness:

Stern Review (2006), only the Executive Summary (2006) (covers the three elements of  policy for mitigation)

This was also a landmark report that also said the climate crisis could be solved without sacrificing economic growth – but governments needed to set certain rules, both “market signals” and regulations — expresses a lot of faith in “carbon pricing”


Session 3               Feb 18 (Sean away, Oslo)

Class will meet, watch, and discuss The Last Mountain – a powerful documentary on mountain top removal (MTR) coal ‘mining’ in West Virginia

Session 4               Feb 25

The Growth Dilemma and De-growth theory: Capitalist Accumulation and Proposed Solutions to stay within ‘Planetary Limits.’

Readings:            Growth Isn’t Possible New Economics Foundation

No need to read it all, but read sections on Greenhouse gas emissions and current climate change, and
Scenarios of growth and emission reductions. (Note: this was written in 2006.  It’s important to ask what has happened to both growth and emissions since then. )

Growth Isn’t Possible — NEF 2006

What is Degrowth? From an Activist Slogan to a Social Movement  Demaria, et. al

Academic article – but an important read (26 pages)

What is degrowth?

This is a good 20 minute video explaining a different approach – a chapter from Jackson’s work will be discussed in Session 5

Video: Tim Jackson: An economic reality check

Session 5:              March 3

Comparing Keynesian and Ecosocialist approaches to climate protection and sustainability:  Green New Deal and/or “system change”


New Economics Foundation: A Green New Deal: Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices

Green New Deal – New Economics foundation 

This piece argues for bold government interventions to ‘fix’ the economy, along the lines of FDR in the 1930s Depression. This is an easy read — but ignore the chapter on “The Energy Crunch” because there is a lot of mistakes and old data there.

One Degree War Plan, Randers and Gilding

This piece proposes even more radical interventions — using WW2 as a model.  Not necessary to read the whole thing – just get the main story.


Prosperity Without Growth, Timothy Jackson

Jackson is an important writer.  He is not a Marxist, and he thinks “de-growth” is not going to happen.

Read Chapter 7:  Keynesianism and the Green New Deal.  Here he argues why Keynesian New Deal approaches will in some ways make the ecological crisis worse.

prosperity without growth –

Magdoff and Foster are leading Marxist writers dealing with ecology – this is worth reading carefully because it talks about the systemic roots of the ecological crisis (and clearly influenced Naomi Klein’s book).  It is trying to address the political naivete of the environmental groups


[1](1) copy

Optional readings:

The Future Will Be Eco-socialist – Because Without Ecosocialism There Will Be No Future and Marx and Ecology Joel Kovel (2011)


Session 6:              March 10

Key Debates in the international labor movement: – socialist, social democratic, and “business as usual” trends in the international labor movement


International Trade Union Confederation: Frontlines Briefing, Unions for Climate Action, May 2015



Climate Change and the Great Inaction: New Trade Union Perspectives, Sean Sweeney, TUED Working Paper


Rio+20 Resolution from the 2nd Annual Labour and Environment Assembly

RIO+20 Resolution- 2nd Trade Union Assembly on Labour and the Environment

One Million Climate Jobs: Tacking the Economic & Environmental Crises


Green Capitalism Won’t Work

New Labor Forum-2015-Sweeney-12-7

Session 7:             March 17, 2014

 Labor and the future of Energy: “Extreme extraction” in Saudi America – The Keystone pipeline, fracking, and ‘unconventional fuels.’

These readings look at trade union politics around ‘unconventional fuels’ – tar sands and shale gas.

Reading: U.S. Trade Unions and the Challenge of “Extreme Energy:” The Case of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline, Sean Sweeney, in Trade Unions in the Green Economy: Working for the Environment, Nora Räthzel and David Uzzell (Editors) Routledge Press, 2013

Sweeney — Labor and the Challenge of Extreme Energy Chapter —for students

Sweeney and Skinner: Global Shale Gas and the Anti- Fracking Movement — TUED-working-paper-1-Final

video:  Unions Build Bridges to Business, Some Republicans

Session 8               March 24Unions and the struggle for “energy democracy”  

Reading: Power to the People: Toward Democratic Control of Electricity Generation. TUED Working Paper, June 2015


Session 9:             March 31

How transport unions can tackle climate change – The “Reduce, Shift, Improve” framework

Reading: Transport Workers and Climate Change: Towards Sustainable Low-Carbon Mobility. International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Climate Change Working Group and Cornell Global Labor Institute Discussion Document for ITF World Congress 2010, Mexico City, Mexico.

Transport Workers and Climate Change- Towards Sustainable Low-Carbon Mobility (ITF)(1)

TCU Statement on ITF Climate Change Resolution

TWU Supports Resolution 1 Responding to Climate Change-1

Session 10:           April 7

Industrial Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Worker-Peasant Organizing

Chapter 1: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply and Chapter 7: Reclaiming Food Democracy, from Stolen Harvest, Shiva

Agribusiness Action Initiatives (AAI) North America, A Harvest of Heat: Agribusiness and Climate Change— How Six Food Industry Giants Are Warming the Planet.

La Via Campesina, “Small Scale Farmers are Cooling Down the Earth”

Session 11:           April 14  Water crisis, water wars:  from Cochabamba to Thessaloniki

Chapters 1, 2 and 4 from Blue Covenant: The Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water, Maude Barlow, 2007


Session 12            April 21   The Health Impacts of Rising Fossil Fuel Use and Climate Change

TUED — An Illness to One is the Concern of All

World Health Organization — whoconferenceonhealthandclimatechangefinalreport(3)


Session 13:           May 6:   Climate Policy and Activism in New York

Reading/s TBA

Session 14:          May 13     Session reserved for revisiting main issues covered in the course  – Begin students presentations

Session 15:          May 20      Student final presentations  – part 2




By |2016-11-01T02:27:27+00:00August 11th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Trade Union and Social Movement Approaches to Climate Change and Ecological Degradation