[Contribution by Wijnand Duyvendak] - With all the attention for the financial crisis, one might almost forget that there is also such a thing as a ‘climate crisis’. Dealing with this crisis also requires drastic measures. Here too it applies that the longer we wait, the more it will cost us.
Remarkably, the union movement is all but absent in the debate on the climate crisis. Apparently, it does not perceive the crisis as problematic, or at least not as a problem it should engage in.
The natural counterparts of the union movement, the employers’ organisations, have a very different view. VNO-NCW lobbies actively on this issue: whether it regards the introduction of a flight tax by the Balkenende IV government, or the EU measures to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses by twenty percent - its resistance is always broad and fierce. Further, VNO-NCW frequently wages very aggressive campaigns against environmental organisations, as it did recently against Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth).
I have always been in favour of a broad trade union movement. I thought it made sense for the union movement to actively participate in the fight against nuclear cruise missiles in the 1980s. The struggle against climate change is first and foremost a matter of international solidarity: people in developing countries are already the primary victims of climate change and they will be even harder hit in the future. The lives of millions of people are at stake. These people are not responsible for the droughts, the floods, the crop failures, and the lack of drinking water. Their climate is changing because we, the inhabitants of rich countries, are emitting too much carbon dioxide. But the struggle against climate change is also in our own best interest. The Netherlands is one large bathtub: if we fail to act, water will come to flood us from the see, from the large rivers and from the ground (seepage).
Doing nothing against climate change is not an option. It is also very unwise from an economic point of view. Experts have calculated that doing nothing will turn out to be three to five times more expensive than changing course now. If we fail to act, we will have to make ever larger expenses in order to adapt to the rising tide, and we will have to write down our investments in coal-fired power stations more rapidly if we change to renewable energy sources (too) late.
In the end, dealing with the climate crisis boils down to the question what kind of economy we want: one that is dependent on fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas), or a green economy that uses energy very sparingly and that is dependent on renewable energy sources. In the Green4Sure plan of the environmental organisations - which the trade union movement fortunately did endorse! - it has been clearly demonstrated that such a sustainable economy is possible. However, this requires that we make choices. These choices will hurt in some sectors of the economy. Employees in those sectors have a right to a ‘warm reorganisation’ - that is also something the trade union movement will have to fight for.
So far, I have missed the unions in the climate struggle. Why do they not fight against the construction of coal-fired energy stations? Why do they not help turn climate conferences into a success? Why is there no network of green union members who advise and critically monitor the union leaders? Why is the union not an ally of the environmental organisations?
Wijnand Duyvendak is the author of ‘Klimaatactivist in de politiek’ (Climate Activist in Politics). He stepped down as Member of Parliament after a controversy over his activist past. Photo: Margot Scheerder