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Refinery Communities Speak Out on Just Transition Reports

Governor Newsom’s executive order mandating all-electric passenger cars and trucks by 2035 got quite a bit of deserved nationwide buzz last fall. What got less notice was that, buried toward the end of the order, were several mandates for action on the supply side of our fossil fuel problem – that is, California’s oil extraction and refining industry.

Salient notes from this Feb 2021 article, regarding California’s plan to phase out oil production:

80 organizations sent a letter today to the EPA, NRDC, Office of Planning and Research, Labor and Workforce development) asking them to conduct a robust public process for each report, and produce documents that genuinely incorporate emerging community concerns.

The letter makes five specific recommendations regarding the substance of the reports, pertinent to the needs of all communities but refinery communities in particular:

  • Wage and benefit support for workers.  The letter points out the need for the Roadmap to focus on how to replace lost wages and benefits, such as health insurance, for not only the refinery workers who lose their jobs, but all the indirectly employed workers who will suffer as well – like the guy at the local deli who makes the sandwiches where the workers have lunch, and the maid at the hotel where visiting contractors and company officials stay, that sort of thing.  It is not enough to just talk about retraining workers, or eventually developing other industries for them to work in – they will need help right away.
  • Focus on community needs.  Although the Roadmap is being drawn up at the state level, it must recognize that a solid transition on the scale necessary for a refinery community needs to be fully community-based – grounded in ideas that arise organically in the community, directed by community leaders, and reflecting the community’s diverse needs and interests.  A top-down just transition strategy will not work.
  • Focus on site cleanup needs.  It is hard to talk about transition and revitalization for a community that’s saddled with an enormous contaminated site in its midst. While the issue of abandoned infrastructure is most relevant to the action plan report, the Roadmap report needs to also consider the need to clean up contaminated refinery (and other) industry sites as part of helping communities find their new economic direction.
  • Close scrutiny of crude to biofuels transitions.  It is important that the action plan report ask the right questions about the announced plans (and others that may emerge) to turn crude oil refineries into biofuel refineries.  A poorly executed biofuels project is not a just transition solution – it risks perpetuating some of the same problems that attend crude refining, and creating new ones.  Our recent comments submitted in the Contra Costa County environmental review process highlights some of the possible unintended consequences that CalEPA and the Natural Resources Agency need to take a good close look at.
  • Ensuring financial support for transition from industry.  In the end, ensuring a just transition means having the funds to pay for it.  And certainly in the case of refinery community transitions, those funds should come substantially from the industry itself, which has for decades burdened vulnerable communities with its presence there.

Admit you have a problem

Opinion | The First Step Is Admitting You Have a Problem

Credit… Artwork by Scott Gelber Opinion What my time working on a North Dakota oil patch taught me about America’s fossil fuel addiction – and how to curb it. Credit… Artwork by Scott Gelber Look around you: chances are that every object within your field of vision contains refined petroleum.

  1. we depend on oil for everything.
  2. he admits we need to admit it’s a problem, because of climate change:
    • As we accept our responsibility to address this awesome generational obligation, and as we work to put in place policies that balance our need for bold action with the more modest day-to-day needs of working people, it would behoove us to keep in mind the story of this precious resource, to consider how it connects us each to the other, and to contemplate, not only what we must sacrifice, but also what we stand to gain by greatly reducing our reliance on it.
  3. he tells the story of oil’s first drilling, and subsequent rise
  4. he offers his personal story (credentials) of working in oil fields, and in a kind way, discredits the claims that banning / reducing oil would cause enormous job loss:
    • it’s hard work, it’s boom and bust
    • I’ll just say that I’d find it easier to view arguments around job loss in good faith if the people making them had tried to make these jobs safer, more secure and better paying to begin with.
  5. he outlines ways legislators can come together over plans, and supports Biden’s plans to cap wells, and hist tacit approval of fracking (no mention of a ban)
  6. he extolls the rural people who are more self0sufficient (and correlates that to less concern about climate change than urban folks
    • my conservative pals in rural America live much less carbon-intensive lives than the liberal city dwellers I know who obsess over global warming. It may not be a coincidence that the less-concerned folks tend to have better skills to survive a collapsing world: They hunt, they fish, they’re handy with guns, some of them have experience growing their own food. But I find it hilarious that for my liberal pals interested in sustainability, their best teacher might just be that conservative cousin with the gun rack in the back of the truck.
  7. as citizens of the world, we must begin to treat petroleum with the respect it deserves. We must value it, like our very lives, as a precious, almost magical, but certainly finite resource. 

OK. so that was a confusing ride. I appreciate/support that the Times is publishing a diversity of opinions, but that diversity needs to be better edited when it’s contained within a single essay? what is he saying? what are the main messages?

As an argument in support of the voices of rural, hard-working and resourceful people, it’s great. The (too-subtle) dig at lack of safety on oil fields should have been pointed out as symptomatic of exploitative tactics by the powerful, who abuse both land AND people as expendable, replaceable, limitless resources, and a necessary corollary to (the abstraction known as) “growth.”

Reading the comments: they reflect the fractured nature of the op ed. Some loved it because the anecdotes about real people were strong portraits (oil field workers, farmers). But there is NOTHING in here that serves as a provocation. Many urbanites took offense at his sloppy inferences about their larger urban carbon footprints, and their zealotry regarding climate change.

My favorite comment:

Americans are not addicted to oil; we are obese. People who are desperately overweight are not addicted to food, but as a rule they are ingesting more than they are designed to process efficiently. Telling someone they are ‘Taking more than you need’ is considered an insult. Taking more than you are designed to efficiently handle, it’s all about the engineering, is demonstrable. Krishna told Arjuna that “All is clouded by desire — like a fire by smoke or a mirror by dust.” If your mirror is too dusty to see that your aren’t being efficient, dust it off and act accordingly. Rumplestiltskin is the story of what infinite loss can be expected if you remain unconscious. Once you have the name, ie, become conscious of your problem you can begin to do something about it, if you want to. Our real problem, our addiction if you will, here in America is that we are addicted to money. So, repeat after me (it’s the first step): We are powerless over money and it is making life on this planet unmanageable. So, what’s the Higher Power in this case? The sun, which also makes the wind, hasn’t missed a day in 4 billion years. We can stop fretting about running out of fossil fuels (capital) and live off our income, aka Renewable energy. What’s not to like? Rumplestiltskin starts with an old man, with rumpled skin, who can’t get enough gold. It’s the oldest story in politics (and war). Knowing his name is only the first step, but the most important one.


Thanks to Kenny Bailey of ds4si, i now know something about Collapsology.

In an open letter published in the Guardian today, 246 international scholars write that

efforts to cut emissions and naturally drawdown carbon are essential, researchers in many areas consider societal collapse a credible scenario this century. Different views exist on the location, extent, timing, permanence and cause of disruptions, but the way modern societies exploit people and nature is a common concern.

A warning on climate and the risk of societal collapse | Letter

s scientists and scholars from around the world, we call on policymakers to engage with the risk of disruption and even collapse of societies. After five years failing to reduce emissions in line with the Paris climate accord, we must now face the consequences.

Link to the original post and resources here.

Climate Lens Playbook


  1. Practice literalism. End the tradition of turning everything into a symbol for human life.
  2. Occupy science. Befriend facts and factoids. Enrich theatre with the bristly nomenclatures of the natural sciences.
  3. Yes to vastness, and yes also to the infinitesimal. Toggle between the Big Picture and Reality-at-Hand, however tiny. Also between Deep History and the Here and Now. Do the Scalar Slide.
  4. Practice Glocality: intense focus on our localities, but with global eyes in the back our heads, scanning for interrelatedness and beaming signals out to other localities–consciously, urgently.
  5. Loosen your epistemologies. Don’t believe everything you think.
  6. Flatten your ontologies. Everyone and everything invited in.
  7. Unflatten your geographies. What happens here doesn’t stay here. The Far Away folds right onto the Right Here. Make plays with pleated places.
  8. Take all animals seriously, not just human ones. Also plants, including weeds, nettles, hemlock. . . Also minerals, rocks, currents of all kinds, clouds, winds, and other atmospheric forces. Also bacteria. Especially bacteria.
  9. Disaggregate the human. Who drives the carbon economy? Who profits? Who suffers?
  10. Don’t worry about working up empathy. Sympathy’s all you need. Feeling for others is just as powerful—and less anthropocentric?—than feeling with others.
  11. De-Sentimentalize “Nature.” Keep the awe, lose the “Awww!!!” Forge new affective pathways to the non-human, beyond sadness, guilt, and fear. Invite in humor, anger, joy, irony, sarcasm . . .
  12. Stand alongside our fellow species like a breathing exercise, to open up space in our cells for epistemologies of the biosphere that our bodies currently don’t hold, or ones we need to re-ignite. Physicalize awe.  
  13. Congregate, coalesce, flock, swarm, meet and greet. But also: disperse, disseminate, distribute, scatter and spread.
  14. Biology over psychology, geology over sociology, creaturely life over life style.
  15. Invent plans as well as plots, tell times as well as stories, write worlds as well as plays.
  16. Create theatres of species life; fill the stage with the Earth.

By Una Chaudhuri, with members of CLIMATE LENS:
36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea
The Arctic Cycle
Artists & Climate Change
Boom Arts
Dear Climate, New York University
Fundarte / Climakaze
H.E.A.T. Collective
Lab for Global Performance & Politics, Georgetown University
Superhero Clubhouse
Theatre Without Borders
This is Not a Theatre Company, New York University
Una Chaudhuri, New York University
Works on Water

The Work of Nature

Responses to “Bringing in the Work of Nature: From Natural Capital to Hybrid Labor” Alyssa Battistoni

In her abstract, Battistoni describes moving away from what is known as natural capital (ecosystem services) to a feminist approach to what she calls “hybrid labor”, through which she articulates

…an expanded idea of hybrid labor that understands the “work of nature” as a collective, distributed undertaking of humans and nonhumans acting to reproduce, regenerate, and renew a common world.

Continue reading “The Work of Nature”

Biden plan on climate and energy

Biden cli­mate plan
Biden’s clean energy futures “Build Back Better plan”
NYTimes, Biden’s Climate Plan

  • Support the Green New Deal (though not explicitly how)
  • Ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
  • Build resilient infrastructure
  • Model and lead internationally on climate change issues
  • Address environmental justice issues in the US
  • Just transition for workers and communities

Biden.com website states that the campaign did not accept contributions from oil, gas and coal corporations or executives.

Continue reading “Biden plan on climate and energy”