A future beyond fossil fuels
During our worst wildfire season on record, Canada has nailed down its plan for adapting to climate change and the risks it brings. Two of the country’s biggest media companies are mulling a merger. Toronto’s new mayor is promising an eco-friendly future — and environmental advocates will be watching.
A couple weeks ago when I wrote about Ottawa’s new sustainable jobs legislation, one stat really jumped out at me: by 2050, the country is set to lose as many as 1.5 million fossil fuel jobs. The good news is there will also be 2.2 million new jobs in the clean energy sector, but it got me thinking about what these changes might look like for folks on the ground — people who work in fossil fuel extraction, haul oil and gas or build pipelines, for example. I recently spoke to someone who started their career in the industry about what it’s like to move into a renewable energy job and how the two compare. Read on to find out more.
Before we dive in, though, I want to say thanks to everyone who answered my callout in last weekend’s newsletter. I asked what you thought was the most undercovered issue in climate news right now. Your responses ran the gamut from environmental tipping points to climate solutions in other countries to pitching a quiz on how to spot greenwashing. I’ve shared your feedback with the rest of the CNO team, and I’m going to dig into these ideas as inspiration for some newsletters going forward, so stay tuned!
As always, you can let me know what you think of this newsletter at [email protected].
Have a great long weekend and stay safe!
— Dana Filek-Gibson
Looking for more CNO reads? You can find them at the bottom of this email.
Moving on from oil and gas
When Shawn Hubbard got his first job in oil and gas, working in the industry was a good deal. It was 1999, the pay was decent, and there was plenty of work to go around. A buddy told him about a program training drivers for an oilfield cementing company. Shawn applied, got his Class 1 licence and started driving.
But by 2016, things had changed. The oilsands hit a rough patch, and workers in fossil fuels and supporting industries were being laid off left and right. Statistics Canada estimates an oil price crash cut roughly 43,000 jobs between the end of 2014 and mid-2016. And while the losses aren’t happening on the same scale today, the country’s fossil fuel industry faces a difficult road ahead: according to a recent report from Clean Energy Canada, jobs in the oilsands and oil production are expected to plummet by 93 per cent or more by 2050.
When Shawn’s employer at the time — an oilfield waste treatment company — offered him a new job that paid less and required him to move, he turned it down.
“The instability was pretty much the driver for me moving on from oil and gas… I didn't really want to move anywhere else,” he tells me, chatting on the phone from Medicine Hat, Alta. “You know, I've got my house here. It's almost paid off.”
Finding work again wasn’t easy. But during his job search, Shawn came across Iron & Earth, an organization founded by and for fossil fuel workers to help people move into clean energy jobs with training, mentorships and job support, among other things.
Shawn did one more stint in the oil and gas industry, but five years later, that ended, too. So, last year, he decided to put his experience in trucking, dispatching and logistics to use in the renewable energy industry he saw popping up across the province.
He was apprehensive at first. “I always have fears and apprehension going into a new kind of work,” Shawn tells me. “And you know, you'll wonder how long it's going to last, and then the renewables is a lot of real kind of short-term project work. So, that was a little bit scary for me.”
In the end, Shawn took a construction job on a wind farm a few months after his layoff. The pay was better than oil and gas trucking work in the area, the job was unionized and the site was well managed, he says. Then last year, Iron & Earth put out a call for people interested in learning solar panel installation through a partnership with Medicine Hat College. Through the RenuWell program, Shawn helped install a solar array on the site of an abandoned oil well, repurposing a piece of land contaminated by fossil fuels as a clean energy source.
“That was really exciting, too, because I've spent a lot of my oilfield career out in the fields. And of course, when I go to the batteries and the satellites in the areas, and you see contamination, and, you know, some of the places are maybe not in the greatest condition, maybe a little disrepair from places, and you wonder about what's going to happen if this ever shuts down? Or how are they going to reclaim it?” he says.
Shawn has since landed an environmental job that’s a bit more stable than his oil and gas or renewable gigs. He works in the solid waste department of the City of Medicine Hat’s environmental utilities division. But for any fellow oil workers thinking of making a move, he says: “Go for it.”
The lifestyle is pretty similar, he says — both oil and gas and renewables focus on project-based work, which means moving from place to place and being away from home for extended periods of time, but renewable projects are “an easier kind of work” and don’t carry some of the same risks as fossil fuel jobs, Shawn explains.
As for how other people in his community view renewable energy, Shawn hears mixed reactions to the growing industry. There’s “a lot of that zero-sum game” type of thinking, he explains — people worry renewables are going to wipe out oil and gas overnight. “I think people are afraid that they're gonna lose their jobs.”
But where the fossil fuel industry is on the decline, Shawn sees opportunity in embracing the rise of renewables. Medicine Hat is a sunny city, he says, and there are lots of clean energy projects going up in the surrounding area.
“They're calling it kind of a mini gold rush.”
Making the switch
Interested in diving into clean energy? Last year, Iron & Earth launched a Climate Career Portal that innovation and STEM manager Jodie Hon calls “a one-stop shop to transition into renewable energy.”
From job listings to educational resources, training opportunities, a blueprint tool for career mapping and a free mentorship program, the platform helps connect energy workers looking for a change with the industries that need them.
Iron & Earth also has plans to add new listings for grants and financial aid, translate the portal into different languages, host events and webinars, grow the mentorship network and reach out to more industry partners in the near future.
“One of the key messages that Iron & Earth is always trying to get out there is how valuable everyone's transferable skills are and the experiences and knowledge that you already have and how that can be utilized for a career in renewable energy already,” she explains.
Read more on workers and the energy transition
More CNO reads
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