Must Environmentalists and Labor Activists Find Themselves at Odds With Each Other?

Can We Earn a Living on a Living Planet?

The need for jobs, and the ecological limits to growth

It has been a tough couple of years in the effort to unite labor, community, and environmental groups, an alliance that has always been strained.

The extractive energy sector—coal, gas, oil—has historically had strong union representation and well-paying jobs. Tensions rose in 2011 after the Sierra Club escalated their campaign to close coal plants and, the climate protection group led by activist Bill McKibben, called for a halt to the Keystone XL Pipeline project.  Even Obama’s relatively mild order this past June on reducing pollution from power plants was opposed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Mineworkers.

At a February 2013 meeting of labor and environmental activists, Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO’s director of policy and special counsel, yelled and pounded the table, “Where is the transition plan for workers? Why isn’t this part of your demands?”

Divisions will increase in the coming years, as two competing urgencies collide. Labor and community justice organizations will demand jobs, economic growth, and reductions in inequality. And environmental activists will increase pressure to curtail fossil fuel production in the face of climate disruptions. Both the politics and the policies of these goals seem to diverge. But must they?

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