Climate change and workers' strategies, San Francisco, 18 Dec 2014

Kurtz arctic research

As we more fully understand the effects of anthropogenic climate change, there is a need to bring this awareness into struggles to counteract capitalism's ecocidal destruction. Nathan Kurtz presents his research and we will discuss how transportation workers -- especially along fossil fuel supply chains -- could be at the forefront of these struggles.

Empire Logistics/Global Supply Chains Group
& Railroad Workers United present:

Climate Change & Supply Chains: Workers’ Strategies for the Ecology Movement

Discussion with Dr. Nathan Kurtz, NASA Climatologist

    ● Report back on NASA’s recent mission to the Arctic
    ● Presentation on anthropogenic climate change and its significance for life on the planet
    ● Explore how supply chain, logistics and transportation worker struggles & movements against ecological destruction can be in solidarity

Open discussion to follow.

Thursday, December 18th, 6:00 p.m.

Redstone Building Room 302
2940 16th Street, San Francisco, California

Posted By

Supply Chain Re...
Dec 12 2014 02:50


Attached files


Out of the Woods
Dec 12 2014 08:49

We're all on the other side of the continent, or the Atlantic, but this looks great. Will it get written up for your blog?

Supply Chain Re...
Dec 12 2014 10:17
Out of the Woods wrote:
We're all on the other side of the continent, or the Atlantic, but this looks great. Will it get written up for your blog?

Definitely. It would be great to compare notes with your experiences.

Also, Nathan is from a railroading family, who are RWU members, and they are helping plan a series of worker-ecologist conferences on the U.S. West Coast early next year. The first in the Pacific Northwest in February and then in the Bay Area in early March. The latter will be in Richmond, California because it is at the confluence of a major Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail yard and a cluster of 5 refineries nearby. If these meetings are useful, we're hoping to do others elsewhere in North America.

Like what you, Out of the Woods, are doing we're also trying to bring a class struggle perspective to fights against ecological destruction.

Supply Chain Re...
Feb 9 2015 01:09

Report back on the Climate Change & Workers' Strategies presentation last December:

There were half a dozen of us from the San Francisco-based Empire Logistics/Global Supply Chain study group; plus a recently retired Union Pacific conductor from Richmond CA (also a Railroad Workers United member), plus a couple Wobblies (one of whom is an IBU-ILWU maritime worker), a retired scientist from the Sierra Club and about 5 others.

Nathan started his presentation by mentioning that his dad is a recently retired BNSF locomotive engineer from Ft. Madison, Iowa who's also a member of RWU. Nathan briefly mentioned growing up in a railroad family and how his did was a militant who'd been involved in strikes.

His PowerPoint didn't overwhelm with facts; despite being pretty basic, it very thoroughly covered the causes of global warming. He started by showing slides of flying with NASA to a U.S. Air Force base in Thule, in northern Greenland. From there planes flew over the North Pole to document the melting of the polar ice cap. He showed a summary of his team's research (the data is available here: and talked briefly about some of the the 40+ feedback loops exacerbating global warming. What was most impressive was his chart with all the chemical combinations that are greenhouse gasses -- as well as the couple that are not (like some fluorocarbons which cause cooling, although he joked that he'd never advocate release of more of these). He told us that methane (CH4) has a lifespan of 800 years, so as it is released by melting ice those gasses could stay in that form for an incredibly long time. He also talked of the reversing of the ice-albedo feedback, where instead of more ice leading to more cooling -- the opposite happens: as more ice melts, it tends to a decrease in ice cover and hence the albedo, increasing the amount of solar energy absorbed, leading to more warming. I could be wrong on this (please correct this figure if you were there -- or know), but in my notes I wrote that this has caused temperatures in the Arctic to be, on average, 7° F higher.

When Nathan talked about the Antarctic, he described how the west Antarctic icesheet is irreversibly melting. He showed several maps and photos to demonstrate this. He said the great importance of this this phenomenon is its negative affect on animal life: polar bears, seals and indigenous people whose lives are dependent on these ecosystems. He pointed out that for capitalists, this has led to a competitive scramble for shipping lanes through the now-ice-free Arctic.

Again, I learned a lot in his short presentation; it also made concrete (with photos) what I'd only read about abstractly. The most powerful thing in his presentation was a video clip with the flows of the Jet Stream and Nate's accounts of its increasing fluctuations, which lucidly explains "extreme" weather. I now have a sense of why the El Niño effect, Katrina-strength hurricanes, and hurricane-spawned tornadoes, occur more frequently -- and with greater destructiveness. Also, how California's recent drought might have been caused by wildly increasing fluctuations in climate patterns, with the Jet Stream delivering torrential rains one season, then missing the West Coast for a couple years and leaving very little precipitation.

Nathan recommended this free e-book, Sustainable Energy -- with the hot air, but none of us have read it yet. Anyone else know something about this book?

The Workers' Strategies for the Ecology Movement discussion, once Nathan had finished, was engaging and left us with some penetrating questions to ponder. Here are some highlights of what others said:

    • question whether workers are being automated out of existence
    • someone mentioned the "hard sell" of BNSF's unsuccessful attempt to introduce single-person crews; RWU led this fight and helped defeat it
    • another mentioned California's requirements for more alternative energy, for reduction of CO2 and methane
    • interesting points were made about how people consume energy, but we can't lose sight of how it is generated (also in production)
    • the deception of "clean" coal and natural gas
    • a comrade made an astute point about capitalist infrastructure and our dependent needs for transportation
    • the retired railroader (and RWU member) brought up how when he started 36 years ago, there were 4 workers per train -- including in a caboose (which was eliminated in 1985?)
    • someone mentioned strikes and struggles in China against the government "enclosing" formerly collectively held farm lands to be used for toxic-polluting industries, killing the ecosystem and leading to heath issues and death
    • a fellow worker referred us to the documentary Rocking the Foundations about the Green Bans of the South Wales Builders Labourers Federation in the 1970s in Australia, who staved off ecologically destructive development and gentrification for several years

We finished our discussion by going round and giving everyone a chance to reflect on what they learned in the presentation/discussion. Which was inspiring, since many people shared some great insights. Here are some we wrote down:

    • brilliant statement about not wanting "green prisons"
    • another agreed with above observation about unsustainable distances created by means of transportation
    • retired scientist said he wanted to see the Sierra Club forge connections with labor
    • comrade cautioned to be aware of greenwashers and finding methods to debate with climate change deniers
    • Wobbly mentioned how Judi Bari organized timber workers into the IWW, who then worked with Earth First!, as well as saying that she fought for "complete transformation of society"
    • someone urged us to steer clear of state agencies and to find new means of stopping -- and transforming -- production
    • someone made the astute observation that Nathan's presentation contributes to the idea that "capitalism has nothing to offer"

This event was a precursor for a series of conferences called "The Future of Railroads: Safety, Workers, Community & the Environment" we are helping co-organize.The first in Richmond, California (chosen because it's a Chevron company town, with 4 other refineries in nearby cities, as well as having a major BNSF rail yard) on March 14, 2015 and the other in Olympia, Washington the next weekend, March 21, 2015.

Joseph Kay
Feb 10 2015 08:00

Thanks for the report back. Have you read Jeff Shantz's 'Green syndicalism'? There's a table of contents here, looks like it might be helpful for this discussion (I haven't got hold of a copy myself yet, but hope to read it soon). Rocking the Foundations/the green bans are awesome, though I do wonder if that specific tactic is tied to relative full employment, so that workers can afford to refuse jobs.