Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Labor should be involved in the conversation around the climate crisis, union leader Sara Nelson told Common Dreams in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

Labor should be involved in the conversation around the climate crisis, union leader Sara Nelson told Common Dreams in an exclusive interview Tuesday. (Photo: AFL-CIO)

Labor Leader Sara Nelson Says Workers of Disrupted Industries Must Be Engaged in Green New Deal Solutions

"We have to be engaged in the conversation."

Eoin Higgins

"Our country, our economy doesn't work without aviation."

That's what the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, Sara Nelson, told Common Dreams in an interview Tuesday. Nelson believes that the airline industry needs to get on board with finding swift solutions to the climate crisis. 

"Let's have lawmakers, scientists, and innovators get together to keep planes in the air," said Nelson.

Nelson sees a prominent role for her union in figuring out how to balance the demands of aviation with the deepening reality of the climate catastrophe and President Donald Trump's policies. If the president won't lead, said Nelson, others need to step forward.

"We have to be engaged in the conversation about solutions," said Nelson. 

For the airlines, that means taking a hard look at what can be changed in the industry to meet the goals of the Green New Deal. Air travel and shipping is indispensable to the U.S. economy, shuttling people and product across the country and the world. 

Thus there's no time to waste, said Nelson, who believes that air travel will become unsustainable if nothing is done.

"There are solutions that cut emissions," said Nelson. "Airlines have already been doing that—we need to do it at a faster rate."

Among the solutions Nelson suggested are finding ways to power airplanes through less polluting fuels and using electric power, describing the push as both morally and financially incentivized.

She specifically brought up clear air turbulence—turbulence that comes out of nowhere and can cause serious injury or death—as one of the climate-related concerns for her union members that is likely not understood by people outside the industry.

A study from Reading University Professor Paul D. Williams succinctly lays out the danger:

Clear‐air turbulence is potentially hospitalizing in‐flight bumpiness experienced by aircraft. Often, pilots cannot avoid it, because it is invisible to the naked eye and undetectable by onboard sensors. Previous research suggests that climate change will increase instabilities in the North Atlantic jet stream in winter, generating more clear‐air turbulence. 

Nelson said that flight attendants, who are on their feet for most of the flight, are particularly in danger from the turbulence. They can be thrown across the plane and injured or killed by flying debris caused by the air currents.

"It's something we cannot prepare for," said Nelson. "It's a major occupational hazard."

With climate change worsening the issue, cutting down on emissions is one of the most important solutions. And she believes the industry can do it. 

"When you have that kind of leadership and focus and priorities set from the government, there's a natural exponential increase in implementing many of these innovations," said Nelson, "finding and implementing them."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Sanders Denounces a Pentagon Budget System Found 'Inherently Susceptible to Fraud'

"They don't seem to want to get serious about spending taxpayer dollars wisely and effectively," said the Vermont senator, declaring it "absolutely unacceptable."

Andrea Germanos ·

Campaigners to Biden: Stop Acting Like a Big Pharma 'Puppet' and Help Vaccinate the World

"Status quo protection of the intellectual property rights of profiteering pharmaceutical companies will not save us from this pandemic."

Jake Johnson ·

'An Atrocity': Poor Go Without as Rich Nations Set to Let 100 Million Covid Vaccines Rot

"Poorer countries shouldn't have to wait until our doses are about to expire to vaccinate their populations."

Andrea Germanos ·

Haiti Official Demands 'Humanitarian Moratorium' as US Ramps Up Deportations

The administration's rapid removal of refugees and migrants was denounced as "reprehensible" and "cruel."

Julia Conley ·

20 Years After Start of 'War on Terror', Groups Demand Closure of Gitmo 'Once and For All'

"President Biden has the authority and power to permanently close Guantánamo Bay, turning it from a living symbol of torture and injustice to a historical warning to future generations."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo