Blue Collars, Green Jobs?

Environmentalists Must Stop Dismissing Unions and Embrace Their Ecomodernism Instead

It was an odd sight: in June 2019, members of California’s Building and Construction Trades Council stood outside the launch of Democratic Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Green New Deal LA” in angry protest. Odd, because the union’s denouncement of the deal as a betrayal of the working class stood in direct contrast to the rhetoric of the policy’s partisans, who said it had been designed specifically to replicate the Rooseveltian policies that first cemented organized labor’s allegiance to the Democratic Party in the 1930s.

“Green New Deal LA”—a municipal spin on the climate-and-jobs resolution of the same name introduced in Washington, DC, by US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—was supposed to be drafted with workers at its heart. The red thread running through both plans is what the climate Left (of which I consider myself a member, despite disagreements) describes as a Just Transition: as urgent as aggressive action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions may be, the argument goes, the decarbonization of the economy cannot leave workers behind. This means embracing the Keynesian government interventionism of the original New Deal to transcend the profit-driven amorality of the market—hence public spending to ensure solar panels on every roof; schools and homes across the land retrofitted with insulation; and much more clean infrastructural largesse besides.

Yet the building trades workers out that June day were pelting rhetorical tomatoes at that very kind of spending as envisioned by the Green New Deal. And this wasn’t the first note of anger, either. Earlier in the spring, Richard Trumka, then president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)—the umbrella organization to which most unions belong—had also criticized the deal, pointing out that “[unions] weren’t part of the process, so the worker’s interest wasn’t really figured into it.” As Brian D’Arcy, the business manager of the LA local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, explained at the June rally, his members were enraged by what they felt were “elites” in the Democratic Party focusing on the Green New Deal at the expense of the party’s blue-collar supporters. He said some were even considering decamping to Trump’s Republican Party.

A few days after the protest, representatives from the Building and Construction Trades Council took what they called their “Blue Collar Revolution” to that year’s California Democratic convention in San Francisco, where they reminded delegates that building trades workers were, as their placards read, “the people who built California.” That’s not an exaggeration. The council is the California affiliate of North America’s Building Trades Unions, which bring together 14 of the most powerful unions across the United States and Canada, including those representing teamsters, electricians, boilermakers, iron workers, plasterers, and other workers in the construction industry. They didn’t just build the state; they basically built the continent.

Their anger is worth taking seriously, yet few have. Even as Fox News took to gleefully reporting on the supposed falling-out between labor and the Left, many on the climate Left have dismissed it as a case of conservative union bureaucrats aligning themselves with employers or claimed the building trades are notoriously conservative and so not representative of the union movement as a whole. One writer at the Left-leaning In These Times said that, at best, labor leaders like Trumka have “straddled the line between the [AFL-CIO’s] conservative and progressive members,” and that the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which has been particularly vociferous in its criticisms of the Green New Deal, is pretty small these days and so its position was also not representative: “With 80,000 members today, UMWA is more of a retirees’ organization than a fighting union.” Meanwhile, in a July 2019 article in The Nation, activist and writer Bob Massie suggested that union opposition to a Green New Deal is because “fossil-fuel executives and lobbyists have fanned this fear . . . that a shift to renewable energy would throw them out of work,” adding that the American Petroleum Institute has paid for union safety and training programs.

The idea that any disagreement with the Green New Deal represents a rising conservatism within unions is risible—as are right-wing commentators’ predictions of unions coming to back Trump. To categorize the building trades as dupes of bosses and lobbyists and as historically and intrinsically conservative, even if it were true, is to dismiss almost the entirety of America’s industrial unions. It would be giving up on all industrial workplaces as a site of social justice struggle.

The frustration from these unions is instead an entirely legitimate rage at what they feel is yet another attack on working-class standards of living, a repetition of such assaults that have been unremitting since the 1980s. If there is no effort made at understanding why they feel this way and course-correcting in response, then there can be no Just Transition at all.

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The Bitter Lesson of 1989

Crucial to comprehending industrial labor’s mistrust of the Green New Deal is Trumka’s own role leading the UMWA during a bitter (but ultimately victorious) 10-month strike in 1989–1990 against the Pittston Coal Company, which was then one of the largest coal companies in Appalachia. The firm had refused to continue paying into an industry-wide health and retirement fund established in 1950, leaving thousands of retired and disabled miners and their widows without benefits. Given the prevalence of black lung and other disabilities from mining accidents, this is a group of workers for whom health, pension, and disability protections are particularly important.

The Pittston strike, one of the few in the 1980s that labor actually won, thus became a beacon in the dark days of Reaganite corporate cutbacks, union-busting, and broken promises. It taught Trumka—and the rest of the labor movement—to be suspicious of anyone who promised workers that they would be taken care of. That sentiment lives on today as history repeats itself. Indeed, one of Trumka’s last major fights (he died in August 2021) at the AFL-CIO alongside those in the UMWA was over coal companies’ filing for bankruptcy in order to avoid, once again, contributing to health and pension funds. One can immediately see from the history of miners’ repeated struggles over pension and disability protections how comments from some on the Left dismissing the UMWA as merely a retirees’ organization sting particularly badly.

Against this history, it is easy to see why labor wouldn’t take Green New Deal pledges to put workers first at face value. And easy to understand the unusually distemperate open letter that the Energy Committee of the AFL-CIO sent in March 2019 to Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic Senator Edward Markey, sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution in the Senate. The letter said that the resolution “is far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members and the critical sectors of our economy.” The committee further warned: “We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.”

It is worth highlighting that nowhere in this letter did the union representatives reject the need for aggressive climate action, as Fox News or the climate Left might have it. Indeed, beyond reported sound bites, it is clear from what labor leaders and rank-and-file members have actually said and done that the environment ranks high among their concerns. “We need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly,” Trumka said immediately after the release of Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s Green New Deal resolution. But, he continued, “we need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind.”

That’s a sentiment built on the oldest traditions of unions, which are perhaps the original environmentalists. From William Blake’s “dark satanic mills” of Industrial Revolution-era Yorkshire to the mid-20th-century chemical industry spills requiring Superfund cleanups to the black lungs of Welsh and Appalachian coal miners, workers have always had an immediate, personal interest in environmental protection—and have fought for it, often struck for it, winning in the form of regulations and health and safety standards. Wherever unions are strong, environmental protections are strict. And these protections are in service of human well-being rather than in service of an abstract “nature” falsely separated from people.

So if both labor and Green New Deal proponents care about the environment, and if they are both fighting for workers’ rights, what went wrong? For labor, the main issue is that few Green New Deal promoters thought to formally talk to workers—the people most directly affected by the legislation—before drafting it. Such an oversight is astounding. The AFL-CIO Energy Committee brings together almost all the unions that work in the energy sector, both fossil and clean, but also the UMWA and the formidable United Steelworkers. There is perhaps no greater collective body of tacit and formal knowledge about energy and the machines and processes it involves than what sits in the heads of members of these North American industrial unions.

By ignoring those voices, the Green New Deal leaves out technological climate solutions that the sector has been advancing for decades. The resolution introducing the deal “is not rooted in an engineering-based approach and makes promises that are not achievable or realistic,” the letter from the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee to Ocasio-Cortez and Markey noted. At the same time, all the unions concerned have not just endorsed aggressive climate action, but have also said in various ways that they are even open to a Green New Deal-style policy framework of government funding of clean infrastructure and tech. But they have multiple conditions: Green New Deal proponents must speak to trade unions before developing their policies; they must drop their opposition to a number of technologies and practices, such as nuclear power, carbon capture, and the idea that all fossil fuel combustion can be turned off tomorrow, which industrial unions put forward as key to greener development; and above all, they must start fighting alongside energy sector workers in particular to defend and enhance their wages, working conditions, pensions, and benefits.

If all this sounds a bit ecomodernist, that’s because it is. Contra the titillating right-wing narrative of blue-collar hardhats hippie-punching effete spotted-owl-bothering coastal elites and the climate Left narrative of conservative business-unionism, the conflict is better understood by recognizing the existence of an instinctive—if so far unconscious—ecomodernism on the part of industrial workers and their trade unions, resulting from their deep implantation within energy, transport, manufacturing, and extractive systems. To reference a popular meme of the last couple years, one might exclaim like the first astronaut: “Wait, trade unions are ecomodernist?” To which the answer from the other astronaut with the gun is: “Always have been.”

Solar McJobs

So where does labor’s ecomodernism lead? The debate over the future of energy holds some clues.

Just as US unions are demanding that the Green New Deal’s drafters get over their allergy to nuclear energy, trade unions around the world have backed the development of nuclear as a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels. France’s General Confederation of Labor (CGT), the country’s largest trade union center, historically linked to the Communist Party, is working hard to push back against antinuclear energy misinformation and to save existing plants from premature closure, as are the various unions in Ontario representing nuclear sector workers. The UK’s General, Municipal, Boilermakers' and Allied Trade Union (GMB), a generalist trade union representing workers from many sectors and one of the nation’s largest, has likewise pushed for more investment in nuclear, arguing that there can be no net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century without the clean energy source. The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) this year called for an end to the commonwealth’s ban on civilian nuclear energy and said it should put small modular reactors at the heart of its decarbonization plans.

Yet the climate Left has stuck doggedly by solar, wind, and other intermittent renewables—to the exclusion of other sources of power. That’s frustrating for labor for two reasons. First, workers in the energy and allied sectors understand that firm sources of clean electricity need to be part of the mix or the grid won’t work. Second, they know they are facing a substantial reduction in income and benefits, as demonstrated in a major investigative piece on the domestic solar industry from labor reporter Noam Scheiber that appeared in the New York Times in July. Many climate watchers are slowly becoming aware of the slave labor involved in solar panel manufacture in China’s Xinjiang province, but fewer will have been aware of the poor wages and working conditions in the domestic solar industry. For industrial unions and their members, though, the problems Scheiber detailed were all too familiar.

As Scheiber reported, highly skilled construction, extractive, and operational jobs for traditional energy infrastructure—from coal mines and gas pipelines to nuclear power plants—typically earn at least $100,000 in wages and benefits if unionized, while the unskilled lifting of solar panels onto racks or roofs are commonly nonunionized and earn little above minimum wage. Union representatives trying to organize those working in the sector who were quoted in the piece spoke of their frustration at the sector being, as one called it, “incredibly anti-union.”

The response from environmental groups is typically that unions should simply work harder to unionize such low-wage, low-skill solar “McJobs” or that there should be legislation to ensure that such projects respect prevailing regional wages.

While it is true that unionized workers consistently earn considerably more and enjoy better benefits than those in similar but nonunionized jobs, a trade union is not a magic wand that can turn any unskilled minimum-wage work into a career that supports a family. It is also just very hard for unions to organize workers in what are often transient, seasonal, and unskilled jobs.

That’s why trade unions have reason to be suspicious of those who say that post-energy transition jobs will meet the same prevailing wages as today. The math just doesn’t work, and both sides know it. Earlier this year, unions in Illinois were pushing for such provisions in future renewable energy projects in a comprehensive energy bill there, but a coalition of climate activists and green NGOs including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) opposed the move. The margins on many such projects can be thin, and higher wages would make them unprofitable. The promised low price of the energy is typically what has allowed such projects to win a purchase agreement in the first place, which means that guarantees of good paying jobs would make them less competitive.

Further, these projects are typically rolled out by private start-up contractors not by public utilities. Because the government regulates such utilities’ rate of return on investment, they are often less sensitive to the need to keep labor costs low. Some public electric companies, like the Tennessee Valley Authority, even have mandates to pursue not profit but a balance between keeping costs low for consumers and the economic development that comes from decent incomes. As a result, prevailing-wage provisions could work to the advantage of options such as nuclear power that are both low cost over the long term and require high-skilled and therefore high-wage, typically unionized, labor. Yet the Sierra Club is one of the foremost opponents of nuclear power in the country, and the NRDC is skeptical.

To be clear, these criticisms are not arguments against renewables as a whole. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers organizes solar farm workers alongside their counterparts at coal and nuclear plants. Offshore wind farms involve construction and operational jobs that use many of the very same advanced, high-paid, unionized skill sets as offshore fossil energy. In terms of the tasks involved, jobs in geothermal (which provides reliable, 24/7 electricity akin to that from nuclear, large-scale hydroelectricity, and fossil energy) are likewise an almost one-for-one swap for oil and gas.

These may not be the local, decentralized technologies environmental advocates typically envision, but are the types of projects unions have shown themselves ready to back. Unions are not against variable renewables, but are instead in favor of right-sizing them alongside clean-electricity partners that offer firm supply. This is the same all-of-the-above approach to technology that ecomodernists support—and that the preponderance of evidence suggests will deliver the fastest decarbonization across the most sectors.

Follow Us! We Promise You Less!

Labor’s concerns overlap with ecomodernism in another area too: consumption, or as it is often denigrated by activists, “consumerism.”

Labor makes no declarations that Western workers consume too much or that the global economy must degrow, neo-Malthusian positions that are held by a great many environmentalists. And why would they? After four decades of neoliberal austerity across much of the Western world, a suite of market-fundamentalist policies and practices resulting in wage restraint, cuts to social programs, privatization, union-busting, outsourcing, deindustrialization, growing inequality—and, in many instances, declining living standards—it makes no sense for workers to embrace a political vision that tells them: “Follow us! We promise you less!” Rather, they want both aggressive action on climate change and a maintenance of the technologies of modernity that deliver real benefit.

Further, it is precisely because industrial workers and farmers are embedded within the very energy, transport, manufacturing, extractive, and agricultural sectors most relevant to decarbonization—and also (when in the private sector) regularly deal with bosses who must maximize profits—that they know perhaps better than anyone why decarbonization is difficult. They are able to hold in their head both that carbon-intensive companies have worked hard to delay climate action and that fossil fuels have historically delivered tremendous benefits to humanity. It is not merely obvious to them that coal has kept people warm in winter and powered the factories that built the modern world, but this is something they are proud of. They were the ones who did all of this, made all of this, with their hands and brains.

That is to say, distinct from the dominant climate Left narrative of global warming as a product of elite corruption or capitalism, something imposed upon the rest of us in the face of our opposition, the industrial worker’s understanding of the problem is clear: as social democratic political theorist Jonathan Symons puts it in his book on the history and philosophy of ecomodernism, “[Greenhouse gas] emissions are the unintended consequence of the technologies that well-meaning people depend upon in their everyday lives.”

Take travel, for example. Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, and a potential contender for AFL-CIO president in its 2022 elections, is a supporter of the Green New Deal while also sounding the same alarms as Trumka and others. When asked whether airline fuel efficiency was sufficient and how workers could be protected if flights must be grounded in pursuit of climate goals, she laughed.

Nelson said that, instead, there needs to be government support for the development of sustainable air fuels—a policy most climate activists oppose as a “techno-fix” that does nothing to change existing social relations. Even so, she emphasized, “we have to be pretty clear that interstate commerce in the United States, international trade and transportation just don’t work without air travel, right?” She went on to say that the idea that every plane will stay on the ground in ten years is a nonstarter. “There is not a flight attendant or pilot or anyone in aviation who actually believes that aviation is going to be grounded. That’s simply not true. The opposite is true.”

Tell that to many climate activists, from Greta Thunberg to Extinction Rebellion, NGOs like Plane Stupid and Stay Grounded, and the academic pressure group Flying Less, which want to substantially reduce or even eliminate aviation. They view it as luxury consumption enjoyed only by the global rich and incompatible with a low-carbon economy. (One might ask Thunberg how the 60-foot racing yacht she sailed in across the Atlantic to attend a climate protest in New York—a multimillion-dollar boat owned by Monaco’s royal family—comes to be considered by the climate Left as less of a luxury than the £49 EasyJet flight that allows a working-class woman from a deindustrialized northern town in England to take a holiday jolly to Ibiza every once in a while.) Even Ocasio-Cortez’s original Green New Deal documentation maintained that aviation would have to be replaced by high-speed rail, before she distanced herself from that idea.

To be sure, decarbonizing consumption is going to be hard—and aviation particularly so. But cancelling it won’t work. What will are solutions from people—like the workers—who are familiar with the industry. Some are already electrifying short haul. Others will need to do more work on carbon-neutral fuels, outside of a nuclearization of the entire shipping fleet. Which particular options—synthetic kerosene, hydrogen, ammonia, or some new generation of biofuels—produced via which suite of technologies remain up for debate, and, as with decarbonization of electricity generation, it is probable that many options rather than a single one will fit the bill. The scale of the challenge, however, isn’t a reason to abandon efforts.

Ikaika Hussey, a Hawaiian trade union organizer and veteran of a bitter 2018 strike of hotel staff and members of the UNITE HERE hospitality workers’ union, is spearheading efforts in the state to develop a worker-owned carbon-neutral synthetic jet fuel factory. “Hawaii is so dependent on air travel. Tourism is a major part of our economy,” he told me over the phone. “So the reality is that we need to solve this piece of the puzzle. It won’t work telling people ‘just don’t fly.’” Hussey is working with researchers such as negative emissions specialist Klaus Lackner at Arizona State University and seeking out partnerships with business and government to support the project Hawaii Federated Industries. Currently in design and engineering phases, the plan is to draw down CO2 from the atmosphere via direct air capture technology and marry that to sustainably produced hydrogen to produce clean and cheap carbon-neutral kerosene, while saving the state billions in fuel import costs.

What is all this, but ecomodernism avant la lettre?

But Can Ecomodernists Be Trade Unionists?

What such examples suggest is that many on the climate Left have got things the wrong way around when they ask, “what will it take to win labor to better climate policies?” Labor already has solid climate policies. What will it take instead for the climate Left to understand that?

It should be underscored that none of this amounts to an attack on climate activism as a whole. A great deal of such campaign work and analysis is excellent, is grounded in evidence, and has worked wonders in putting the issue at the center of politics in the United States and around the world. Activists are to be commended for this. But not without reservation since there is a class dynamic within this community that necessarily informs the sort of solutions it seeks. The activists primarily come from urban, middle-class professional backgrounds, not infrequently from the academy (and the humanities academy in particular).

A few things flow from this. First, there tends to be a lack of engineering discipline. In simple terms, that means less formal and tacit knowledge about how machines, factories, and energy systems function. Related to this is the assumption that, in the industrial and allied sectors, a job is a job is a job, and thus that, for example, pipe fitting and slapping solar panels on roofs are fungible in terms of skills and earnings (even as they would never make the parallel mistake to equate the skills and earnings of a dentist and an adjunct professor).

Second, there is a tendency to treat the industrial workers as an object of pity or charity, rather than as people consciously active in their self-emancipation. Thus, for many on the climate Left, industrial union support for fracked natural gas as a bridging fuel can only be the result of “false consciousness,” rather than the product of deep knowledge of energy systems that recognizes one cannot turn off all fossil fuel production overnight.

Third, there has been a blind spot to the politics of it all. One of the few places where Green New Deal organizing has worked is in Maine, where campaigners reached out to industrial labor from the get-go. There, a state-level version of a Green New Deal was passed and signed by the governor, with the full backing of the state AFL-CIO. One of the key elements that unions insisted upon was that registered apprenticeships make up a steadily increasing proportion of the labor force for new energy projects—starting at 10 percent of a work site immediately and moving up to a quarter by 2027. Such training can help ensure higher earnings, even in the face of potential resistance from clean energy developers. There is no way that the activists, who rarely if ever are in a job situation where apprenticeships occur, could even know that this was a crucial issue to bring labor onboard. It was an unknown unknown.

This last lesson about what is known to workers is perhaps the most important of all. For the ecomodernist movement, the inherent but not explicit ecomodernism of workers and their unions is a potentially tremendous opportunity. But there is something of a sting in the tail as well.

Workers and their unions have enormous social and political weight. Far more weight than the very vocal but numerically limited and geographically concentrated climate Left, and also more weight than the sometimes ecomodernism-curious climate wonks in think-tank land. The climate Left hardly makes the difference in electing anyone, and wonks, for all their utility in crafting clever policy, never do. Unions, meanwhile, make or break election after election, for blue and for red. Understandably so; the term “working class” describes the vast majority of people in modern society. Workers also have the ability to withdraw their labor and go on strike. The fear of such during the Depression was what put the fear of God into elites to prompt the original New Deal.

And so ecomodernists opening themselves to working more with trade unions—in particular, those representing workers in energy, transport, and industry—and supporting an instinctively ecomodernist trade union program for decarbonization would bring in a mighty ally. Simultaneously, it would offer the trade unions all the intellectual and political resources of a movement as committed to engineering discipline as they are, while, crucially, handing them a powerful shield against accusations of climate indifference or denial.

Certainly, politicians are aware of the heft of the unions.

Much of the discussion on the role of Senator Joe Manchin in undermining the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill has focused on the moderate Democrat’s connections to the coal industry. The CEPP was supposed to be the centerpiece of Biden and his party’s climate policy, aimed at boosting clean energy production by paying bonuses to electric utilities if they cut their emissions by a given amount per year and imposing fines if they didn’t. And because the proposal defined clean energy as including both renewables and nuclear, it enjoyed strong support from some in the American ecomodernist community.

There is much truth in the argument that the West Virginia senator might just be, as Slate’s Jordan Weissmann put it, a sentient brick of coal. Manchin did, after all, found the coal brokerage firm Enersystems in 1988, a firm whose leadership passed to his son when he was elected West Virginia secretary of state in 2000 and whose ownership is held in blind trust. Maybe, like his fellow obstructionist, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema (a former Green Party activist, by the way), he’s also just too conservative to be a Democrat. All of this can be true while also noting that, in an AFL-CIO panel discussion on the clean energy transition earlier this year, Manchin focused mostly on the collapse of family-supporting industrial jobs, deindustrialization, and the need for America to start building things again. “You give us a chance, give a coal miner a chance, we’ll build you the best damn windmill you’ve ever seen. Or the best solar panel,” he said. “But that’s not the way the market’s going.”

He closed by remarking that he is often asked, “What happened to West Virginia?” Meaning how did it happen that this state of coal miners—so solidly blue since the original New Deal that it was one of only six states to back Jimmy Carter over Ronald Reagan in 1980, and one of only ten to give the nod to Michael Dukakis over George Bush Sr. eight years later—turned red in the late 1990s? His response: “I say nothing. What happened to the country?” He continued: “We feel like the returning Vietnam veteran: we’ve done every dirty job you asked us to do, took our orders, never complained, did the heavy lifting, and now we’re not good enough, we’re not clean enough, we’re not green enough, and we’re not smart enough. So the hell with you, I’ll vote for somebody else. That’s how we [Democrats] lost West Virginia.”

It’s Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” all over again. The CEPP does not correct the problem of deindustrialization if the wind turbines and solar panels are made overseas. The nature of the nuclear supply chain, however, is such that much of it is already onshore. Plus, its heightened requirements for precision engineering work in a multiplying manner to attract other industries with similar need for precision engineering—ones that are more likely to require high-skilled and thus high-pay and often unionizable jobs. These are the ancillary jobs Manchin mentioned. Again, this is not an argument against wind and solar at all, still less for 100 percent nuclear, but instead an argument for everything in its right place.

The irony here is that the New Deal politics promoted by the climate Left are broadly social democratic, and social democracy was born in many countries as the parliamentary expression of trade unionism. With this political philosophy’s commitment to shaping markets through economic planning rather than leaving them to their own devices, it could in principle offer a response to Manchin’s lamentation, while Manchin’s own centrist allergy to dirigisme never can. The Left have the correct economics but the wrong technologies, and the Right have the correct technologies, but the wrong economics. Can American ecomodernism’s postpartisan politics improve on this?

I think so. And ecomodernism, as it spreads out from its American birthplace, may already be evolving in this manner. Jonathan Symons, a social democrat himself, argues that if ecomodernism had first emerged in Europe instead of in the United States, Canada, or Australia—lands of deep-seated social democratic tradition—it would have been born as a social democratic philosophy. Symons may not be wrong when we consider that as ecomodernism has spread from its California birthplace to Canada, the UK, Australia, and northern Europe, it is not uncommon for ecomodernists there to also be social democrats. Here, organizing alongside industrial workers and their unions is a no-brainer.

I reckon the resolution of all these contradictions—within the climate Left, within ecomodernism, and between the various agonists within labor over global warming—is to take the best from the climate Left (its preferred economics) and the best from ecomodernism (its preferred technologies) and work with industrial trade unions to further state-led economic development goals. In doing so, such a strategy will result in a much more rapid decarbonization than is possible by any other method, while ensuring the social base to enforce—and the opportunities that deliver—a genuine Just Transition.

In all this, the headline demand must be reindustrialization, not climate. It’s just that the social democratic strategy for the former is the best option for the latter.

Image Credit: Senate Democrats, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons