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Are Union Members More or Less Likely to Be Environmentalists? Some Evidence from Two National Surveys

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This study examines the relationship between unionization and environmental attitudes and behaviors in two national surveys. We begin by comparing the responses of union versus nonunion respondents to sixteen environmental questions in the General Social Survey for various years between 1993 and 2010. Overall, union members are, on average, slightly more likely than the general population to display pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors—having moderately greater mean values for ten of the sixteen pro-environmental items and displaying no difference on the remaining six items. Next, we look at three environmental questions in the American National Election Studies in various years between 1980 and 2012 and find union members on average to be more likely to support environmentalism than the general population for all three items. Finally, we conduct a robustness check by reducing the sample to just employed workers for each of the surveys and find the results to be substantively similar to those for the general population. This study contributes to the ongoing “jobs vs. the environment” debate as well as discussions about the ability of the labor and environmental movements to work together as a broad-based progressive movement for social change.
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DOI: 10.1177/0160449X16643323
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Article
Are Union Members
More or Less Likely to Be
Environmentalists? Some
Evidence from Two National
Surveys
Todd E. Vachon1 and Jeremy Brecher2
Abstract
This study examines the relationship between unionization and environmental
attitudes and behaviors in two national surveys. We begin by comparing the
responses of union versus nonunion respondents to sixteen environmental questions
in the General Social Survey for various years between 1993 and 2010. Overall, union
members are, on average, slightly more likely than the general population to display
pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors—having moderately greater mean values
for ten of the sixteen pro-environmental items and displaying no difference on the
remaining six items. Next, we look at three environmental questions in the American
National Election Studies in various years between 1980 and 2012 and find union
members on average to be more likely to support environmentalism than the general
population for all three items. Finally, we conduct a robustness check by reducing
the sample to just employed workers for each of the surveys and find the results to
be substantively similar to those for the general population. This study contributes
to the ongoing “jobs vs. the environment” debate as well as discussions about the
ability of the labor and environmental movements to work together as a broad-based
progressive movement for social change.
Keywords
labor environmentalism, blue-green coalitions, jobs versus the environment,
sustainable development, just transitions
1University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA
2Labor Network for Sustainability, Takoma Park, MD, USA
Corresponding Author:
Todd E. Vachon, Department of Sociology, University of Connecticut, 344 Mansfield Rd., Unit 1068,
Storrs, CT 06269, USA.
Email: todd.vachon@uconn.edu
643323LSJXXX10.1177/0160449X16643323Labor Studies JournalVachon and Brecher
research-article2016
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2 Labor Studies Journal
Introduction
“Jobs versus the Environment” has been the mantra of the mainstream media when it
comes to unionized workers and environmental issues. High profile cases like the his-
toric struggle between timber workers and defenders of the spotted owl in the Pacific
Northwest have served as great news stories for media outlets concerned with ratings
and advertising revenue (Brecher 2014; Foster 1993). But what of the countless instances
of cooperation between labor and the environmental movement, such as joint support for
environmental legislation like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts (Dewey 1998; Obach
2004) and their ultimate cooperation, after long-running conflict, to conserve old-growth
forests in the Pacific Northwest? To be sure, there are specific instances in which some
unions clash with some environmental interests and other instances when they cooper-
ate, but what on average is the relationship between the blues and the greens?
One possible way to address this question is by polling unionized workers on their
environmental attitudes and behaviors and then comparing their responses with those of
the general population to see if they differ in any way. Using data from two nationally
representative surveys—the General Social Survey (GSS) and the American National
Election Studies (ANES)—this study does just that. By exploring a total of nineteen survey
items related to attitudes and behaviors toward the environment, we are able to paint an
overall picture of the relationship between unionized workers and the environment. In
sum, we find that union members are on average slightly more likely to support environ-
mental protection measures; moderately more likely to engage in political action to protect
the environment; and more likely to make green lifestyle choices than the general public.
In the context of decades of neoliberal deregulation and market fundamentalism
that has hurt workers and the environment alike (Harvey 2005; Klein 2014), this study
addresses a very important question: are America’s two largest social movements
compatible? Some have argued that only a large-scale, cross-class social movement is
capable of challenging the logic of unfettered capitalism—any such movement would
surely require the participation of organized labor as well as the environmental move-
ment (Rose 1999). In assessing that compatibility, this study makes several key contri-
butions to labor studies. First, it provides a succinct recount of some of the most
notable instances of conflict and cooperation between labor and environmental orga-
nizations throughout American history. Second, it provides the first nationally repre-
sentative comparison of environmental attitudes and behaviors of union members
versus the general population in the United States. Finally, it contributes to the ongo-
ing discussion of labor-community coalitions in general and blue-green coalition for-
mation in particular, including the ability of these coalitions to develop lasting
relationships that work for broader social change to benefit all working people (Brecher
and Costello 1990; Mayer 2009).
On Common Ground or Uncommon Ground?
When antinuclear activists opposed the building of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant
(later the scene of a serious nuclear accident), a local union distributed a bumper
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Vachon and Brecher 3
sticker reading “Hungry and Out of Work? Eat an Environmentalist!” Labor-
environmental conflict has arisen around nuclear energy; coal mining; “smart growth”
restrictions on development; and many more issues locally, regionally, and nationally
(Uehlein 2010).
Both environmental and labor groups are often divided internally on such issues.
For example, many environmental groups joined with labor in opposing the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but others supported it. The Steelworkers
union supported the Kyoto Protocol on global warming while the Mineworkers and
others opposed it and eventually persuaded the American Federation of Labor and
Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to do so as well. While the AFL-CIO
has come to recognize the reality of climate change and to support policies to expand
green jobs, it has also lobbied against incorporating the targets and timelines recom-
mended by climate scientists in international agreements (Brecher 2013b).
The interest of workers in protecting their jobs is often used by employers to
achieve their own policy objectives; workers are often presented as the public face of
opposition to environmental protection. For example, in the 1990s, a highly publicized
conflict developed over use of the Endangered Species Act to halt logging in the
Pacific Northwest. While proper regulation of logging might well have extended log-
ging employment in the long run, the logging companies held meetings on paid work
time to train workers to oppose the regulations, and the Bush administration encour-
aged the conflict for its political advantage (Durban 1998).
The book Fear at Work: Job Blackmail, Labor and the Environment by Richard
Kazis and Richard L. Grossman (1982) made the case that ever since the establishment
of environmental and workplace protections in the early 1970s, private employers
have resisted further curbs on corporate conduct by threatening job destruction. The
refrain has been that environmental standards, and to some extent occupational safety
and health standards, wipe out existing jobs and make new ones impossible. Fear at
Work showed in detail the use of this job blackmail to split trade unionists from envi-
ronmentalists, making unnatural enemies of those who should be allies. While many
studies indicate that in aggregate, environmental protection is good for jobs and for the
economy as a whole, such specific examples often help those who are opposed to both
workers and environmental protection to frame such situations as “jobs versus the
environment” (Brecher 2013a; Goodstein 1999).
Sometimes, such conflicts can be reconciled. When environmentalists urged restric-
tions on high-sulfur coal that was causing acid rain, the Mineworkers union opposed
their proposals and even insisted that the labor-environmental Occupational Safety
and Health Administration (OSHA)–Environmental Network be shut down. But in
1988, the Mineworkers negotiated an acid rain compromise agreement with Senator
George Mitchell of Maine—later torpedoed by the utility industry (Patashnik 2008).
Unions have a responsibility to protect the jobs of their members, and the labor
movement has a long tradition of providing solidarity with workers in other unions
whose interests are threatened. Environmental organizations, conversely, have as their
primary responsibility protecting particular aspects of the environment, and they are
often determined to do so even if other social groups oppose them.
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A broader philosophic division often occurs around the question of economic
growth. Historically, unions have supported economic growth both as a means to full
employment, a way to provide a better life for all, and as an aspect of human progress.
Environmentalists are often acutely aware, however, of the negative consequences of
economic growth in the pollution of air, water, and land; the harm to human health;
and the threat to the earth’s climate. A beginning at reconciling this division has been
made with proposals for massive job creation through investment in the transition to a
low-carbon economy (Collins 2014).
Despite these sources of conflict, organized labor has often been a proponent of
environmental protection. Its initial involvement has frequently been an extension of
its concern with health issues inside the workplace to the effect of industrial processes
outside the workplace. A classic example occurred on Halloween night, 1948, in
Donora, Pennsylvania, when fluoride released by plants of the U.S. Steel Corporation
caused a toxic cloud that killed twenty and left hundreds more sick or dying. The
“Donora death fog” led the recently formed United Steelworkers Union to recognize
the close connection between health and safety issues in the plant and environmental
issues in surrounding communities. The union became a strong supporter of environ-
mental protection, regarding it as an extension of the union’s responsibility for its
members’ health and safety. In 1963, the Steelworkers supported the very first Federal
Clean Air Act and in 1990, it stated that global warming “may be the single greatest
problem we face.” Workers and environmentalists joined together in many states, such
as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, to fight for the right of workers and communities to
have the right to know the relevant information about toxic substances used in indus-
try—leading to the issuing of national right-to-know protections by both OSHA and
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA; United Steelworkers of America 2006).
Labor has also supported conservation efforts, in part because many workers have
long been active participants in outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. For exam-
ple, in 1958, the AFL-CIO joined with conservationists to support the establishment of
the National Wilderness Preservation System. The AFL-CIO launched a national
Union Sportsmen Alliance in 2007 to work for wildlife habitat protections while guar-
anteeing access for hunters and anglers (Harden 2007).
Over the later decades of the twentieth century as “sustainable development”
emerged as a concept to unite social, economic, and environmental concerns, unions
in the United States and around the world developed their own version of a vision for
sustainable development that integrated the needs of environment and working people
(Sweeney 2012; Silverman 2004). In his retracing of the evolution of trade unionists’
thinking about nature and their relationship to the environment, Silverman (2004)
uncovers a large degree of intellectual and political involvement of labor leaders in
United Nations’ environmental policy making from the 1950s through the 1980s. He
also finds that many international trade union organizations, such as the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the International Trade Secretariats and the
European Trade Union Confederation have participated in various international con-
ferences and institutions such as the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Environment,
the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable
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Development. As the 1992 World Congress of the International Confederation of
Trade Unions, then the dominant global union federation, put it, “in a world of finite
resources there must be a reconciliation between growth and environmental protec-
tion.” Sustainable development demanded “the creation and maintenance of socially
useful, individually fulfilling and environmentally sound employment.” This concern
went beyond economics and environment to “broader social issues” such as “the strug-
gle for human rights, equity and social justice” (Silverman 2004).
Unions and environmentalists have often worked together to fight corporate ene-
mies of labor and the environment. For example, in 1973, the Oil, Chemical, and
Atomic Workers (OCAW) union, largely as a result of the pioneering work of labor-
environmental activist Tony Mazzocchi, struck the notorious polluter Shell Oil at five
refineries, demanding a national health and safety agreement that also would have
significantly reduced the dangers of environmental contamination through poor plant
practices. The Sierra Club and eleven other national environmental organizations sup-
ported the strike, stating,
We have increasingly come to recognize that working people are among the hardest hit
by the hazards of pollution in the workplace. We support the efforts of the OCAW in
demanding a better environment, not just for its own workers, but for all Americans.
(Leopold 2007)
Al Grospiron, president of the OCAW, said,
Organized Labor must emphatically support environmental cleanup efforts and must
never get into the position of opposing such efforts on the grounds of economic hardship
. . . Our position must be that nearly all polluting facilities can be corrected without
hardships to the workers and that in those few cases where corrections are not possible
new job opportunities or compensation must be provided for the workers. (Leopold 2007)
Unions such as the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the American Federation of
State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) helped initiate Earth Day (United
Auto Workers 1970). Organizer of the first Earth Day Dennis Hayes recalls,
The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went
beyond the merely financial. It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense—even
those critical of pollution-belching cars. And, of course, Walter [Reuther] then endorsed
the Clear Air Act that the Big Four (auto companies) were doing their damnedest to kill
or gut. (Uehlein 2010)
In 1975, a group called Environmentalists for Full Employment organized to chal-
lenge fears that environmental protection would lead to job loss by promoting new jobs.
In 1979, unions and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Friends of the
Earth formed the OSHA-Environmental Network with active coalitions in twenty-two
states. It helped pass legislation that gave both workers and communities a right to
know about toxic substances being used in workplaces. Both the OSHA-Environmental
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Network and Environmentalists for Full Employment were initiated by and housed in
the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO, the postmerger successor to the CIO
(Obach 2004).
In 1999, the labor movement and many (although not all) environmental organiza-
tions jointly demanded protection of workers and the environment in any international
trade agreement and joined together to protest the founding World Trade Organization
(WTO) meeting in Seattle. When young environmentalists, some wearing turtle cos-
tumes to represent threatened species, arrived at the mass rallies and demonstrations
of over forty thousand people, the slogan rapidly spread, “Turtles and teamsters,
together at last!” The ensuing “Battle of Seattle” shut down the global summit called
to establish the WTO (Brecher, Costello, and Smith 2000).
In the aftermath of the Battle of Seattle, labor and environmental organizations
organized a major meeting to launch further cooperation. The meeting was scheduled
for September 11, 2001; it was canceled because of the terrorist attacks. Two new
labor-environmental alliances sprang up to continue the collaboration. The Apollo
Alliance, which brought together labor, environmental, and some business groups to
promote massive investment in a clean energy economy, was founded in 2003. The
Blue-Green Alliance (BGA) was founded in 2006 by the Sierra Club and the
Steelworkers union to fight for “green jobs”; it has subsequently been joined by a
number of other unions and environmental groups. In 2012, Apollo merged into the
BGA. Meanwhile, an environmental justice movement also emerged to fight for poor
and minority groups who have been disproportionately impacted by environmental
degradation as their communities have been made dumping grounds for pollution
(Brecher 2015).
Why, despite the highly publicized conflict between labor and environmental
movements and the basis for conflicting interests between them, has labor-environ-
mental cooperation and labor support for environmental protection occurred at all? We
hypothesize that the answer may lie in an unrecognized concern among rank-and-file
union members about environmental issues and an unrecognized desire and even
activism for environmental protection that expresses itself in pro-environmental poli-
cies and actions in the organizations that represent them.
Data and Method
To answer our research question, we look to two long-standing national surveys of
American attitudes and behaviors—the GSS and the ANES. The GSS is the only full-
probability, personal-interview survey designed to monitor changes in both social
characteristics and attitudes currently being conducted in the United States. The sur-
vey has been administered almost annually since 1972. Among the topics covered are
crime and violence, civil liberties, intergroup tolerance, national spending priorities,
issues of morality, psychological well-being, social mobility, and most pertinent here,
concern for the environment. ANES Time Series studies have been conducted since
1948, typically through in-person interviewing, during years of biennial national elec-
tions. Topics cover voting behavior and the elections, together with questions on
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public opinion and attitudes of the electorate. Importantly, both surveys ask respon-
dents if they are a member of a union.
Within the GSS, we have identified a set of sixteen questions that relate to the envi-
ronment. These survey items can be categorized into two broad groups: environmental
attitudes and environmental behaviors. They cover a broad range of issues including
climate change, support for government regulation, and various personal actions that
can be taken to protect the environment. These questions were asked in various years
between 1993 and 2010, creating pooled groups of between 915 and 3,990 respon-
dents for each question. Within the ANES, we identify three items related to the envi-
ronment, and they are all attitudinal questions. These questions were asked in various
years between 1980 and 2012, creating pooled groups of between 3,252 and 24,979
respondents for each question.1 The exact wording of each question, the years asked,
and the sample size for each item is presented in the “Results” section.2
Our analytical approach for this study is descriptive in nature. For each survey item,
we conduct a comparison of responses for union versus nonunion respondents in the
general population.3 The differences in mean values of responses for these two groups
will be tested for statistical significance by way of two-tailed t tests; the null hypoth-
esis being no difference in means. In addition to the traditional significance levels of
.001, .01, and .05, we also indicate significance at the .10 level due to relatively small
sample sizes for some of the survey questions. Finally, as a robustness check, we con-
duct a supplementary analysis with the sample restricted to just employed workers to
see if the findings for union members versus nonmembers in the general population
are the same or different when considering just employed workers—those who could
conceivably be most directly affected by environmental regulations.
Results
GSS
The descriptive statistics for the sixteen survey items in the GSS are presented for
union versus nonunion respondents in Table 1.4 Beginning with attitudes, the first row
of Table 1 summarizes the percent of union members versus the general population
who either disagree or strongly disagree with the following statement about jobs ver-
sus the environment:
We worry too much about the future of the environment and not enough about prices and
jobs today.
Looking at the first datum in Table 1, we can see that 48 percent of the unionized
respondents either disagree or strongly disagree with this statement, compared with
just 43 percent of nonunion respondents. This finding suggests that, on average,
union workers are more concerned with the future of the environment than their non-
union counterparts. Or, stated differently, more nonunion respondents feel that a
greater emphasis should be placed on jobs and prices today than protecting the envi-
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Table 1. Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors of Respondents in the General Social
Survey by Union Status.
Union members Nonmembers
M SD M SD
Attitudes
Economy and government
Environment over economy 0.48* 0.50 0.43 0.49
Government should regulate 0.940.24 0.92 0.28
Increase fuel efficiency standards 0.94 0.02 0.92 0.01
Climate change
Informed about global warming 0.60 0.03 0.60 0.01
Scientists agree about global warming 0.17 0.04 0.15 0.01
Scientists understand causes of global warming 0.73 0.04 0.66 0.01
Willingness to act
Would cut living standards 0.35 0.48 0.32 0.47
Would pay more for goods 0.540.50 0.49 0.50
Would pay higher taxes 0.42** 0.49 0.36 0.48
Behaviors
Political action
Signed an environmental petition 0.32** 0.47 0.25 0.43
Attended an environmental protest 0.03 0.17 0.03 0.17
Donated money to an environmental cause 0.29** 0.49 0.22 0.49
Joined an environmental group 0.12** 0.33 0.08 0.27
Lifestyle choices
Drives less 0.49** 0.61 0.42 0.60
Recycles 0.91** 0.29 0.85 0.36
Buys organic 0.71* 0.46 0.64 0.48
The exact wording of each survey question can be found in the “Results” section of the article; data
coding, survey years, and sample size for all variables can be found in the appendix. Asterisks (and
dagger) denote a statistically significant difference in means between groups.
p < .10. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001 (two-tailed t tests of significance).
ronment for the future. The difference between these two groups’ means is statisti-
cally significant.
The second row in Table 1 summarizes the percent of union versus nonunion
respondents who responded definitely should or probably should to the following
question about government regulation:
On the whole, do you think it should or should not be the government’s responsibility to
impose strict laws to make industry do less damage to the environment?
We can see that 94 percent of union workers compared with just 92 percent of the
general population believe that the government should impose strict laws on industry
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to protect the environment. In other words, unionized workers are slightly more likely
to favor environmental regulation. The difference between these two groups’ means is
statistically significant (p < .10).
The third environmental attitude item in the GSS relates to fuel efficiency standards
for automobiles and asks respondents:
How much do you favor or oppose requiring car makers to make cars and trucks that use
less gasoline?
The results in Table 1 present the percent of respondents who either favor or strongly
favor increasing fuel efficiency standards. We can see that 94 percent of union mem-
bers and 92 percent of the general population support stronger fuel efficiency stan-
dards, but there is no statistical difference between the two groups for this survey item.
Thus, we can say that union members do not differ from the general population in their
opinion about fuel efficiency standards.
The next three items are related to the issue of global warming. Beginning with the
third row of Table 1, we can see the means for responses to the following question
about the respondent’s knowledge about global warming:
Please indicate whether you are very informed, somewhat informed, neither informed nor
uninformed, somewhat uniformed, or very uninformed about global warming.
The results show that 60 percent of both union and nonunion members indicated that
they were either very informed or somewhat informed about global warming. This
finding suggests that union membership is not associated with either increased or
decreased self-assessed knowledge about the issue of global warming.
The next item probes respondent’s beliefs about the extent to which scientists either
agree or disagree about the existence and causes of global warming:
To what extent do environmental scientists agree among themselves about the existence
and causes of global warming?
Just 17 percent of union members and 15 percent of the general population believe that
scientists are in “near complete agreement” about the existence and causes of global
warming. There is no statistical difference between these group means, which suggests
that union members are neither more nor less likely to believe that environmental sci-
entists are in agreement about global warming.
The final item concerning global warming is a question that gauges respondent’s
beliefs about the extent to which scientists understand the causes of global warming:
How well do environmental scientists understand the causes of global warming?
For this item, 73 percent of union members versus 66 percent of the general population
believe that scientists understand the causes of global warming somewhat well or very well.
Although somewhat contradictory to the findings from the previous question—which found
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that few respondents (less than 20 percent) believed that scientists agreed about the causes
of global warming—more than half of the respondents here believe that scientists under-
stand the causes of global warming very well. However, there is still no significant differ-
ence between union members and the general population for this final global warming item.
The next three items measure the willingness of respondents to take action to pro-
tect the environment in the future. The first, willingness to cut living standards, asks:
How willing would you be to accept cuts in your standard of living in order to protect the
environment?
For this item, 35 percent of union members versus 32 percent of the general population
are willing to accept a cut in their living standards to protect the environment. However,
the lack of statistical significance leads us to conclude that there is no difference
between union members and the general population on this particular item. The second
measure of willingness to act concerns prices of goods and asks:
How willing would you be to pay much higher prices in order to protect the environment?
For this item, there is a statistically significant difference in means, with 54 percent of
union members compared with just 49 percent of the general population willing to pay
much higher prices to protect the environment (p < .10). The final item in this group
concerns taxation to protect the environment and asks:
How willing would you be to pay much higher taxes in order to protect the environment?
Here, 42 percent of union members compared with just 36 percent of the general popu-
lation would be willing to pay higher taxes if they were used to protect the environ-
ment. The difference in group means for this item is statistically significant.
The next group of items deals with pro-environmental behaviors, including politi-
cal activism and personal lifestyle decisions to protect the environment. Beginning
with political action, the first item in this section asks respondents if they have recently
signed an environmental petition:
In the last five years, have you signed a petition about an environmental issue?
The data suggest that union members are significantly more likely to have signed a
petition in the past five years, with 32 percent of members compared with just 25 per-
cent of the general population responding yes. The second political action item—
attended a protest—asks:
In the last five years, have you taken part in a protest or demonstration about an
environmental issue?
For this item, there is no significant difference in means, with just 3 percent of union
members and the general population indicating that they have attended a protest for an
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environmental issue. The third political item asks respondents if they have recently
donated money to an environmental cause:
In the last five years, have you given money to an environmental group?
In total, 29 percent of union members compared with 22 percent of the general
population indicated that they have donated money to an environmental group. The
difference in means is statistically significant for this item, with union members
being more likely to have donated money to an environmental cause. The final
measure of political action asks if respondents have joined an environmental
organization:
Are you a member of any group whose main aim is to preserve or protect the environment?
Again, we find a statistically significant difference in means for this item, with 12
percent of union members compared with just 8 percent of the general population
indicating that they have joined an environmental organization.
These findings for political action might be expected for union members as they are
simply more accustomed than the general public to engaging in various forms of polit-
ical action, but what about their personal lifestyle choices related to the environment?
The next set of questions addresses personal behaviors and lifestyle choices that
respondents may have made to protect the environment. For the next three items, the
response categories of always, often, and sometimes were combined and compared
with the response of never. The first item, drives less, asks:
How often do you cut back on driving a car for environmental reasons?
The data reveal that 49 percent of union members, compared with 42 percent of the
general population, indicated that they drive less for environmental reasons. The dif-
ference in means is significant. The second lifestyle item concerns recycling:
How often do you make a special effort to sort glass or cans or plastic or papers and so on
for recycling?
Again, we find a statistically significant difference, with 91 percent of union members
and just 85 percent of the general population indicating that they make a special effort
to recycle. Looking next at consumption choices, we assess responses to a question
about choosing to purchase organic products:
How often do you make a special effort to buy fruits and vegetables grown without
pesticides or chemicals?
Union members again are statistically more likely to purchase chemical free foods,
with 71 percent of members compared with 64 percent of the general population indi-
cating that they always, often, or sometimes purchase organic produce.
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Taken together, these sixteen items suggest that, on average, union members are
modestly more likely to display pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors in the GSS.
The next section will probe the relationship between union membership and environ-
mentalism in the ANES biannual surveys.
ANES
The descriptive statistics for the three environmental survey items in the ANES are
presented for union versus nonunion respondents in Table 2. The first two items deal
with the economy and government. Beginning with the first question, respondents
were asked:
Some people think we need much tougher government regulations on business in order
to protect the environment (suppose these people are at one end of a scale, at point 1).
Others think that current regulations to protect the environment are already too much of
a burden on business (suppose these people are at the other end of the scale, at point 7).
And, of course, some other people have opinions somewhere in between, at points 2, 3,
4, 5, or 6. Where would you place yourself on this scale?
Values of 1, 2, and 3 were combined for this item to represent a desire to increase regu-
lation of business to protect the environment (values of 4-7 represent either satisfaction
with current levels of regulation or a desire to deregulate business). As we can see at the
first data point in Table 2, 65 percent of union members feel that tougher regulations are
needed to protect the environment, compared with just 55 percent of the general popu-
lation. The difference in means for the two groups is statistically significant.
The second item asks respondents about their preferences for government spending
for environmental protection. The question asks:
Table 2. Environmental Attitudes of Respondents in the American National Election Studies
by Union Status.
Union members Nonmembers
M SD M SD
Attitudes
Economy and government
Government regulation 0.65*** 0.48 0.55 0.50
Increase government spending 0.55*** 0.50 0.50 0.50
Environmental movement
Thermometer for environmentalists 70.28** 19.75 68.47 20.94
The exact wording of each survey question can be found in the “Results” section of the article; data
coding, survey years, and sample size for all variables can be found in the appendix. Asterisks denote a
statistically significant difference in means between groups.
p < .10. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001 (two-tailed t tests of significance).
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Vachon and Brecher 13
If you had a say in making up the federal budget this year, for which programs would you
like to see spending increased and for which would you like to see spending decreased:
Should federal spending on improving/protecting the environment be increased,
decreased, or kept the same?
The percent of union members who express a desire to increase spending to protect the
environment is 55 percent compared with just 50 percent of the general population.
This difference is statistically significant.
The final item from the ANES is a “thermometer” question, in which respondents
are asked to rate various political groups, parties, and so forth on a scale from 0 to 100.
The question is worded as follows:
There are many groups in America that try to get the government or the American people
to see things more their way. We would like to get your feelings towards some of these
groups. I have here a card on which there is something that looks like a thermometer. We
call it a “feeling thermometer” because it measures your feelings towards groups. Here’s
how it works. If you don’t know too much about a group or don’t feel particularly warm
or cold toward them, then you should place them in the middle, at the 50 degree mark. If
you have a warm feeling toward a group or feel favorably toward it, you would give it a
score somewhere between 50 degrees and 100 degrees, depending on how warm your
feeling is toward the group. On the other hand, if you don’t feel very favorably toward
some of these groups—if there are some you don’t care for too much—then you would
place them somewhere between 0 degrees and 50 degrees. Using the thermometer, how
would you rate environmentalists?
The average temperature rating for environmentalists by union members was 70.28
degrees, and the average rating by the general population was 68.47 degrees. This sug-
gests that union members have a slightly more favorable opinion of environmentalists
than the general population. The difference in means for this item is statistically
significant.
Taking these three items together, we find on average that union members are mod-
erately more likely to display pro-environmental attitudes than their nonunion coun-
terparts in the ANES. The significance of these findings will be discussed in greater
detail in the “Discussion and Conclusion” section.
Supplemental Analysis
To check the robustness of the findings, we tried restricting the sample to just employed
workers—defined as those currently employed either full-time or part-time—by
excluding the self-employed, retired, full-time students, and homemakers. This restric-
tion led to a reduction in sample size for all questions, with the N now ranging between
567 and 2,459 depending on the particular question.5 Comparing the union versus
nonunion employed workers in the GSS, we find union members to display slightly
more pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors on six of the sixteen items (govern-
ment should regulate, scientists know causes of global warming, signed an
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14 Labor Studies Journal
environmental petition, drives less, recycles, and buys organic) and show no statistical
difference for the remaining ten items. While this is a reduction in the number of sig-
nificant differences compared with the sample of the general population (where there
were ten statistically different findings), the same pattern is present—the union mem-
bers are on average more likely to show concern for the environment.
Moving to the ANES, the restriction of the sample reduced the sample size to a
range of 2,064 for the item with the fewest responses and 15,151 for the item with the
most responses. For these three items, the findings are unchanged, employed workers
that are union members are more likely to display pro-environmental attitudes than
their nonunion counterparts, and the differences are statistically significant. In sum,
we can reasonably assume that our findings are robust as they hold up even when look-
ing at just employed workers—a smaller sample and, thus, a more conservative statis-
tical test than the general population.6
Discussion and Conclusion
In this study, we addressed the issue of labor environmentalism; in particular, we asked
whether union members were more or less likely to display positive attitudes and
behaviors toward the environment. Using data from two nationally representative sur-
veys—the GSS and the ANES—we compared the mean responses of union members
with the general population for nineteen indicators of pro-environmental attitudes and
behaviors. In sum, we find union members are moderately more likely to support the
environment in thirteen of the nineteen measures and show no difference from the
general population on the remaining six measures. In addition, we conducted a supple-
mental analysis that limited the sample to just employed workers, and we again found
union members were moderately more likely to display pro-environmental attitudes
and behaviors in this smaller sample.
This finding seems to go against the common sense understanding portrayed in the
media that union members are solely concerned with their own economic interests at
the expense of all others, including the environment. However, a more informed his-
torical analysis would reveal a long record of environmental concern among unionized
workers and their organizations that overlaps and intermingles with the sporadic “news
event” conflicts that occasionally flare up between workers and environmentalists.
Our findings suggest that, at worst, union members are no different from the general
population when it comes to environmental attitudes and behaviors and in many cases
they are moderately more concerned than the average American.
Despite statistically significant findings, this study suffers from some limitations.
For example, the GSS and ANES data sets, while providing a rich array of questions
to choose from, lack some important pieces of information for this study, namely, what
kind of union the individual respondents belong to. Presumably, workers’ attitudes
will vary across sectors of employment, particularly if their livelihood is directly
related to industries that would experience the greatest impact of environmental pro-
tection measures. Furthermore, the number of unionized respondents in a given sam-
ple year is quite low, requiring the combination of multiple years to generate a
reasonable sample. Considering these limitations, we recommend several avenues for
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Vachon and Brecher 15
future research to expand our understanding of the relationship between unionization
and workers’ attitudes toward the environment.
Future research in this area could complement the existing array of excellent qualita-
tive case studies (e.g., Foster 1993; Mayer 2009; Obach 2004) by conducting multivari-
ate regression analyses of the effects of unionization on workers’ attitudes after
controlling for a variety of individual-level characteristics such as income and education.
In addition, a decomposition of the union effect for different sectors (public vs. private)
and industries of employment (blue-collar workers in extraction, manufacturing, con-
struction, etc. vs. white-collar workers in education, clerical work, retail, etc.) could
further inform our understanding of the sometimes complicated relationship between
workers’ attitudes on jobs and the environment. Another interesting avenue would be a
study of how the attitudes of workers have changed over time; are union members
becoming more or less environmentally conscious than they once were? The political
and social context of environmental issues for workers was likely quite different in the
1980s than it is in the early twenty-first century. To pursue some of these questions, a
new source of data is required, one with an oversampling of union members and repeated
administration of questions over time. We recommend future scholars to further consider
these important questions about workers’ attitudes toward the environment.
On Common Ground After All?
Unions face an inescapable tension. On the one hand, they are principally organized to
protect the work-related interests of their members. On the other hand, they have a
responsibility to represent the broad class and social interests their members share with
other workers, citizens, and human beings. From time to time, these interests come into
conflict. When a particular group of workers finds their very livelihoods threatened by
environmental protection or other socially necessary policies, their unions have a
responsibility to ensure that the burden of change is not unjustly put on them.
Faced with such a situation, unions can simply fight against socially desirable poli-
cies that may harm some of their members. But unions have the opportunity to pursue
another course: not trying to preserve environmentally destructive jobs, but fighting for
economic security and/or new jobs with equal or better wages and benefits. This has
come to be known as providing a “just transition.” Fighting for such a just transition can
be a crucial point of convergence between environmental and labor advocates.
What is more remarkable than the fact that some unions at times oppose specific envi-
ronmental policies that may harm their members is the fact that particular unions and orga-
nized labor as a whole have so often served as advocates for environmental protection.
Unions, in such cases, far from pursuing interests of members that contradict broader
social interests, advocate for the interests their members share with others. As Olga Madar,
the first head of the UAW Conservation and Resource Development Department, put it
around the time the UAW was helping initiate the first Earth Day, union members were
“first and foremost American citizens and consumers” who “breathe the same air and drink
and bathe in the same water” as their neighbors in other occupations (UAWs 1970).
This study shows that instances in which unions support environmental policies and
even take the lead in environmental efforts are not aberrations, but rather they may be
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16 Labor Studies Journal
reflections of the concerns and convictions of their rank-and-file members. Union mem-
bers, far from being only concerned with their immediate self-interest at the expense of a
broader common interest in environmental protection, are at least equally concerned
about the environment as the general population and in some cases more concerned and
more willing to act on that concern than either the public at large or nonunion workers.
That fact should encourage environmental advocates to strengthen their outreach to work-
ers and their unions, knowing that union members are on average moderately more pro-
environmental than the population as a whole. And it should encourage union activists
and leaders who are themselves concerned about protecting the environment to go forth
boldly, knowing that there are likely to be reserves of support for environmental protec-
tion among trade union members. In sum, the results of this study suggest that there is
potential in America for the two largest social movements—labor and the environmental
movement—to work together on a broad progressive platform that brings together work-
ing class and middle class activists to fight for a more just and sustainable future for all.
Appendix
Data Coding, Survey Years, and Sample Size for All Variables.
Variable coding Sample year(s) n
General Social Survey
Environment over
economy
reverse coded from economy
over environment: strongly
disagree and disagree = 1; neither
agree nor disagree, agree, and
strongly agree = 0
1993, 1994,
2000, 2010
3,917
Government should
regulate
definitely should and probably
should = 1; probably should not and
definitely should not = 0
1996, 2006 2,301
Increase fuel efficiency
standards
strongly favor and favor = 1; neither
favor nor oppose, oppose, and
strongly oppose = 0
2006 915
Informed about global
warming
very informed and somewhat
informed = 1; neither informed nor
uninformed, somewhat uninformed,
and very uninformed = 0
2006 1,834
Scientists agree about
global warming
near complete agreement = 1;
partial agreement through no
agreement at all = 0
2006, 2010 1,128
Scientists understand
causes of global
warming
understand very well and
understand somewhat well = 1; do
not understand very well and do not
understand at all = 0
2006, 2010 1,178
(continued)
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Vachon and Brecher 17
Variable coding Sample year(s) n
Would cut living
standards
very willing and fairly willing = 1;
neither willing nor unwilling, fairly
unwilling, and very unwilling = 0
1993, 1994,
2000, 2010
3,871
Would pay more for
goods
very willing and fairly willing = 1;
neither willing nor unwilling, fairly
unwilling, and very unwilling = 0
1993, 1994,
2000, 2010
3,834
Would pay higher taxes very willing and fairly willing = 1;
neither willing nor unwilling, fairly
unwilling, and very unwilling = 0
1993, 1994,
2000, 2010
3,869
Signed an
environmental
petition
yes = 1; no = 0 1993, 1994,
2000, 2010
3,901
Attended an
environmental
protest
yes = 1; no = 0 1993, 1994,
2000, 2010
3,827
Donated money to an
environmental cause
yes = 1; no= 0 1994, 2000,
2010
2,432
Joined an
environmental
group
yes = 1; no = 0 1993, 1994,
2000, 2010
3,990
Drives less always, often, and sometimes = 1;
never = 0
1993, 1994,
2010
2,949
Recycles always, often, and sometimes = 1;
never = 0
1993, 1994,
2000, 2010
3,855
Buys organic always, often, and sometimes = 1;
never = 0
1993, 1994,
2010
2,978
American National Election Studies
Government regulation 1 (much tougher regulations needed),
2, 3 = 1; 4, 5, 6, 7 (regulations
lready too much) = 0
1996-2000 3,252
Increase government
spending
increase = 1; same, decrease, and
cut out entirely (volunteered) = 0
1984-2012 24,979
Thermometer for
environmentalists
continuous measure from 0-100,
with 100 representing the
warmest possible feeling toward
environmentalists
1980, 1988-
2008
16,201
The exact wording of each survey question appears in the “Results” section of the article.
Appendix (continued)
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
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18 Labor Studies Journal
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.
Notes
1. One shortcoming of the General Social Survey (GSS) and American National Election
Studies (ANES) data sets is the relatively small number of union respondents in any given
sample year. To create a large enough sample size for statistical analysis, we made the
decision to combine multiple years in this analysis. This issue is discussed further in the
“Discussion and Conclusion” section.
2. A complete description of each survey item and how it is coded can be provided by the
authors upon request.
3. Thus, we are comparing the mean values for union members with those of nonmembers in
the general population, including other workers, unemployed workers, retirees, students,
and homemakers. A supplemental analysis is also conducted in which we compare just
union workers with nonunion workers.
4. The asterisks (and daggers) represent a statistically significant difference in means between
the two groups (union vs. nonunion) at the levels of statistical significance indicated by the
key at the bottom of the table.
5. It is important to note that smaller samples have fewer degrees of freedom, which may
increase the chances of type II statistical errors, or “false negatives” (the failure to reject a
false null hypothesis; Peck and Devore 2011).
6. Tables for the supplemental analyses are available from the authors upon request.
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Author Biographies
Todd E. Vachon is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut where his research and
teaching interests include labor and labor movements, the sociology of work, environmental
sociology, and social stratification. His previously published works have explored a variety of
labor-related issues, including the relationship between teacher unionization and high school
student achievement and the effect of globalization and labor market transformation on union
density in U.S. metropolitan areas. His dissertation will explore the relationship between union-
ization and environmentalism in a comparative perspective.
Jeremy Brecher is cofounder of the Labor Network for Sustainability, a historian, and the
author of numerous books on labor and social movements, including Strike!, Brass Valley,
History from Below, Building Bridges, Global Visions, Global Village or Global Pillage, and
Globalization from Below. He is also a regular contributor to The Nation magazine, and his cur-
rent work focuses on the topic of labor and climate change, including his most recent book
Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival.
by guest on April 14, 2016lsj.sagepub.comDownloaded from
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... Die Ergebnisse widersprechen Vorurteilen, dass Gewerkschaftsmitglieder ausschließlich ökonomische Interessen, auch auf Kosten ökologischer, vertreten (Vachon/Brecher 2016). ...
Thesis
Wie sich eine unter sozial-ökologischen Gesichtspunkten adäquate Produktions- und Lebensweise gestaltet, ist gesellschaft­lich umkämpft und wird in verschiedenen Debatten verhandelt. Die Deutungen gewerkschaftlicher Akteure in diesem Feld und die Frage, wie sie sozial-ökologische Krisenmomente der hegemonialen Produktions- und Lebensweise adressieren, stehen im Fokus meiner empirischen Untersuchung. Geleitet wird die Arbeit von der Frage, welche Normen, Werte und Deutungen in Bezug auf sozial-ökolo­gische Themenfelder und ihrer politischen Bearbeitung unter gewerk­schaftlichen Akteu­ren bestehen. Die Untersuchung will sich ihren Kodierungen des Selbst und der Welt im Verhältnis zur Natur an­nähern. Diese werden als politisch-kulturelle Orien­tierungen verstanden und vor dem Hintergrund gesellschaftlicher Transformation betrachtet. Mein Forschungs­interesse fokussiert auf gewerkschaftliche Akteure der IG Metall, die neben der Krise der traditionsreichen Stahl­industrie insbesondere mit dem Strukturwandel der Auto­mobilindustrie konfrontiert sind. Um die begrifflichen Voraussetzungen für den politisch-kulturellen Zugang zu gewerkschaftlicher Politik im sozial-ökologischen Feld zu schaffen, liegt mein Forschungs­interesse darüber hinaus auch auf der Verbindung entsprechender gesellschaftstheoretischer Debatten. Konzepte zum Verhältnis von Natur und Gesellschaft werden mit Theorien verbunden, die Zusammenhänge von Produktions- und Lebens­weise herstellen. Die Zugänge zur Natur stehen einerseits in der Tradition materialistischer und kriti­scher Gesellschaftstheorie (Görg 1999a; 2003b) und sind andererseits kultursoziologisch ausgerichtet (Eder 2008; Kropp 2002). In Rückführung auf Karl Marx sowie Antonio Gramsci und die frühen Cultural Studies werden wiederum Produktions- und Lebensweise betrachtet. Insbesondere das von Raymond Williams (1958, 1961) ausgehende Konzept zur Kultur als Lebensweise werde ich für eine Analyseperspektive fruchtbar machen, die gewerkschaft­liche Umweltpolitik im Zusammenhang von Produktions- und Lebensweise versteht. Damit können sowohl materielle als auch ideologische Momente gewerk­schaftlicher Positionierungen im sozial-ökologischen Feld erfasst werden. Vor diesem Hintergrund werden Gewerkschafter_innen als Akteure einer moralischen Ökonomie (Thompson 1971) betrachtet. Aufgrund der historisch ge­wachsene Rolle von Gewerkschaften als kor­poratistische bzw. tripartistische Akteure werden entsprechende Theorien mit Blick auf jüngere Ent­wicklungen in Wohlfahrtsstaaten erschlossen (Mau 2003, 2004; Svallfors 2006; Maiolino 2014). Damit verbundene Kämpfe um gesellschaftliche Hegemonie verweisen auf die kulturellen Implikationen industrieller Transformationsprozesse. Abschließend diskutiere ich, inwiefern gewerkschaftliche Deutungsmuster bzw. deren öffentliche Kodierung im sozial-ökologischen Feld fruchtbar für progressive Umweltpolitik gemacht und mit gewerkschaftlichen Zielen ver­bunden werden kann. Dies wird unter Berücksichtigung der historisch gewachsenen politischen Kultur von Gewerkschaften sowie veränder­ten gesellschaftlichen Bedingungen, die im Zusammenhang mit der sozial-ökologischen Krise stehen, kontextualisiert.
... Education, income, age/cohort, social class, union membership, and place attachment have some influence on climate change perceptions and on the ability to take action, but the effects are moderate compared with the factors we have already discussed and are often indirect (Poortinga et al. 2019, Shwom et al. 2015, Vachon & Brecher 2016. A few studies have attempted to assess the effects of experience with weather extremes or climate change on perceptions, but the evidence is mixed (Marquart-Pyatt et al. 2014, Zanocco et al. 2018. ...
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Climate change is one of the greatest ecological and social challenges of the twenty-first century. Sociologists have made important contributions to our knowledge of the human drivers of contemporary climate change, including better understanding of the effects of social structure and political economy on national greenhouse gas emissions, the interplay of power and politics in the corporate sector and in policy systems, and the factors that influence individual actions by citizens and consumers. Sociology is also poised to make important contributions to the study of climate justice across multiple lines of stratification, including race, class, gender, indigenous identity, sexuality and queerness, and disability, and to articulate the effects of climate change on our relationship to nonhuman species. To realize its potential to contribute to the societal discourse on climate change, sociology must become theoretically integrated, engage with other disciplines, and remain concerned with issues related to environmental and climate inequalities. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Sociology, Volume 46 is July 30, 2020. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.
... The study of cross-movement coalitions between the labor and environmental movements, or "blue-green coalitions" is interdisciplinary in nature, with a rapidly growing literature across sociology, labor studies, history, and political science. Previous survey research has established that union members exhibit concern for environmental problems at rates similar to or higher than the general population (Chen 2016;Kojola, Xiao, and McCright 2014;Vachon and Brecher 2016), and has shown that union leaders across a variety of economic sectors report favorable relationships with environmental NGOs-engaging in information sharing, regular meetings, and joint political action (Obach 2002). However, because these surveys most often operationalize environmental concern through simplistic Likert-scale responses and aggregate responses as a whole instead of grouping by economic sector, it provides a homogenized and limited understanding of union members' environmental attitudes. ...
Article
Through an examination of collective action frames, this article explores the sociopolitical motivations driving American union members' engagement in the climate change movement, as well as the political ideologies inferred by their proposed action strategies. The analysis centers on the historic action of the 2014 People's Climate March (PCM) and employs a qualitative mixed-methods approach, including 19 in-depth interviews with labor leaders and rank-and-file members who participated in the march. I find that the majority of these labor activists contend that climate change is a result of systemic political-economic arrangements, and mobilize around climate change under the master frame of environmental justice. However, divergent frames exist within the prognostic realm, with some labor activists advancing reformist mitigation strategies that adhere to the paradigm of ecological modernization, and others advocating political strategies that entail more structurally transformative interventions. I also discuss the PCM's legacy impact on coalition building between the labor and environmental movements, and identify obstacles that exist to labor's future climate justice organizing in the U.S. context. In concluding, I note the limitations of this analysis and suggest avenues for future research on this topic.
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The most important book yet from the author of the international bestseller The Shock Doctrine, a brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core “free market” ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems.In short, either we embrace radical change ourselves or radical changes will be visited upon our physical world. The status quo is no longer an option. In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Klein argues that the changes to our relationship with nature and one another that are required to respond to the climate crisis humanely should not be viewed as grim penance, but rather as a kind of gift—a catalyst to transform broken economic and cultural priorities and to heal long-festering historical wounds. And she documents the inspiring movements that have already begun this process: communities that are not just refusing to be sites of further fossil fuel extraction but are building the next, regeneration-based economies right now. Can we pull off these changes in time? Nothing is certain. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.
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The notion that economic growth is, almost by definition, a good thing has been subjected to serious and well-informed criticism in recent years. Diverse organizationally, geographically, and ideologically, those challenging growth are united by one realization: the world’s ecosystems are in a state of extreme distress and the planet will be unlivable in just a few decades. Climate change, ocean acidification, species extinction, desertification, ozone depletion, and alarming levels of water contamination and scarcity are part of a long list of crises that have their origins in one thing—economic activity that increasingly raids the world’s stores of “natural capital” and pollutes and degrades everything in its path. The message emerging from the critique of growth is loud and clear—human civilization must quickly put a check on economic expansion and allow the ecosystems to repair themselves before it is too late. Indisputably true, but what can unions do? Workers are, of course, part of the very economy that seems to be causing the environmental problems, both as producers and consumers. How can unions, even in theory, be against economic growth? And unions and workers do not feature much in the talk about an ecological post-growth society (the few eco-socialist writers being the exception). The overuse of insipid terms like “green jobs” cannot hide the fact that the ecological crisis is not on the agenda of the U.S. labor movement. And those who raise ecological issues are likely to be reminded that labor is too embroiled in a struggle for its own survival to have much time and energy to commit to planetary survival. However, labor has much to gain by addressing, rather than avoiding, the ecological crisis and its causes—many of the solutions would help, rather than harm, unions and workers. Thus far, unions that have been engaged in ecological issues (mostly outside the U.S.) have tried to repackage growth as part of a green economic agenda, looking at growth the way an internist would read a patient’s cholesterol levels. Just as there is good and bad cholesterol, there is good growth (the “real” economy, green investments, rebuilding infrastructure) and bad growth (financial speculation, asset bubbles, etc.). But what is green growth, exactly? The world’s leading green growth theorist and spokesperson is probably former World Bank chief economist, Sir Nicholas Stern. In 2006, Stern authored a major study on the economics of climate change, known as the Stern Review, which rejected the idea that growth must inevitably lead to more emissions and ecological stress. Human civilization does not have to learn to get by with less, he says, nor does capitalism itself need to be fundamentally restructured. Low carbon production and environmentally-friendly growth is technically possible. All we need to do now is make it a political reality. This perspective, known as “ecological modernization,” rests on the premise that technological and other efficiencies can “dematerialize” economic activity. We can get more output from fewer material inputs, thus decoupling economic growth from environmental damage. Perhaps the main policy plank in the platform of ecological modernization is the pricing of externalities like carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Once priced, the markets will work their magic and the economy can keep growing indefinitely. Government is important, but only as an enabler of green economic activity and not in any direct command-in-control sense. Unions, globally, have operated on the premise that the real-world historical options are essentially twofold. Either humanity will transition to some form of green capitalism, or we will face a “suicide capitalism” scenario where fossil-fuel corporations and major industrial, agricultural, transportation, and retail interests are successful in extending “business as usual” past the point of no return. The former allows space for unions; the latter does not. Unions have therefore generally accepted Stern’s green growth perspective and are, whether truly conscious of it or not, ecological modernizers. However, unions question whether private markets can drive green growth, and they have sought to move the debate toward a global Green New Deal (GND) through which governments—supported by labor—play a leading role, particularly in setting emissions targets and timetables...