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Create jobs to save planet

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Unemployment is soaring and we desperately need to save the planet. What if we could tackle climate change and create jobs as we do it? Jonny Jones looks at the campaign for a million climate jobs
Issue 2227
On the streets to demand action—protesters join the Wave demonstration in London last year (Pic: Smallman )
On the streets to demand action—protesters join the Wave demonstration in London last year (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The world faces two huge crises. There’s the economic crisis, which is being used as an excuse to make massive cuts, destroy jobs and services, and push privatisation.

And there’s the climate crisis, which threatens to put dozens of countries under water, devastate large parts of the world and push billions deeper into poverty and despair.

But what if there was a way to start to solve both problems? What if there was a campaign not only to save the planet, but to create a huge number of jobs as we do it?

Trade unionists and climate activists have for several years been building links around campaigns for a “just transition”, in which workers in high-carbon industries like car factories would be given new “green jobs” instead.

Now trade unions and campaigners have backed an ambitious plan that would not only mean no job losses in polluting industries, and not only fund green energy, but create one million brand new jobs.

Such a plan can bring together the fight against climate change and the fight for jobs. Some green activists tell working people that they have to make further sacrifices and suffer still greater cuts in order to stop climate change.

The One Million Climate Jobs campaign says that working people should embrace action against climate change not only to save our environment but because it will deliver good, well-paid and secure work for them and their children.

It shifts the debate from what you have to give up to what you can gain. Its demands should be raised in every cuts campaign as part of a positive alternative to the Tories.


The campaign was launched by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union group last year. Bringing together an impressive array of trade unionists, climate activists and economists, it seeks to put the argument that massive investment is the solution to the economic and ecological crises.

It spells out exactly what jobs are needed—and how they could be funded.The report is clear that it is no use leaving it to the market to provide these jobs. The private sector is only interested in profit.

These will have to be public sector jobs, employing unionised workers on good wages. These workers would make up a National Climate Service, on a similar model to the NHS.

Factories would be retooled to build wind turbines and solar panels. The National Grid would be extended to take advantage of renewable energy from all around the country. Some 250,000 workers would be able to create infrastructure that could generate three quarters of Britain’s current electricity supply through wind power alone within ten years.

Existing homes and buildings would be insulated or rebuilt to reduce the amount of energy they require. This would create jobs, improve energy efficiency and reduce energy bills for everybody.

The plans also call for an integrated, 24-hour public transport system.

This would require not only massive investment in building trains and buses but also thousands of new drivers and maintenance workers.

Backing up all this would be new opportunities in research and development, education and civil service workers to administer the entire programme.

The programme would create a million climate jobs for ten years, at a cost of £18 billion per year—a fraction of the £120 billion that is evaded or avoided by the rich every year. Closing tax loopholes and raising taxes for the rich would pay for the plan many times over.

It is clear that the plans are well within our technological and economic means. But making it happen will take more than just convincing people that it is a good idea.

David Cameron announced in May that the Tory-Lib Dem coalition was going to be the “greenest government ever”. How hollow that pledge seems now.

It turns out that when the Tories said they intended to cut the government’s ­carbon emissions by 10 percent, what they meant was that their plan for mass sackings might reduce emissions as a side effect.

The government has tried to put a green gloss on nasty policies. Its so-called “green bank”, for example, will be funded through privatisation of state assets—it’s more like a green hedge fund.

Cameron’s plans for tackling climate chaos chime perfectly with his plans for the economy: cut like crazy and leave it to the markets.


Only a determined fight against the government’s plans, and the bosses who support them, will be able to bring about the changes we want to see. We need to challenge the logic—and the power—of capital and profit.

Mass struggles against the capitalists—protests, occupations and strikes—will be vital to winning our demands. The campaign got a big boost from the workers’ occupation of the Vestas wind turbine factory last summer.

The owners chose to close down the Isle of Wight plant—Britain’s only major wind turbine factory—despite the company being highly profitable.

But the Vestas workers did not take it lying down. They occupied the plant, and demanded government intervention to save it.

The fact that they were not just fighting for jobs but fighting for the future of the planet made their argument all the more powerful. Coverage of their campaign spread across the world and motivated thousands of supporters to protest and campaign for them.

By challenging the dominance of the market, the One Million Climate Jobs campaign offers us a glimpse of a very different type of society—one in which a rational, planned system puts human needs above the mad scramble for profits.

The logic of capitalism is driving the planet ever closer to ecological meltdown. Ultimately the only solution is a revolutionary one—we need to get rid of this rotten system.

By connecting struggles in the immediate interests of working class people with a positive vision of a better world, the One Million Climate Jobs campaign can be a weapon in both the fight against cuts, and in the struggle for socialism.

Refitting homes: a green way to make life better for the poorest

What’s the plan?

Insulating homes, making them draught-proof and installing local and renewable energy in and on top of buildings would reduce emissions and cut heating costs.

A team of workers would be sent, street-by-street, to roll out the improvements in one go—cutting labour time and reducing inconvenience.

Loft space would be used to add insulation, and cavities in walls filled with foam insulation.

Double-glazing would be applied to windows, draughty frames replaced and doors and windows properly draught-proofed. New boilers would be more efficient.

At the same time renewable energy would be installed where possible—either solar hot water thermal energy or ground source heat pumps.

Any new homes would also have to be built to this standard, not thrown up on the cheap.

What jobs would be created?

This part of the plan would create 175,000 jobs over ten years.

These cover every aspect of the building trade—manufacturing of materials from insulation to boilers, architects and engineers, housing inspectors, and training for all the new skills.

How would it help the climate?

Heating buildings and water accounts for about two tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per person per year—20 percent of each person’s total carbon dioxide emissions.

Insulation can reduce emissions from gas and coal by about a third.

What other benefits are there?

Better insulation would improve lives. The poorest, who are currently forced to live in cold, mouldy and damp buildings, would have a much better quality of life—and it would save them hundreds of pounds a year on heating bills.

Improving public transport can create jobs and slash emissions

What’s the plan?

Comprehensive improvements to the public transport network would help people get out of their cars.

Buses would come much more often, and the bus network would be extended so that people could use them easily and quickly. A shared taxi or minibus scheme could also be introduced—already popular in many countries.

Roads are already in place, so switching to buses is easy—every time you fill a bus you clear the road.

Trains are also important. The existing rail network is already geared to carrying freight—it just needs electrifying. We could also shift, as in much of Europe, to double-decker trains.

The key though is free buses and trains—this should start with all pensioners, disabled people and children.

There is also the issue of removing cars from inner cities or from whole cities altogether, which would allow fast, efficient transport and slash emissions. This would need discussion, testing and phasing in.

What jobs would be created?

Around 300,000 jobs would be created, involving everything from laying the new rail network, electrifying buses, extra drivers to service the expanded transport network and engineers to maintain it.

How would it help the climate?

Some 174 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions are created each year in Britain from transport—and 44 percent of that is from cars. A better public transport system would reduce emissions by up to 80 percent.

What you can do

  • The campaign is backed by the TUC, as well as the CWU, PCS, TSSA and UCU unions. You can invite speakers from the campaign to speak at union meetings and affiliate to the campaign. You can also bulk order copies of the pamphlet for branches
  • Get speakers from the campaign onto platforms at as many anti-cuts meetings and rallies as possible. Positive arguments for alternatives to cuts will provide a brilliant antidote to the Tory lies
  • Organise public meetings to publicise the campaign. These can bring together trade unionists, climate activists, politicians and academics in a debate about the way forward. We can have them joint hosted with the Right to Work campaign, the local trades council and other campaigning groups
  • Mobilise for a huge turn out on the Campaign Against Climate Change protest in central London on 4 December

Where could a million climate jobs come from?

kind of job number
Making renewable electricity 425,000
Changing transport 300,000
Renovating buildings 175,000
Industry and landfill 50,000
Education 50,000
Total new climate jobs 1,000,000

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