No jobs on a dead planet
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) summarized in one sentence the ultimate outcome of an unmitigated warming of Planet earth: There are no jobs on a dead planet.
Climate scientists gathered by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) agree that should there be no decisive efforts of mankind to limit the rise in the global temperature to less than 2.0 degrees Celsius, Planet Earth will be dead within a century or less. Parts of the planet will be uninhabitable, and the other parts inhospitable. This, in brief, is what the five major reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the UN, summarized in a 2014 Synthesis Report, have been saying: end of human life within a century unless governments around the world get united in decisively implementing the needed mitigation and adaptation programs outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
As it is, the Internet is full of climate-related doomsday stories. Scary but they happen to be backed up by climate science. Climate scientists themselves keep on projecting the different catastrophic scenarios. Example: sea rise, which has been happening gradually, can soar up by as much as three meters. Asian mega cities like Metro Manila, Singapore, Penang, Jakarta, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Mumbai, Chennai, Chittagong and Dhaka shall live in a watery world. The accelerated sea rise is bound to happen, partly due to the melting of the gigantic permafrosts in the Arctic and Antarctic poles. In turn, the melting of the permafrosts can release huge amount of frozen methane (now considered by climate scientists as more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat trapper). Hence, the melting of the permafrosts and ice caps around the world is bound to intensify further the global warming process.
And what happens to communities in the dry lands? They will be wiped out by killer heat waves, unbreathable air, droughts, collapse of agriculture, famine, etc. End of the world, indeed?
All these grim scenarios have captured the imagination of the climate scientists and the climate social activists, who are all working hard in pushing governments and international development agencies to exert extra efforts to save the world from a climate catastrophe. The problem is that for many among the workers and ordinary citizens in different Asian countries, the climate crisis is seen as only one among the “future” threats that Asian governments have to address. It is not comparable to the Covid infection or job displacement arising from the pandemic, both of which require immediate attention and action. Hence, Asian workers’ movements— trade and peasant unions, street vendor and home-based workers organizations, transport associations, cooperatives, etc.—hardly submit any formal petitions for their governments to act now, that is, to fulfill the mitigation-adaptation pledges they have made under the Paris Agreement of 2015. Act now to prevent a catastrophic future.
So how can the climate change mitigation-adaptation program be transformed into a mainstream must-do advocacy work for the workers’ movements? And how can they involve in this battle the solo, micro and small entrepreneurs that are equally affected by the climate crisis?
One good approach is to highlight the fact that the climate crisis has been happening in the present tense, and the jobs have been collapsing—now—in various sectors of the economy due to this crisis. The point is that global warming is not a new phenomenon. It has been building up since the start of the industrial era. The problem is that the accumulation of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the consequent warming of the Earth are now at a perilous level. The disruptive and deadly impact of climate change is already being manifested in the heat waves, droughts, strong typhoons, warmer days and rising seas occurring around the world.
The most concrete evidence of the risks associated with climate change is the increasing number and destructive power of typhoons or cyclones visiting a number of Asian countries. Supertyphoon Nargis in Myanmar in 2008 alone killed over 130,000 people. The Philippines, which averages 20 typhoons a year, was devastated in 2013 by Haiyan (Yolanda), with a super 5 category. Yolanda killed over 10,000 people in one city, Tacloban, and wrought havoc on half of the archipelago.
As outlined in the IPCC’S 2014 Synthesis Report, the following Cc-related phenomena are already affecting people’s health and livelihoods around the world:
Heat waves/warm spells—wild fires, reduced agricultural yields, increased water demand, deteriorating quality of water, health problems (especially for the elderly), reduced quality of life;
Droughts—land degradation, lower yields, crop failure, livestock deaths, more water stress, food and water shortage, water-and-foodborne diseases, water shortage in communities; and
Sea rise—salinization of irrigation water, reduced fresh-water availability, risks associated with increased flooding, reduced coastal protection.
On the climate crisis in Asia, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) came out with a detailed discussion of climate risks facing the region in the book A Region at Risk: The Human Dimensions of Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific (2017). The book highlighted the following:
Vulnerability of urban areas—half of the population of Asia-pacific are now in the cities and urbanized towns. Soaring urban temperatures put people at risk to various problems: deteriorating air quality, respiratory diseases, increased electricity demand, and rising human heat stress. In addition, there are the problems associated with sea rise for the coastal cities.
Forced migration—families have been moving out of places vulnerable to typhoons such as the coastal areas. Similarly, families have been moving out of mountainous and agricultural lands that are suffering from droughts. They are climate refugees in every sense of the term. Relatedly, the decision of the more capable members of poor families to accept menial and low-paying jobs overseas can be interpreted as a response to job and income displacement due to climate disasters.
Impact on human health— Climate change naturally affects human health. The World Health Organization has been investigating the climate impacts on health such as diarrheal diseases, stunting among children, heat-related mortality among the elderly and rise of vectorborne diseases such as malaria and dengue. On diarrhea, the experience of Pakistan in 2010, after a recordbreaking flood affected 20 million people and caused 1,800 fatalities, indicates that the floods triggered the outbreak of diarrhea and other diseases, especially among the children. Of course, heat waves are also major killers. In 2015 in India, with ambient temperature reaching 48 degree Celsius for several days, more than 2,300 people died due to heat stroke and dehydration.
The ADB also pointed out that Asia’s global value chain production, the internationalized system of industrial production involving a chain of factories located in different Asian countries, is at risk, especially when there are climate disasters in one or several GVC locations.
One can go on and on listing the adverse impact of global warming on jobs, health and overall wellness of the working people of every society. The challenge is how should the workers’ movements, representing the working people, act on a climate emergency that is killing jobs?