Working for a Just Adaptation

The Green New Deal, Labor, and Planning for Climate Change


The Green New Deal resolution introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in early 2019 is premised on the recognition that the United States, and indeed the world, is confronted by dual crises of climate change and increasing socioeconomic inequality. “A changing climate,” the resolution reads, “is causing sea levels to rise and an increase in wildfires, severe storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events that threaten human life, healthy communities, and critical infrastructure.”1  The resolution also recognizes that the U.S. is in the midst of a four-decade trend of wage stagnation, deindustrialization, and antilabor policies that have led to “the greatest income inequality since the 1920s.”2  Building off of research showing that disadvantaged members of society bear the heaviest costs of climate change and other environmental disturbances,3  the resolution acknowledges that climate change has “exacerbated systemic racial, regional, social, environmental, and economic injustices, disproportionately affecting…frontline communities.”

Not only do the impacts of climate change exacerbate existing inequalities, efforts to slow climate change and reduce its impacts too often also contribute to widening inequality. Some mechanisms for slowing climate change, like shifting from fossil fuel-dependent energy production to renewable energy, a sector with lower wages and less union protections, can harm workers. That’s why, in recent years, a robust discussion has emerged on the need for a “just transition” to protect working people from the heaviest costs of reducing emissions. However, even if emissions were to stop tomorrow, some climate change is already “locked in” due to past and present emissions. If equity is not a central priority, strategies to adapt to climate change risk exacerbating existing inequality, disrupting the lives and livelihoods of already disadvantaged people.4  Therefore, along with a just transition, there must also be a “just adaptation” agenda to ensure that workers and vulnerable communities are at the center of planning and design efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Workers on the site of a new drainage pump station in Dhaka, BangladeshWorkers on the site of a new drainage pump station in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Zachary Lamb)

Pursuing Equity and Justice in Response to Climate Change

Climate change research and policy is often divided into two distinct but related realms: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation refers to efforts to both reduce the sources and increase the absorption of greenhouse gas emissions through a wide variety of means, including: increasing energy efficiency; shifting energy production from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas to renewables like solar and wind; reforestation; and planning low-emission, high density cities.

In spite of previous mitigation efforts, climate change is already impacting communities around the world. Given the reality of already locked-in climate change, people and institutions across scales are being forced to adapt. Adaptation refers to adjustments in human and natural systems to reduce the vulnerability of people, property, social systems, ecosystems, or landscapes to negative climate change impacts.5  Adaptation can encompass a wide range of adjustments, from shifting agricultural practices to cope with changing precipitation patterns to building levees and floodwalls to protect cities from rising seas.

Adaptation and mitigation are frequently related—adaptation actions can support mitigation goals. For example, increasing urban tree cover is a form of adaptation in that it provides shade and localized cooling, and is also a form of mitigation in that trees absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. Adaptation can also run counter to emission reduction goals. For example, people in cities around the world are increasingly using air conditioning to cope with rising temperatures, but this adaptation increases energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Any comprehensive plan to address the climate crisis must incorporate both mitigation and adaptation efforts. While the Green New Deal resolution does just that, the public discussion around work and workers has largely been centered around a just transition framework focused only on equity in mitigation. Although there is a deep and growing literature on the equity implications of adapting the built environments of cities and regions to the impacts of climate change, this literature has not substantially engaged with questions of labor politics and organizing.6  As practitioners, researchers, and activists from the design and planning disciplines focus increasing attention on how they can confront the dual crises of climate change and inequality, there is a tremendous opportunity for these groups to develop closer ties to unions and other groups representing the interests of working people. If the position of workers in the US and abroad continues to weaken and inequality continues to grow, even the most well-considered and elegant design and planning proposals for adaptation will not be able to deliver true community resilience. As a city official in New Orleans reported in an interview, “It doesn’t matter how tall your levees are. If you don’t have a job, you aren’t resilient.”7  The sections that follow provide some guidance for how unions and members of the design and planning professions might work together to forge an agenda for a truly just adaptation.

Work underway in 2011 at the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway West Closure Complex in New OrleansWork underway in 2011 at the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway West Closure Complex in Louisiana (US Army Corps of Engineers)

Equity in Mitigation 

When it comes to climate change mitigation, some labor leaders have raised alarms that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. can widen already high levels of economic inequality by replacing high-paying, unionized jobs in the fossil fuel industry with lower-paying, non-union jobs in the renewable energy sector.8  While some renewable energy jobs, such as the construction of offshore wind farms, do pay union rates, in most cases jobs in renewable energy pay less than those in the traditional fossil fuel sector.9 Many renewable jobs, such as installing solar PV equipment or maintaining and repairing wind turbines, require different skills from former fossil fuel jobs, such as mining, oil refining, or coal power plant operations.10 The new renewable energy jobs also may not be located in the same geographic region as former fossil fuel jobs.

The transition to renewable energy is associated with the broader decentralization of power generation, shifting employment away from large industrial employers and toward the historically anti-union residential construction sector.11  As a point of comparison, jobs in electric power generation, transmission, and distribution pay on average, $72,000 per year, with fossil fuel plant operators making $78,000 annually. Commercial construction work, such as the building of fossil fuel power plants and gas pipelines, pays on average $56,000, while residential construction work pays just $47,000. Rooftop solar installers, the most prevalent green energy sector job, earn an average of $46,000 annually.12  

Workers install 250-MW solar project on the Moapa Indian River Reservation in southern Nevada Workers install 250-MW solar project on the Moapa Indian River Reservation in southern Nevada (US Department of Energy)

Labor leaders and climate action advocates throughout the world are increasingly in agreement on the need for a just transition framework to ensure that efforts to mitigate climate change will not exacerbate inequalities by disproportionately harming working people.13  A just transition, while still a contested concept within the U.S. labor movement, generally refers to a set of protections for workers who face economic displacement as a result of efforts to decarbonize the economy.14  From a union perspective, a just transition requires a robust social safety net, including measures such as: extended wage replacement benefits, pension protections, education and skills training, jobs programs, wage parity between old and new jobs, the right to unionize at new jobs without interference from employers, and universal access to healthcare regardless of employment status.

Many social justice advocates have rightfully noted that the historical legacy of racial and gender discrimination in the U.S. has meant that the high-paying fossil fuel jobs that are threatened by climate mitigation efforts are occupied overwhelmingly by white men while pollution and other negative impacts from these industries have disproportionately harmed low-income communities and communities of color.15  To address this historic inequity, climate justice activists and some unions have adopted a broader definition of a just transition that includes redressing the legacies of economic and environmental racism by prioritizing cleanup efforts in environmental justice communities and ensuring access to good jobs in the new green economy for historically-excluded groups.16  

A worker in hazmat suit checks a potentially hazardous barrel to determine its contentsA worker checks a potentially hazardous barrel to determine its contents (Marvin Nauman, FEMA)

Equity in Adaptation

Despite this increasingly robust discussion about labor justice in climate change mitigation, there has been very little parallel discussion on the role of labor in advancing climate adaptation equity. While most cities are only beginning to realize the extent and severity of their exposure to climate change, there is evidence that, without concerted attention to equity impacts, urban adaptation can exacerbate existing inequalities. Urban adaptation efforts, including new floodwalls and other infrastructural protections and changes in land use meant to reduce exposure to hazards, can widen inequalities through both “acts of omission,” such as excluding poor neighborhoods from the benefits of new infrastructure investments, or “acts of commission,” such as evicting disadvantaged populations to make way for adaptation projects.17  Recognizing the potential harms that can come with adaptation, researchers have argued that to be considered successful, adaptation must be not only effective and efficient, but also equitable and politically legitimate.18  

A private levee and flood gate protect this office building housing banking back office functions in the New Jersey Meadowlands A private levee and flood gate protect this office building housing banking back office functions in the New Jersey Meadowlands (Zachary Lamb)

Reflecting these concerns over the equity and legitimacy of climate change adaptation efforts, the Green New Deal resolution includes explicit acknowledgement of the need for climate action and adaptation to be shaped by vulnerable frontline communities and organized labor.19  Unions and other groups representing workers, such as worker centers, alt-labor organizations, and coops, must be central to crafting a just adaptation agenda that will ensure that adaptation to climate change reduces, rather than exacerbates, existing inequalities.

Unions and Adaptation

Given that the percentage of American workers that are union members is at a historic low, under 7% in the private sector, some might ask: are unions even relevant to climate adaptation?20  The answer is an emphatic: Yes. Unions still bargain and have measurable influence in several key sectors, including installation and maintenance occupations (15.1% unionized), construction (17.1%), transportation and utilities (17.3%), education (33.8%), protective services (33.9%), and the public sector (33.9%).21  Unions are also particularly strong in many coastal regions that are especially prone to climate-related disasters. Given the strong relationship between climate change and rising inequality and the historic role that unions have played in reducing inequality in society, it is clear that unions are indeed very relevant institutions when considering issues of equity.22  But why should unions be concerned with climate adaptation? In cities that have already faced the need to adapt, there have emerged three distinct, but related reasons that labor organizations should play a central role when developing a just adaptation agenda: 1) to reduce harm to workers, 2) to ensure adaptation jobs are good jobs, and 3) to build broad coalitions to ensure adaption is just. Each is discussed in greater detail below.

Reducing the Harms of Climate Adaptation on Workers

Workers face particular threats from climate change hazards and adaptation. Adaptation can be a pretext for accelerating urban development processes and changes in labor relations that are harmful to workers. Major environmental disruptions and the invocation of climate crises can be used to justify periods of exception and disaster capitalism, leading to privatization, deregulation, de-unionization, and erosion of workers’ rights, all of which contribute to increased economic inequalities.23 In New Orleans, following the levee breaches and flooding of Hurricane Katrina, official policy measures (e.g., the suspension of Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, safety standards and Davis-Bacon prevailing wage rules) and informal employer practices (e.g., non-payment of overtime, wage theft, etc.) conspired to increase the precarity of workers in the construction industries.24  Beyond the immediate aftermath of climate-related disturbances, the deindustrialization of urban waterfronts and the broader transition of cities from centers of production to nodes of consumption has displaced union jobs from many cities. From New York to Toronto to London, once heavily unionized industrial urban waterfronts have been converted into landscapes of consumption and recreation, often in the name of environmental sensitivity and climate resilience.25

The Sheepshead Bay Courts under construction for “Build It Back” in September 2018The Sheepshead Bay Courts under construction for “Build It Back” in September 2018 (Virginia Hanusik)

Ensuring that Adaptation Jobs are Good Jobs

While climate threats and adaptation pose particular risks to workers, the work necessary to adapt cities and regions to climate change will also create new jobs across a range of sectors, from construction to transportation to healthcare. The threat of increased climate change-induced flooding alone is placing enormous areas at risk, requiring major investments in new infrastructure. Even before more extreme climate change impacts, nearly one billion people and $50 trillion worth of property are currently exposed to river flooding worldwide.26 A recent study estimates that providing even basic flood protection for coastal communities in the U.S. would cost an estimated $400 billion by 2040.27  Whether flood protections take the form of “gray” infrastructures like seawalls and levees or “green” infrastructures like floodwater absorbing parklands,28  these efforts will require an enormous amount of labor.

Similarly, adapting critical infrastructures like power-generating stations, airports, roads, and train lines to withstand rising sea levels, increased temperatures, and storms will require a major mobilization of labor. Homes and businesses in communities around the country will also need to be retrofitted to deal with these same stresses, creating opportunities for training and workforce development nationwide. Increasingly, climate action policies at the state and local level are linking adaptation in the built environment to mitigation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These efforts to decarbonize by increasing energy efficiency and transitioning to renewable energy will also produce opportunities to expand workforces in fields from mass transit operations to the construction and property management trades. With the emergence of increasingly dire consequences of climate change on the health of human communities and ecosystems, adaptation efforts will involve a range of other frequently unionized fields, including nursing, public administration, and firefighting.

While climate adaptation will clearly require an enormous mobilization of labor, it is not a foregone conclusion that the jobs created in building climate resilient cities will be good jobs. That is why workers and their organizations need to be central players in forging a just adaptation agenda. Unions can play a central part by deploying their expertise in advocating for: 1) strong enforceable wage and hour standards, including full-time employment at a living wage with overtime pay; 2) proper job classifications to ensure workers are not mis-classified as “independent contractors” by employers seeking to avoid paying benefits or to prevent employees from forming unions; 3) local hiring provisions to make sure that the workers who live in at-risk communities rather than out-of-state contractors benefit from the climate resiliency jobs in their neighborhoods; 4) local procurement clauses to bolster domestic manufacturing and ensure that work is performed according to U.S. labor and environmental standards; 5) clear job ladders to make sure that entry-level jobs are not dead-end jobs; 6) prevailing wage measures to establish pay rates that are sufficient to meet local costs of living; and 7) the right to organize unions and bargain collectively free from intimidation.

Labor Organizations as Coalition Builders

As part of broader coalitions of working people and frontline communities, unions have an important role to play in ensuring that adaptation is a vehicle for addressing broader systemic drivers of inequality and uneven vulnerability. Sometimes referred to as “social movement unionism,” “community unionism,” or “bargaining for the common good,” when workers join with their communities to make broad demands with one voice, the combined power of these coalitions can be much greater than the sum of their parts.29 This “whole worker” organizing model of unionism recognizes that workers are also parents, neighbors, and community members, and that their interests in the workplace are integrally related to their interests outside of it.30

Members of The Architecture Lobby performance outside the National AIA Convention in 2016 Members of the Architecture Lobby stage a protest outside the AIA National Convention in 2016 (Maryam Hallaj)

In numerous instances throughout history, union solidarity with allied interests has been essential to the fight for greater equity and justice. For example, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union port workers supported anti-apartheid activists by refusing to unload cargo ships from South Africa during the 1980s.31  The Service Employees International Union, United Auto Workers, and others worked with faith-based groups and community organizations in Stamford, Connecticut to secure affordable housing for workers in the 1990s.32  Teachers unions in Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere have engaged in Bargaining for the Common Good campaigns in conjunction with parents and community organizations to improve education for children, expand access to green spaces for students, combat xenophobic attacks on families, and reduce punitive disciplinary procedures that feed the school-to-prison pipeline.33  

Previous research has found that union members exhibit higher levels of support for environmental policies than the public at large.34 A social movement union approach to climate adaptation can tap into these concerns and leverage the power of unions to uplift the voices of communities that lack political influence. It can also create opportunities for workers from disadvantaged areas to build power and economic opportunities within their communities. For these reasons, it is clear that for climate adaption to be just, workers and their organizations should play an integral role in planning and design efforts.

Recent polling by Data for Progress showing higher levels of support for environmental policies than the public at large (Data for Progress)Recent polling by Data for Progress showing higher levels of support for environmental policies than the public at large (Data for Progress35 )

Paths Forward

Over the last decade, as climate change impacts have intensified, designers and planners have eagerly answered the calls of city leaders and philanthropies to reimagine urban form and governance to cope with environmental changes. These efforts have taken many forms, including: “resilience planning” through the Rockefeller Foundation’s recently discontinued 100 Resilient Cities Program; interdisciplinary visionary design competitions like the post-Sandy Rebuild By Design (RBD) in the New York metropolitan area and the more recent Resilient By Design Competition in the San Francisco Bay Area; and regional collaboratives, like the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, meant to rescale planning to meet the territorial extents of climate impacts beyond the bounds of individual municipalities. While some urban adaptation planning efforts, like those supported by the Kresge Foundation, are increasingly focused on equity issues, workers and labor unions have rarely been central players.

Thus far, adaptation planning and design in the U.S., like professional planning and design more generally, has not focused on the interests of workers. Planning for a just adaptation will require making workers central participants. The Architecture Lobby’s recent statement on the Green New Deal signals a strong shift in tone, arguing that architects should: “recognize our individual and collective agency and identity as workers;” “stand in solidarity with all workers and support the right of collective bargaining;” and “organize as workers, alongside allies from other industries, wielding our power as a collective in order to achieve the transformations required to confront the climate crisis.”36

To build off of these aspirations for climate change transformation through labor solidarity, a just adaptation agenda bringing together unions and other workers’ organizations with designers and planners must include the following principles. First, in pursuit of equity and political legitimacy, adaptation must be focused on human need, not profit or political expediency. Second, adaptation should be planned and executed to actively reduce pre-existing socio-economic inequality, not reproduce or exacerbate these disparities. Third, adaptation should be treated as a long-term ongoing process, rather than a series of individual “projects.” And finally, adaptation should emphasize an approach of democratic deliberation, debate, and collective decision making, wherein those who will be most impacted by climate change and adaptation efforts have a central place in shaping these processes. In short, just adaptation is human-centered, equity-enhancing, process-oriented, and democratic.

Realizing this vision of just adaptation will require substantial shifts in standard operating procedures for both design and planning professionals and for organized labor. The following sections explore how these principles have been mobilized in past efforts that might inform how adaptation planning can: 1) minimize harm to workers, 2) maximize gains for workers, and 3) join the interests of workers and communities to promote just adaptation.

Minimizing Harm

While climate impacts and adaptation can be a pretext for eroding workers’ rights, there are promising examples of projects that center workers in adaptation planning to minimize harm.37 In city after city, waterfront redevelopment, often in the name of improving urban resilience, has brought displacement of industrial facilities and workers, accelerating gentrification. To resist displacement, a coalition of community groups developed and advocated for an alternative strategy for the environmental cleanup of the waterfront in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. In an approach that has been dubbed “just green enough,” the Greenpoint plan cleaned up toxic pollution and built a new waterfront trail. The project prioritized maintaining existing waterfront industries that are crucial to neighborhood employment to avoid the kind of “environmental gentrification” that has occurred in other urban areas following environmental cleanups.38

Rendering of post-Sandy effort by Rebuild by Design / Hunts Point Lifelines Rebuild by Design / Hunts Point Lifelines (PennDesign/OLIN)

Not far away, in Hunts Point in the Bronx, the post-Sandy Rebuild by Design effort led by a team from the University of Pennsylvania developed their "Lifelines" proposal. The Hunts Point Lifelines proposal, unlike the other RBD proposals, included significant input from workers in the impacted area. Through consultation with the Teamsters local, other unions, and grassroots community organizations, the project placed a strong emphasis on maintaining the viability of the wholesale food market in the neighborhood, supporting good local jobs while addressing the area’s climate vulnerability and other community health concerns.39  While there is serious debate about the wisdom of the model of using design competitions for climate adaptation planning,40  the Hunts Point project demonstrates an approach to competitions that is less focused on spectacular visual gimmickry and more centered on building meaningful community buy-in, including working closely with local labor interests.  

Maximizing Gains

Beyond minimizing the harms that climate adaptation might bring to working people, adaptation planning can be a tool for advancing labor justice. In the summer of 2019, the New York State Nurses Association, the Communication Workers of America District One, Teamsters Joint Council 16, 32BJ SEIU, and the Transit Workers Union in New York joined to support the passage of the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA).41  The CCPA brings together ambitious climate mitigation measures—reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050—with equity-focused adaptation and resiliency measures. The CCPA mandates that at least 35% of state energy and climate funds be invested in low-income communities and communities of color. By mandating union wages for all state-supported mitigation and adaptation projects, the CCPA also aims to reduce inequality and expand workplace protections as the state pursues climate resilience.

Members of The Architecture Lobby performance, holding a sign that reads, "We are Precarious Workers," outside the National AIA Convention in 2016“Unions call for passage of Climate & Community Protection Act,” June 14, 2019, (

When city officials in New Orleans developed their proposal for the “Gentilly Resilience District,” a suite of green infrastructure projects for one of the city’s flood-prone neighborhoods, they included a substantial focus on building a “resilience economy” through job training for residents of the area.42 One city official reported in an interview that the project was focused on “connecting the 40% of African-American males in the city who are unemployed and underemployed to these jobs that we are creating,” because, he said, even “if you build the biggest [flood] walls in the world; if the people inside those walls are living in poverty, what is the point.”43  Though the proposal was awarded a large federal grant through the National Disaster Resilience Competition, the projects and their job training components have been slow to realize their full potential.44  Nonetheless, the prioritization of job creation and training in urban green infrastructure and climate resilience projects is a positive direction. As New Orleans and other cities seek to build a resilience workforce, their efforts would benefit from robust participation by unions and other workers organizations with a strong track record of training workers for good jobs.45

Weaving Broad Coalitions

Though unions and other workers’ organizations can mobilize to minimize harms and maximize gains from urban adaption, a truly “just adaptation” agenda is only possible if these labor-focused groups join in broader coalitions drawing in a wide range of workers and vulnerable frontline communities. Adaptation planning and design projects should include early and robust participation from a broad spectrum of unions, environmental justice organizations, and community groups. Beyond construction unions that might have a direct stake in projects, other unions including teachers, health care workers, and municipal employees unions can be valuable additional coalition builders, informing the design and planning of adaptation efforts that will advance broad-based equity and justice goals with their experience in organizing, training, and collective bargaining.

One notable example of union solidarity in support of what might be called proto-just adaptation came in the mid-1950s in New Orleans. In 1954, the local levee board evicted over 140 low-income households from an area known as “the batture,” claiming that the displacement was necessary to enable improvements to the Mississippi River levees that protect the city. Radical labor press outlets and local unions were an essential source of political and financial support for the "batture dwellers" as they brought suit seeking compensation for the destruction of their homes. Posters produced by the group advocating on behalf of the batture dwellers celebrated a “union honor roll” of twenty groups who had contributed to the legal case, from the National Maritime Union to the International Brotherhood of Bookbinders.46  They proclaimed that “their suit was made possible mainly through the contribution of New Orleans unions.”47

More recently, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, climate change resilience became a priority for the New York City Transit Workers Union (TWU) whose members experienced hardship both on the job and in their communities as a result of the storm. Joining other community leaders under the banner of the “Alliance for a Just Rebuilding,” TWU Local 100 Recording Secretary LaTonya Crisp-Sauray called for an equitable rebuilding of communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy. “Working class communities in Brooklyn and Queens, already underserved, became more isolated and cut off from the rest of the city after the storm” she said. “In a world of growing climate change,” she continued, “we can expect more extreme storms. Now we have to make sure that the process of recovery and rebuilding of our City are firmly based in community participation and environmental justice.”48  By working together as equal partners with community groups, racial justice organizations, student organizations, and others, labor unions can win bigger and broader demands that help workers and entire communities to prosper.

View of two large groups holding discussions during "The Green New Deal: A Public Assembly," which took place at the Queens Museum“The Green New Deal: A Public Assembly,” co-organized by the Buell Center, the Queens Museum, the Architecture Lobby, AIA New York, Francisco Casablanca, and Gabriel Hernández Solano, brought together a broad coalition to discuss the Green New Deal in November 2019 (Corey Torpie)

The growing momentum around the Green New Deal and other efforts to link climate action to labor and social justice, has highlighted the need for a worker-centered “just adaptation” agenda to guide climate change adaptation planning and design. By joining in broad equity-focused coalitions, labor organizations can help minimize harms and maximize gains for working people as cities reshape their infrastructure, built environments, and land use patterns to cope with shifting climate change hazards. If designers and planners embrace the Architecture Lobby’s exhortation towards climate transformation through labor solidarity, they can also work with other workers’ groups to ensure that adaptation planning is human-centered, equity-focused, process-oriented, and democratic. Organized labor and workers in the planning and design professions have long occupied starkly separate political and social worlds. If these groups can come together, they will constitute a powerful force for confronting the dual crises of climate change and inequality, realizing a truly just adaptation for all.


  • 1Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal,” Pub. L. No. H.R. 109 (2019),
  • 2Ocasio-Cortez.
  • 3Benjamin Wisner et al., At Risk: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability, and Disasters (London; New York: Routledge, 2004); Mark Pelling, Adaptation to Climate Change: From Resilience to Transformation (London ; New York: Routledge, 2010).
  • 4Isabelle Anguelovski et al., “Equity Impacts of Urban Land Use Planning for Climate Adaptation: Critical Perspectives from the Global North
    and South,” Journal of Planning Education and Research 36, no. 3 (2016): 333–348.
  • 5IPCC, “IPCC DDC Glossary,” 2019,
  • 6Pelling, Adaptation to Climate Change; Jouni Paavola and W. Neil Adger, “Fair Adaptation to Climate Change,” Ecological Economics 56, no. 4 (April 1, 2006): 594–609,; Anguelovski et al., “Equity Impacts of Urban Land Use Planning for Climate Adaptation”; Benjamin K. Sovacool, Björn-Ola Linnér, and Michael E. Goodsite, “The Political Economy of Climate Adaptation,” Nature Climate Change 5, no. 7 (July 2015): 616–18.
  • 7Jeff Hebert, Chief Resilience Officer, City of New Orleans, interview by Zachary Lamb, August 1, 2017.
  • 8Carla Marinucci, and Debra Kahn, "Labor anger over Green New Deal greets 2020 contenders in California," Politico, June 2019,
  • 9Ivan Penn, "New York Awards Offshore Wind Contracts in Bid to Reduce Emissions,” New York Times, July 2019,
  • 10A large share of renewable energy work involves the skills of construction and maintenance occupations such as carpenters and electricians whereas fossil fuel energy systems largely employ workers in extractive and production occupations such as plant and systems operators.
  • 11Mike Rabourn, “Organized Labor in Residential Construction,” Labor Studies Journal 33, (2008): 9-26.
  • 12"National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates," Bureau of Labor Statistics, retrieved August 15, 2019,
  • 13IndustriAll, "A Trade Union Guide to A Just Transition for Workers," (2019); Sean Sweeney and John Treat, "Trade Unions and Just Transition," Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, Working Paper #11, (2018).
  • 14The term “just transition” is widely used in the global labor movement, but due to the weak social safety net and a history of inadequate government transition programs, many U.S. union leaders in the energy sector, including the current President of the AFL-CIO—Richard Trumka —have expressed skepticism about the plausibility of a just transition and have instead focused their energies on efforts to protect fossil fuel jobs by promoting carbon capture and sequestration technologies. The Labor Network for Sustainability, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and some unions in other industries being impacted by climate change such as healthcare, the service sector, transportation, and the public sector have been more supportive of the just transition framework.
  • 15Jacqui Patterson, "Just Energy Policies: Reducing Pollution and Creating Jobs," NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, (2014),
  • 16Todd E. Vachon, “Clean Air and Good Jobs: U.S. Labor and the Struggle for Climate Justice,” unpublished dissertation, University of Connecticut, (2018).
  • 17Isabelle Anguelovski et al., “Equity Impacts of Urban Land Use Planning for Climate Adaptation,” Journal of Planning Education and Research 36, no. 3 (2016): 333–48; Benjamin K. Sovacool, Björn-Ola Linnér, and Michael E. Goodsite, “The Political Economy of Climate Adaptation.” Nature Climate Change 5, no. 7 (2015): 616–18.
  • 18W. Neil Adger, Nigel W. Arnell, and Emma L. Tompkins, “Successful Adaptation to Climate Change across Scales,” JGEC Global Environmental Change 15, no. 2 (2005): 77–86.
  • 19Ocasio-Cortez and Markey.
  • 20Barry T. Hirsch and David A. Macpherson, "Union Membership and Coverage Database from the Current Population Survey: Note." Industrial and Labor Relations Review 56, no. 2 (2003): 349-54. (updated annually at
  • 21“Union Members Survey,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed August 15, 2019,
  • 22Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld, “Unions, Norms, and the Rise in US Wage Inequality,” American Sociological Review 76, (2015): 513-537.
  • 23Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, 1st edition (New York: Picador, 2008); Kevin Fox Gotham and Miriam Greenberg, Crisis Cities: Disaster and Redevelopment in New York and New Orleans (Oxford University Press, 2014).
  • 24Aaron Schneider and Saru Jayaraman, “Ascriptive Segmentation Between Good and Bad Jobs: New Orleans Restaurants and Construction Workers,” in Working in the Big Easy: The History and Politics of Labor in New Orleans, ed. Thomas J. Adams and Steve Striffler (Lafayette, LA: University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2014), 229–64.
  • 25Fernando Diaz Orueta and Susan S. Fainstein, “The New Mega-Projects: Genesis and Impacts,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 32, no. 4 (2008): 759–767.
  • 26P. Scussolini et al., “FLOPROS: An Evolving Global Database of Flood Protection Standards,” Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss 3 (2015): 7275–7309.
  • 27Sverre LeRoy and Richard Wiles, “High Tide Tax” (The Center for Climate Integrity, June 2019).
  • 28Zachary Lamb and Lawrence J Vale, “Pursuing Resilient Urban Design: Equitably Merging Green and Gray Strategies,” in New Companion to Urban Design, ed. Tridib Banerjee and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris (New York: Routledge, 2019), 371–84.
  • 29Janice Fine, “Community Unions and the Revival of the American Labor Movement,” Politics & Society 33, (2005):153-99; Marilyn Sneiderman and Secky Fascione, “Going on Offense during Challenging Times,” New Labor Forum 27, (2018): 54-62; Peter Waterman, “Social-Movement Unionism: A New Union Model for a New World Order?” Review 16, no. 3 (Summer, 1993): 245-78.
  • 30Jane McAlevey, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
  • 31Peter Cole, “Don’t like War? Then Don’t Work! Remembering when Dockworkers Shut Down the Ports on May Day,” In These Times, April 2018,
  • 32Janice Fine, “Building Community Unions: In Stamford, Connecticut, Organizers are Putting the Movement back in Labor,” The Nation, December 2000,
  • 33Lois Weiner, “Why the LA Teachers Strike Matters,” Jacobin, January 2019,; Marilyn Sneiderman and Secky Fascione, “Going on Offense During Challenging Times,” New Labor Forum, January 2018,
  • 34Todd E. Vachon and Jeremy Brecher, “Are Union Members More or Less Likely to Be Environmentalists? Some Evidence from Two National Surveys,” Labor Studies Journal 41, (2016): 185-203.
  • 35Sean McElwee, Julian Brave NoiseCat, and John L. Ray, “Green New Deal Support Among Union Members,” Data for Progress, June 2019,
  • 36The Architecture Lobby, “T-A-L Statement on the Green New Deal,” The Architecture Lobby (blog), June 25, 2019,
  • 37Unions in Switzerland have started incorporating climate change related provisions in their bargaining demands during contract negotiations to ensure the health and safety of workers on the job as environmental conditions change. See Romain Felli, “A Just Transition Must Include Climate Change Adaptation,” Medium (blog), April 13, 2018,
  • 38Winifred Curran and Trina Hamilton, “Just Green Enough: Contesting Environmental Gentrification in Greenpoint, Brooklyn,” in Just Green Enough: Urban Development and Environmental Gentrification (New York, NY: Routledge, 2018), 15–31.
  • 39PennDesign and OLIN, “Hunts Point Lifelines” (Rebuild By Design, April 6, 2014).
  • 40Billy Fleming, “Design and the Green New Deal,” Places Journal, April 16, 2019,
  • 41“Unions call for Passage of Climate & Community Protection Act,” Teamsters Joint Council 16, last modified June 14, 2019,
  • 42U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “National Disaster Resilience Competition Grantee Profiles.”
  • 43New Orleans City Official, Personal Communication, 2017.
  • 44New Orleans City Official, Personal Communication, 2019.
  • 45The “One Million Climate Jobs” (OMCJ) effort in South Africa provides a useful international precedent for building a ‘resilience workforce.’ In 2011, the South African NGO the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) created the OMCJ proposal, laying out an agenda for simultaneously advancing climate action and addressing chronic unemployment. The proposal directly ties the climate crisis to dominant forms of capitalist development, rejects market-based solutions, and argues for an ambitious program of public job creation to advance both mitigation and adaptation in sectors from electricity generation to public transportation and building retrofits. A 2017 update to the plan includes substantial attention to the need for adaptation job creation in activities from tree planting in public spaces to retrofitting road and stormwater infrastructure. See Brian Ashley et al., One Million Climate Jobs: Moving South Africa Forward On a Low-Carbon, Wage-Led, and Sustainable Path, ed. Jonathan Neale (Cape Town, South Africa: Alternative Information and Development Centre, 2017),
  • 46Batture Dwellers Defense Association, “Union Honor Roll,” 1954, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University.
  • 47Batture Dwellers Defense Association, “Batture Dwellers Compensation Suit,” 1957, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University. After a protracted legal battle, the levee board offered no compensation for the displaced families, who they labeled “squatters.”
  • 48“Local 100 calls for a Just Rebuilding after Sandy,” Transit Workers Union Local 100, retrieved August 15, 2019,
Workers on the site of a new drainage pump station in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Workers on the site of a new drainage pump station in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Zachary Lamb)

Work underway in 2011 at the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway West Closure Complex in New Orleans

Work underway in 2011 at the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway West Closure Complex in New Orleans (US Army Corps of Engineers)

Workers install 250-MW solar project on the Moapa Indian River Reservation in southern Nevada

Workers install 250-MW solar project on the Moapa Indian River Reservation in southern Nevada (US Department of Energy)

A worker checks a potentially hazardous barrel to determine its contents

A worker checks a potentially hazardous barrel to determine its contents (Marvin Nauman, FEMA)

A private levee and flood gate protect this office building housing banking back office functions in the New Jersey Meadowlands

A private levee and flood gate protect this office building housing banking back office functions in the New Jersey Meadowlands (Zachary Lamb)

The Sheepshead Bay Courts under construction for “Build It Back” in September 2018

The Sheepshead Bay Courts under construction for “Build It Back” in September 2018 (Virginia Hanusik)

Members of The Architecture Lobby performance, holding a sign that reads, "We are Precarious Workers," outside the National AIA Convention in 2016

Members of The Architecture Lobby performance outside the National AIA Convention in 2016 (Maryam Hallaj)

Recent polling by Data for Progress showing higher levels of support for environmental policies than the public at large

Recent polling by Data for Progress showing higher levels of support for environmental policies than the public at large (Data for Progress)

Rendering of post-Sandy effort by Rebuild by Design / Hunts Point Lifelines

Rebuild by Design / Hunts Point Lifelines (PennDesign/OLIN)

Unions call for the passage of Climate & Community Protection Act, holding signs and banners, the largest reads, "TEAMSTERS Joint Council 16 New York"

“Unions call for passage of Climate & Community Protection Act,” June 14, 2019, (



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