Why a ‘just transition’ doesn’t have to pit jobs against the environment

Many labour groups support Paris targets, global climate strikes


A study by Clean Energy Canada found that the clean-energy sector was growing at a faster rate than the rest of the economy. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

One of the recurring themes among some politicians and business leaders is that climate change presents a binary choice between preserving jobs or the environment.

But that’s not the way Dwaine MacDonald sees it. MacDonald is one of the co-founders of Trinity Energy Group, a company based in Stellarton, N.S., that makes commercial and residential buildings more energy-efficient, through better insulation and thermal barriers. And business is very good.

To give a sense of Trinity’s expertise, in 2010, the company worked on a 14-bedroom farmhouse that every year required 14 cords of wood and two barrels of oil for their heating needs. Trinity’s retrofit brought it down to four cords of wood and half a barrel of oil.


Dwaine MacDonald established Trinity Energy Group in 2006, and the business has grown to 80 employees since then. (Submitted by Shelby MacDonald)

This example shows why the International Energy Agency has identified energy efficiency as one of the most effective ways of reducing carbon emissions. It also shows why a concerted transition to a low-carbon economy can be beneficial to both the environment and blue-collar and unionized workers, including those in the fossil fuel industry.

Since MacDonald and his partners launched the company in 2006, Trinity has grown to 80 full-time employees — and he estimates that about a quarter of them are people who were let go from, or simply left, jobs in the Alberta oilsands.

“I could be hiring more people if I could keep up with the demand,” said MacDonald. “It’s slowing us down right now, just trying to find the right people.”

As a sign of labour’s stake in the environmental challenge, Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada, voted to join the global climate strikes scheduled to take place across the country and around the world, on Sept. 20 and Sept. 27.

Major unions in France, Germany and Italy have also announced their intent to join the climate strikers.

Changing tone

The working class is increasingly on-side with climate action, said Jamie Kirkpatrick, program manager at Blue Green Canada, an organization that advocates for workers and the environment, and is aligned with Unifor and the United Steelworkers.

But Kirkpatrick acknowledges there is “fear and concern” among some workers about what a transition to a low-carbon economy means for them. Part of that has to do with the sometimes abrasive tone of climate activists.


Trinity’s specialty is making homes and businesses more energy efficient, which the International Energy Agency has identified as one of the best ways to reduce carbon emissions. (Submitted by Shelby MacDonald)

“I think a lot of environmental efforts were focused on ‘shut this thing down,’ ‘phase this out,’ ‘get rid of that dirty, nasty industry,'” said Kirkpatrick. “And I think we’ve learned a lot about how everybody involved is a human being, and we could talk about [a transition] in a more human way.”

You can see that more measured tone in the messaging of the federal Green Party, for example. The party’s platform includes halting federal subsidies to the oil sector and cancelling the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project as part of a larger effort to drastically reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has stressed “we are not at war with fossil fuel workers. We are not at all willing to leave any part of Canada or any community behind.”

Kirkpatrick said his organization strives to “make the connections, and make it true that you can have a good job and a healthy environment.” SOURCE

 

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