Bolman and Deal’s “Reframing Organisations” encourages leaders to look through various ‘windows’ to reframe and solve problems. The Author argues that climate change activism is led from a position of privilege. To counter this, the worker must be central to the climate change debate.
The Rise of Climate Change Activism
Climate Change Activism is not a passing phase. Warnings about climate change have progressed since the 1980’s. Aerosols and cows expelling gas would destroy the earth. Climate change activism has become increasingly more prevalent in politics, media, and society.
The current phase, post-Paris Agreement, is a particularly strong phase of climate change activism. This is globally pushing leaders to implement legislation and regulations to mitigate the impact of climate change.
The Force of Change on the working class
The vocal aim of activists to shut down entire industries, such as coal (and some say beef is on their radar as well), places climate change as a (negative) force of change on the working class.
We are no longer in an era where we are debating the reality of climate change. The majority of people accept that climate change is real and we must act on climate change.
Many activists still operate in the mindset that any question about jobs equals denialism. They do not try to understand if the other person believes in climate change. Lectures about the merits of climate change stream forth in abundance, regardless.
Abuse and ridicule are common responses to the jobs issue. A strong position is jobs do not matter in the end. They argue fiercely if mining destroys the earth, there will be no jobs at all. This is particularly exacerbated by the current anti-Adani movement at present.
Activists who do try to engage only have one solution – all the coal workers will now work in renewables. There is no vision to reinvent communities or truly see the human factor and offer diversity and true renewal.
Other activists are quite discriminatory about who deserves jobs. They will respond with the notion that Great Barrier Reef jobs are more important than coal jobs. The notion of job losses in the coal sector is sometimes even celebrated by activists as an achievement.
Rebuttals are in the form of industry that is not yet prevalent.
Oh! They can just go get jobs in the renewabls industry!
The conversation around jobs and regional communities towards a post-coal world is extremely difficult to get off the ground.
Concern for Jobs isn’t Climate Change Denial
Environmental activists must cease the perverse accusation that one is a “climate change denier” if displaced workers are a major concern.
(And Malcolm Roberts, by some weird turn of events you read this; despite what you may have read from Climate Change activists yelling at me on Twitter – I am not in love with you).
To achieve positive progress we need to reframe the debate with the worker as the centre. This will highlight the negative impact climate change action has on workers.
Environmentalists must question if their position is so pure that negative consequences, such as mass layoffs are inconsequential. If mass layoffs are inconsequential, and workers can’t put food on the table, then does one’s activism come from a position of privilege?
The Negative Consequence of Positive Action
Activists generally sincerely value their actions and advocacy as a positive effect on society. I do not disagree that this is the intent with climate change activists.
However, I would strongly argue to value the intent of activism is not enough. I would also argue it is ignorant. Activists must also value the consequences of their actions, not just the intent. Sometimes a positive action can result in negative consequences.
An environmental lens ensures the following remain silent:
Displaced workers, economic loss, increased welfare, homelessness, poverty, despair, an increase in psychosomatic symptoms and even suicide.
Reframing the debate with the worker as central to the climate change debate is essential. This places climate change action as an externality that is a force of change on industry and work. This shifts the worker from an irrelevant byproduct of change to the central focus.
This should serve as the impetus to mitigate harm to the working class co-existent with positive action on climate change.
What does Feminism have to do with this?
I am using this example to demonstrate activism and privilege. Often the negative consequences of positive action, are not recognised. The activist does not have a desire to reframe the debate. It is not until voices push for reframing that the negative consequences of activism are realised.
As a white liberal/radical feminist in the 1980’s, I was oblivious that the activism I participated in had negative consequences. This activism had a negative affect on women of colour and also misrepresented men of colour.
It has been through women of colour persisting with their voices, who created this change. This forced white liberal feminists to reframe their activism and recognise specific feminist issues for women of colour. Many white liberal feminists now follow women of colour as allies in support of their activism.
Through reframing by women of colour, white liberal feminists could then identify the negative consequences. They recognise their activism was from a position of privilege.
A united and stronger feminist wave was born.
Stop Lecturing and Start Uniting
Activism that spares no thought about how to alleviate harm on the worker is from a position of privilege.
Activism that is not involved in ideas and discussions to mitigate harm to the worker, is a position of privilege.
Persisting with ‘lecturing and convincing others’ and shouting down concerns about jobs is regressive and obstructive.
If this continues, unlike feminism – a new wave will not be born.
Privilege and Elitism
Privilege is a term commonly used in sociology and feminist literature and it is described as:
As a concept, privilege is defined in relational terms and in reference to social groups, and involves unearned benefits afforded to powerful social groups within systems of oppression (Kendall, 2006; McIntosh, 1988).
Within Environmental Literature this concept is defined as “Elitism” (Dunlap, 1986). There are three types of environmental elitism.
- Compositional Elitism: The suggestion that environmentalists are generally more upper-class and financially well off.
- Ideological Elitism: The suggestion that environmentalists protect their own interests at the cost of the poor – i.e. Preventing a power plant on land that is beneficial to their own interests.
The third type of elitism is the most relevant for the purpose of this article:
- Impact Elitism: The suggestion that environmental reform measures that have (intended or not) regressive, distributional impacts on society. (ie job losses, economic loss).
Some examples of impact elitism are:
- The cost of reducing energy costs benefits the wealthy and excludes the poor. (Older cheaper cars versus newer Tesla cars).
- Solar panelling and insulation benefits wealthier home buyers and excludes those who rent
- People from poorer countries live in unhealthy environments. This is because they cannot afford the infrastructure or cost of electricity for a healthier, cleaner environment.
- Purchasing a set of environmentally friendly shopping bags as a choice between an inedible bag or much-needed food.
- Wealthier advanced countries advocating against poorer countries accessing fossil fuel energy. Although this may be a step enable fuelling, farming, agriculture and new industry.
- Activism to shut down an energy intensive plant, even though its closure will result in mass layoffs.
Reframing the Debate
The Climate Change debate would look much different if activists, politicians and media reframed this to a worker-centred debate.
Decisions around budget measures, domestic and foreign affairs, industrial relations, training and the distribution of revenue would look much different.
The continual lecturing and ridicule from activists who are stuck in the view that the majority of people still need convincing are stifling the debate.
The leader of the Labor Party, Bill Shorten, is also guilty of this. Shorten’s narrative concentrates too much on the environmental, rather than the working class.
It is up to the Australian Labor party to lead serious reform in this area. Leave the environmentalism to the Greens. Australian Labor should be working to mitigate the effects of climate change whilst simultaneously loudly advocating for national reform. Championing the new way we look at jobs, industry and the economy in a post-coal world.
A Serious Transition is Urgent
The Labor party has a transition document available. However, in my view, it does not go far enough. The legacy of Labor is about national progressive reform. I welcome a transition plan. However, one that responds within an environmental framework is not enough. The answer is not just about renewables.
We urgently need a visionary set of serious reforms for regional communities.
- How will revenue be redistributed?
- How will the loss of coal revenue impact regions?
- What are the impacts on specific communities, rather than nationally?
- Should we focus on regional unemployment or a national average?
- Do education and training need greater investment?
- Should renewables training colleges be set up in regional universities?
- Do we fully fund TAFE to secure the necessary training required to reskill for the future?
- How do we attract a range of non-energy related industry investment to regional communities?
- Is funded redeployment for displaced workers to existing and new industry an option?
- Should regionally focused apprenticeship quotas be funded on a national scale?
- Will redistribution of centralised public services to regions relieve the burden?
These are some questions to be asked.
The Labor Party’s narrative about the world of work in a world of serious climate change action is also non-existent.
Unless we fight and win a region-focused jobs and economic transition plan, the resultant high unemployment, filled with skilled heavy industry unemployed, only risks tipping the balance of power to the employer. This is a huge risk for further erosion of job security, safety and fair wages and conditions.
I have renewed hope now that Australian Unions are speaking up.
Food on the table, rewarding and permanent secure work should be an inherent value we ALL fight for.
A Synergistic Policy Framework
This cyclical fight does not have to continue to be the case. The “left” appears to be fighting itself to champion one social cause (environmentalism) at the expense of another (the worker).
Mass layoffs and closures will become a prevalent and a visible acknowledgement of successful climate change activism. Without a serious region focused economic and jobs transition plan, this divide will deepen. It will hurt.
Arguments that the worker is secondary give fuel to the ONLY argument that the actual climate change deniers have left. That is pretending to care about the working class as the reason to block change. We saw that in abundance this week with the Liberal and National Party’s rejection of the Finkel Review.
The absence of narrative about jobs is also partly attributed to the rise of Trump and Hanson. I do not want that to continue. Do you?
Reframing and placing the worker at the centre of the policy debate and self-identifying privilege is the first step. A step towards a synergistic policy framework of positive climate change action united in positive progress for the worker.