This issue of our poster newsletter looks at the climate jobs, climate impacts at work and worker solidarity. It also includes stories from FoE campaigners and collectives through an anticapitalist, anticolonial lens, and a featured artwork by Gemma Romiti.
You can pick up a free copy the Summer Issue of our poster newsletter at the Friends of the Earth Food Co-op, or download a digital copy here.
Thanks to Gemma Romiti for this issues 'Climate Jobs' artwork. Gemma is an artist who works with painting and drawing in Narrm/Melbourne. Currently studying Environment and Society at university, her work is inspired by place, environments, and social ecology.
The Workers on the Frontlines of Climate Impacts
By Anna Langford
In 2022, we’re already seeing how the impacts of the climate crisis are wreaking havoc on communities.
And while a new band of tech billionaires are quick to make pronouncements about broad-sweeping fixes, tackling the climate crisis in a socially just way means putting workers’ rights at the core of solutions.
To ensure this happens, workers need to be a key part of the conversation about what solutions we will embrace to rapidly lower emissions and respond to the climate change impacts that are already locked in. But to open this conversation, we first need to ask the question: What does climate change look like for workers across Victoria?
In October 2021, Friends of the Earth launched the Climate Impacts at Work project with RMIT University and six Victorian unions. Its aim is to conduct pioneering research into the ways that climate impacts are already affecting workers in different industries.
On the campaign trail, I frequently meet community members who say that they aren’t qualified to talk about climate change, because they aren’t scientists or economists and the problem is so wide ranging and complex.
While we may not be able to speak about every aspect of the climate crisis with the detail of those who study it, what we are equipped with are our own stories. With climate change already hitting us here and now, we can speak to it from experiences in our daily lives - like in our workplaces.
With this understanding, the Climate Impacts at Work survey has sought to draw out workers’ local knowledge of climate impacts, and gather their ideas for the climate solutions they want to see. The research will give an understanding of how climate change on the ground looks different for transport workers compared with health workers, or for people in Northern Victoria compared with Gippsland or Melbourne.
So, what have workers already told us?
The responses so far capture detailed accounts of how workers are having their health and safety put at risk as a result of climate impacts like intensifying heatwaves, storms, floods, and bushfire smoke.
For Hannah, a disability support worker, the anxiety of working through extreme weather is doubled as she becomes responsible not just for herself, but her vulnerable clients.
Hannah notices the ways that climate change intersects with socioeconomic inequality, and how that affects her clients.
‘Specialised housing [isn’t built] in gentrified areas where the rent’s expensive,’ explains Hannah, ‘so a lot of disability homes and day programs are being built in suburban areas where the radiant heat effects are really high and the tree planting on the streets is really low.’
We’ve heard from hospo workers who become sick and worn out while working in poorly ventilated kitchens during heatwaves. As they work multiple days in a row during extreme heat, they become more and more exhausted, which results in further risks to their safety.
Monique, a cafe supervisor, says ‘When I imagine a future working in this industry, I fear a summer full of 40 degree days. I fear a workplace that still has no OH&S procedures even as we start having to send people home with heat stress - or to hospital with heat stroke.’
It’s clear that workers across different industries are already struggling to battle the impacts of climate change. It is these same workers who will be crucial to our communities’ resilience as climate impacts intensify.
As Health and Community Services Union member Hannah puts it, ‘As we move away from fossil fuels, care work will remain as important as ever.’
The survey findings will be released as a report in mid-2022. The report will give a comprehensive understanding of how the impacts of climate change are already hitting workers on the ground across Victoria.
We’re excited to continue working together with the union movement to advance stronger climate policies from all levels of government.
As a unionist, I see taking action on climate change as core union business. It will be a key part of fighting for workers’ justice - for our own and future generations.
If unions lead the charge in workplaces when it comes to climate action, we can ensure that workers’ rights are protected, and social justice is baked into the solutions we fight for.
On a larger scale, the collaboration between the union and climate movements is in its early days. But from what I’ve seen, it has potential to be a powerful and game-changing alliance.
Anna has been active in both climate justice and union activist spaces for years, and is passionate about making workers' justice a core focus of climate action. She is the co-coordinator of the Act on Climate Collective and leading the Climate Impacts at Work Project.
Jobs Creation in the Transition Away From Fossil Gas
By Jarred Abrahams
As I sit down to write this, the Andrews government announced its bold offshore wind targets: 2 Gigawatts (GW) of power by 2032, 4GW by 2035 and 9GW by 2040. This is a fantastic example of how good policy can benefit both the environment as well as jobs. I would like to tell you about another such opportunity…
First, let’s begin with some context. Like all things, offshore oil and gas infrastructure has a lifecycle. First there is the ‘exploration and appraisal’ phase, where surveys are conducted to test for feasibility of the project. Then is the ‘development’ phase, in which drilling commences to access the natural reservoir. After this is the ‘production’ phase where the oil and gas is extracted, refined and marketed. Finally, when the assets are no longer economically viable, they enter the ‘decommissioning’ phase. Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry is a relatively new one, with the first offshore rig going online in 1965 in Bass Strait. This means that the industry has only recently begun to decommission its first offshore assets, and it is not going well.
The Northern Endeavour, an offshore oil and gas facility in the Timor Sea, was owned and operated by Woodside Petroleum Limited (Woodside), Australia’s largest Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) producer, until in 2016 it sold the ageing asset to a small company called Northern Oil & Gas Australia (NOGA). It was sold for a nominal amount through a financial loophole that meant the sale did not receive any scrutiny from the federal regulator, NOPSEMA, nor were shareholders alerted to the changing of ownership.
Just three years later, NOPSEMA cited safety concerns with the Northern Endeavour which required shutting down production for a number of months, leading to the collapse of NOGA which fell into administration in February 2020. This may have been foreseen if the sale had been scrutinised. The responsibility for maintaining the assets fell onto the Federal government, and when it was finally decided to decommission, these associated costs (estimated to be between $200m-$1b) also fell to the government. Despite having previously owned and operated the Northern Endeavour, earning vast profits of these resources, Woodside avoided all responsibility for the clean up.
Because of this, the Federal Government has introduced a set of laws that include ‘trailing liabilities’ for previous owners of offshore oil and gas assets to ensure that future scenarios like this do not repeat. In addition to this, they slapped a levy on the entire industry to cover the costs of decommissioning the Northern Endeavour. And while this sounds great (and surprising from a government that typically appeases the fossil fuel industry), it fails to take into account the needs of offshore oil and gas workers.
These workers are already facing the phasing out of their industry because of crucial climate action and declining oil and gas resources, and this is happening with minimal transparency nor investment in the transition to new jobs from the Morrison government. In addition to this, the decommissioning of offshore assets can be dangerous, especially if the infrastructure has been left out at sea, a practice that is often used by the industry to save money and decommission multiple assets at once.
This is where an opportunity presents itself to benefit workers and the environment. Our new ‘No More Gas Collective’ is campaigning to extend the levy, which will provide the finances to ensure that good, safe union jobs in the decommissioning space are secured and that the ecosystems around the assets are protected. This will provide invaluable transition jobs as the offshore wind industry gets established. For more information visit www.melbourne.foe.org.au/gas.
Jarred is the Offshore Gas Levy Campaigner in Friends of the Earth's No More Gas Collective. He is also a community organiser in the Act on Climate Collective
Offshore wind and community owned renewable energy key pieces to the Valley's energy transition puzzle
By Wendy Farmer
As an inquiry into the closure of Victoria's ageing coal fired power station continued in March, Victoria's Andrews government made an extraordinary announcement it will build a staggering 9 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2040. The plan is predicted to create thousands of good, long-term jobs in Gippsland and deliver the deep emissions cuts needed to prevent climate impacts from getting worse. It is arguably the largest single commitment to renewable energy in the state's history, and comes after years of campaigning from the climate and union movement to kick-start this jobs-rich sector.
Establishing the sector will be a mammoth task that will require establishing local supply chains as there are currently no offshore wind farms operating in Australia. But it is a huge opportunity. The first step in the state's offshore wind plan is to see the flagship Star of the South offshore wind farm deliver first power by 2028, and be fully operational by 2032. By then the 2.2 gigawatt offshore wind will be capable of powering 1.2 million homes. Economist Dr Bruce Mountain has called this the biggest energy announcement since the Victorian government committed to building the Loy Yang coal power station and mine in the 1970s.
The Star of the South has captured the imagination of people in Gippsland and is an important puzzle piece for the energy transition in the Latrobe Valley community, currently home to the state's ageing coal fired power stations.
But it's not just grid-scale renewable energy we need. Community owned and led renewable energy projects are critically important if we are going to build a more democratic and socially sustainable energy system. On this front, the state government announcement of $2 million in funding for nine community owned and cooperative renewable energy generation and storage projects in the Latrobe Valley and wider Gippsland region is exactly what we need to see more of.
In the weeks leading up to these major announcements, a state Parliamentary Inquiry into the closure of Hazelwood and Yallourn power stations in Latrobe Valley heard from many speakers across community groups, NGOs, council and businesses about the need to plan for the future of energy security, reliability and jobs. A key theme from the inquiry is the need for certainty. Certainty for the community transitioning to new forms of energy while addressing the need for action on climate change. Certainty for workers whose jobs and livelihoods are changing. Certainty that the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland will continue to play a key role in the energy sector as we transition to clean and renewable energy.
The Latrobe Valley's energy transition is a puzzle that requires piecing together many pieces.
The major announcement on offshore wind is a huge piece of that puzzle, and so is the need for community owned renewable energy.
Wendy is Friends of the Earth's Yes2Renewables Campaigner in Gippsland. Wendy is also the President of Voices of the Valley, and sits on the community reference group for the Star of the South.
Transport workers on the frontline of climate impacts
By Claudia Gallois and Ben Lever
Public transport workers and passengers are already experiencing the effects of climate change across the network. Heatwaves in particular are having a significant effect on drivers and users alike. Tram drivers, for example, experience extreme temperatures in the cabs of some tram models, as air conditioning is either nonexistent or inadequate to deal with the temperatures. Extreme heat is putting pressure on our network, causing delays and increasing the risk of damage to infrastructure. Transport workers and commuters are suffering from extreme temperatures and more funding is needed to upgrade existing infrastructure to ensure climate resilience. Transport is the second largest and fastest growing source of emissions in Australia and communities need viable alternatives so that we can transition away from private cars. Much of our transport network is unusable to people with access issues. We will all experience access issues at some point in our lives, so accessibility must be a priority. Public and active transport upgrades can be rolled out relatively quickly. Doing this will help reduce emissions, work towards a resilient city, and improve access for all.
The effects of extreme heat on public transport impact workers right across society, not just those who work to make the system run. Passengers using public transport to get to work may have to wait in the sun for the next service, and have to cram onto packed trains with struggling air conditioners – meaning that they’re suffering from heat stress before even starting their shift. Melbourne’s Z-Class, A-Class and W-Class trams still operate without air conditioning along eighteen routes (TimeOut, 2021). Not to mention that the stresses on the transport network often result in services being delayed or cancelled, making people late for work – which disproportionately impacts those on low wages and insecure contracts, as lateness means they lose paid work hours and potentially lose their jobs entirely.
Extreme heat puts immense strain on the rail network, expanding the rails and increasing the risk of tracks buckling, and increasing the likelihood of signal failures – putting more pressure on the rail workers who need to go out onto the network and fix these issues. With longer summers and more frequent extremely hot days, Victoria’s public transport system is already being affected. On days where the temperature is forecast to reach 36°C and above, the maximum speed limit is reduced to 90km/h on trains that usually travel up 160km/h across the entire Metro and Vline network and train services are often delayed or cancelled (Vline).
Resilient transport systems
Not only do we urgently need to reduce carbon emissions and return the planet to a more sustainable climate, but we need to build resilience into our transport systems. This could include more frequent services to reduce wait times; better, more comprehensive shelter at stops and stations; better maintenance and more robust infrastructure that can handle higher temperatures; and modern public transport vehicles, with air conditioning that can keep drivers and passengers cool.
Public transport > private cars
Public and active transport must be at the forefront of our approach to decarbonising the transport sector. We absolutely do need to transition from petrol and diesel cars to electric cars, but a laser focus on cars alone is not only the recklessly slow way to decarbonise, it’s the fundamentally unjust way. Public and active transport are cheap to the user, allowing people to get around and access opportunities without burdening them with the huge costs of buying, registering, insuring and storing a private car.
Accessible public transport is crucial for many people with disabilities, parents with prams, people with short term injuries, and the elderly. Everyone will experience access issues at some point in their lives. Currently only fifteen percent of tram services in Melbourne are accessible (Victorian Auditor General's Office, 2020). People with disabilities are often more vulnerable to extreme heat and need robust public transport services in order to live their lives independently (World Institute on Disability).
Public and active transport can also be rolled out much more quickly – we’ve seen some examples of pop-up bike lanes appearing around inner Melbourne at the start of the pandemic, and progressively being made more permanent over the last few years. This kind of approach can work throughout greater Melbourne and in regional centres. Big rail infrastructure can take many years and millions of dollars to upgrade, but running more trains and trams at off-peak times could happen quickly and cheaply on existing infrastructure, as could an absolutely revolutionary transformation of our bus network.
Many key routes could be upgraded to run every ten minutes, all day every day, in a matter of months – giving those who do not or cannot drive access to exponentially more opportunities, as well as giving those who do drive a viable way of leaving the car at home and slashing their transport emissions.
Friends of the Earth’s Sustainable Cities Collective is working in this space to campaign for Better Busses across the network. Get involved > melbournefoe.org.au/transport
Ben is member of the Sustainable Cities Collective and a convener of the Ballarat Branch of the Public Transport Users Association.
Claudia is a former coordinator of the Sustainable Cities Collective. They are currently Friends of the Earth Melbourne’s New Activist Coordinator.