Coal mining has always been a lethal industry, for both workers and the environment. But, unsurprisingly, President Donald Trump’s energy agenda threatens to make the coal industry even deadlier, by expanding domestic coal production while simultaneously unraveling Washington’s global commitments on carbon regulation.
His plans will likely spell disaster on many fronts. In contrast to Trump’s claims that coal will “make America great again,” it will actually just force the country further behind the rest of the world in realizing that decisively ending our dependence on coal, and coal production, is the only way to make the planet livable again.
While candidate Trump promised economic revival for impoverished rural coal communities and misleadingly vilified Democrats and environmentalists as “job killers”—blaming regulation, rather than the global coal market’s decline, for their joblessness—coal was killing actual workers in China, Turkey, India, Pakistan, and even here in the United States. This comes on top of hundreds of thousands of lives extinguished annually by fossil fuel–powered climate change—a massive epidemic that ultimately hits poorer countries harder than rich ones.
Whether from the hazards of its production or the health impact of its pollution, the global death toll of coal doesn’t count for Trump nearly as much as the corporate profits he hopes will roll in under his watch. For workers, despite Trump’s promises of relief, any new jobs will ultimately cost more in lives than it brings in income. Globally, workers themselves are realizing this and demanding industrial transformation. Not because they’re environmentalists; because their lives depend on it.
For several years the international union federation IndustriALL has led a global campaign to push through the International Labour Organization Convention 176, which would secure health and safety protections for mine workers worldwide. In addition to saving lives in the immediate term, this would serve the purpose of both equalizing labor standards across countries and advancing the shift towards sustainable energy; for the transformation to be comprehensive, it must be equitable and fair to the impacted labor force.
IndustriALL also sees labor power as integral to sound energy policy. According to the federation, the ILO convention “provides the organizing space for unions to build a workplace safety culture from the ground up,” which is a basic right that must be fulfilled if workers are ever to contemplate the long-term future of their communities in light of the climate crisis.