By Katie Tracy, Center for Progressive Reform
Tomorrow (September 20), I’m standing up for workers’ rights by marching to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., as part of the Global Climate Strike. I’ll be walking in solidarity with the students and youth organizing the strike to spread the message that climate action is imperative.
Addressing the growing climate crisis and creating jobs are two necessary actions often pitted against each other, as if only one were possible at a time. That’s a false choice, misleading rhetoric created by the fossil fuel industry and climate science deniers in Congress to slow down government action while continuing to pass the cost of dirty energy extraction onto families and communities – both in dollars and in health consequences. The reality is that we can have both good, green jobs and a healthy environment; thriving workers and a thriving planet go together.
Discussions about climate change often start with the environmental solutions required to curb carbon pollution, from shifting to renewable energy sources to regenerative agriculture. These discussions are critical, but we can’t forget about workers. Many are significantly impacted by the effects of climate change, and we could end up uprooting the lives of many more if we do not account for them in our climate plans.
Climate change, left unabated, poses significant health and safety hazards to millions of workers, such as more frequent and intense exposure to extreme heat and extreme weather events, air pollution, toxic chemicals, and vector-borne illnesses. While workers continue to labor in increasingly hazardous conditions, their productivity will likely decline in an effort to maintain their health and safety, posing economic risks to working families and employers. What is more, inaction will increase the likelihood of illness, resulting in more days away from work, while more frequent and more extreme weather events will wreak havoc on existing infrastructure, making it more difficult for workers to commute and costly for businesses to rebuild. If that doesn’t sound like an idyllic future, we have to stop the wait-and-see approach and instead act with determination and courage right now.
Taking action to combat climate change will also affect workers’ health, safety, and economic well-being, which is why workers must be at the center of the conversation. For example, transitioning away from fossil fuel extraction to renewable energy sources will result in businesses disappearing and workers losing their jobs. But at the same time, millions of jobs will be created in the new, green energy economy. We must put plans in place to ensure we leave no one behind, whether by guaranteeing a just transition to a new job or, for older workers, into retirement. We must ensure that all workers have good, fair-paying jobs, job training programs, good health care, and the right to organize.
The bottom line: Climate change will affect our lives. The only question is whether we want to prepare our families, our businesses, and ourselves for the future ahead, or follow the path that the fossil fuel industry has mapped out for us: letting the escalating climate crisis create chaos so that they can continue to rake in profits in the short term. I choose to stand with the strikers on Friday, calling for action right now.