Opinion: Fossil-fuel workers ready to support energy transition


Lliam Hildebrand, is the executive director of Iron and Earth, an oilsands worker-led group that is calling for training and opportunities to work on renewable energy projects to assist the Alberta economy. File photo. SHAUGHN BUTTS / EDMONTON JOURNAL

Except for an isolated pocket of skeptics, there is now an almost universal acceptance that climate change is a global emergency that demands immediate and far-reaching action to defend our home and future generations. Yet in Canada we remain largely focused on how the crisis divides us rather than on the potential for it to unite us.

It’s not a case of fossil-fuel industry workers versus the rest, or Alberta versus British Columbia. We are all in this together. The challenge now is how to move forward in a way that leaves no one behind.

The fossil fuel industry has been — and continues to be — a key driver of Canada’s economy. Both of us had successful careers in the energy sector, but realized, along with an increasing number of energy workers, that the transition we need to cope with climate change could not be accomplished solely from within the industry.

Even as resource companies innovate to significantly reduce the carbon burden of each barrel, the total emission of greenhouse gases from all sources continues to rise. We must seize the opportunity to harness this innovative potential in alternative and complementary ways, mobilizing research and development, for example, to power carbon-intensive steelmaking and cement manufacture from hydrogen or to advance hybrid energy storage systems — the potential for cross-over technology is immense.

The bottom line is inescapable: we must reach net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to prevent runaway global warming, which is why we launched Iron & Earth in 2016. Led by oilsands workers committed to increasingly incorporating renewable energy projects into our work scope, our non-partisan membership now includes a range of industrial trades and professions who share a vision for a sustainable energy future for Canada — one that would ensure the health and equity of workers, our families, communities, the economy, and the environment.

An important aspect of the transition away from fossil fuels is that our nation’s energy-sector workers are ideally positioned to help build a vibrant and globally competitive clean-energy sector. This is because fossil-fuel infrastructure has a similar industrial “DNA” to sustainable-energy infrastructures, such as biofuels, biomass, geothermal, hydrogen and many other large-scale steel infrastructure projects. Thus, these projects require many of the same skill sets, the kind of attributes found in abundance in our oil and gas workforce.

A 2016 survey by Iron & Earth of skilled trades workers primarily with experience in the energy industry showed that 63 per cent believed their current skill set could be transferred to build and maintain a renewable energy future with some training, and 86 per cent expressed interest in training and development in renewables.

We need more than incremental change; we need planning and action on a scale and pace we haven’t seen since the Second World War when Canada massively retooled our economy to fight tyranny; we need to once again unite in common purpose to retool, re-invent and re-invigorate our industrial sector in defence of our collective future.

The lead must come from whichever party forms the next government. It will take unparalleled courage and political leadership motivated by an understanding that addressing climate change, while also developing our energy industry, doesn’t have to divide the country. Our only shot at avoiding the very worst of the climate emergency is if we do this together. MORE

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