"To those who say climate risk is a far off problem, I can tell you that I have hunted the same woods in Western Pennsylvania my entire life and climate change is happening now -- I see it in the summer droughts that kill the trees, the warm winter nights when flowers bloom in January, the snows that fall less frequently and melt more quickly," Trumka said.
Trumka said the labor movement favors addressing climate change, and knows that doing so will involve creating new jobs to retrofit factories and power plants, to modernize transportation systems and make dozens of other changes that will reduce emissions.
But Trumka said the nation must also find a way to deal with what he said is a fundamental unfairness of dealing with climate change.
"Half of the electrical power in the United States comes from coal," he said. "This has been true for years. People I grew up with dig the coal that lights the lights and heats the buildings all across this country today. The world we know exists because coal miners go down to the mines. But the carbon emissions from that coal, and from oil and natural gas, and agriculture and so much other human activity-- causes global warming, and we have to act to cut those emissions, and act now."
At the same time, Trumka said that environmental group campaigns that talk about ending all coal production and burning frighten the people in the coalfields where he grew up.
"When these folks hear "End Coal," it sounds like a threat to destroy the value of our homes, to shut our schools and churches, to drive us away from the place our parents and grandparents are buried, to take away the work that for more than a hundred years has made us who we are," he said.
"The truth is that in many places -- and not just places where coal is mined -- there is fear that the "green economy" will turn into another version of the radical inequality that now haunts our society -- another economy that works for the 1 percent and not for the 99 percent."
Trumka said his organization "believes that honest, constructive dialogue between workers and their communities and environmental advocates, between investors and companies can forge pathways to fair and politically sustainable change-and that without it, we will not move forward."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.