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Iron and Earth

A Call for Federal Leadership: Stand with oil sands workers calling for renewable energy

By Lliam Hildebrand - Iron and Earth, March 4, 2020

The workers of Iron & Earth are urging the federal government to show bold leadership to put Canada on the fast track to a net-zero economy now. This week we wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Freeland and asked them to enact a plan that will put us to work building the new economy.

The Teck mine cancellation could represent a historic milestone, marking the moment that Canada shifted collectively towards a prosperous net-zero economy. But in order to move in this new direction, we need visionary federal climate policy that includes urgent investments across the country, with special attention to Alberta and Saskatchewan. Here is the text of our letter:

March 4, 2020

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Office of the Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

The Right Honourable Chrystia Freeland
Deputy Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6

Re: the cancellation of the Teck Frontier project and building the new net-zero economy

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland,

Iron & Earth is a not-for-profit organization led by fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers, whose aim is to help build the policies and infrastructure required to meet climate targets. We are concerned about the increasingly polarized conversation and contexts around energy development in Canada and the significant economic shifts that the recent Teck project cancellation represents. We are writing to urge you to show bold leadership to put us decisively on track to a net-zero economy.

Iron and Earth 2-1/2 Year Progress Report

By staff - Iron and Earth, Summer 2019

Iron & Earth formed around the lunchroom tables of the oilsands in 2015. We were in the middle of an oil price crash which resulted in over 100,000 (roughly one in three) oilpatch employees losing their jobs by 2017. We knew our dependence on the fossil fuel industry was a risk to our livelihoods and so we began holding lunch-time meetings on the jobsite to discuss the potential of diversifying into the renewable energy sector. Many of us could see a clear path to reinventing ourselves as energy industry workers, not just fossil fuel industry workers. Beyond the financial benefits, we were excited about the opportunity to help build a more sustainable energy future.

So, in Spring 2016 we launched Iron & Earth to empower ourselves to create a better future for ourselves, our co- workers, and the planet. Within months we had inspired over 100 media stories and garnered a supporter base of thousands of Canadians and hundreds of fossil fuel industry workers. A powerful movement had begun.</p.

This progress report has been written to celebrate what we have accomplished in our first couple of years and share a bit about where we are going. Please share this report with any friends, family or colleagues who may be inspired by our work or interested in getting involved. Contact info@ironandearth.org with any questions or comments.

Read the report (PDF).

Climate Stability, Worker Stability: are they compatible?

By Dr. Louise Comeau, JD, PhD and Devin Luke - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, December 3, 2018

It appears we face a low- carbon transition dilemma. On the one hand, climate change solutions, like greenhouse gas regulation and carbon pricing, raise concerns about potential job displacement for workers in traditional energy sectors like oil and gas production and fossil-fuel generated electricity. Hence the calls for just transition. Our research, however, suggests that this blame may be at least partially misplaced. Energy workforce changes are currently affected by broader societal changes relating to fuel-cost differentials (i.e., natural gas cheaper than coal), automation, and the societal transition to non-unionized, unstable and lower-paying work. Greenhouse gas regulations and carbon pricing are certainly not the only driver of workforce change, and likely not, at least currently, not the primary driver.

Should proponents of renewable energy, energy efficiency and the low-carbon transition address these broader societal trends? If so, how? Is the solution to focus on collective responses such as energy cooperatives, public sector ownership of renewable energy supply, utility-scale and managed energy efficiency programs, rather than market- based, privatized solutions? These questions are worth answering. Our goal with this study was to better understand the training needs associated with renewable energy and energy efficiency job projections. There appears, however, to be a greater need to better integrate climate change and low-carbon economy discussions into a broader discourse on the nature of work.

Read the report (PDF).

How the Light Gets In

By H. Patricia Hynes - Portside, May 25, 2017

Every now and then I re-visit these lines of the Canadian poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that cannot ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

In these times of climate change denial, macho military chest-beating, stagnant wages, and soulless extremes of wealth and poverty, light-bearing cracks are all that we have.  They surface in unexpected places.

Take North American Windpower magazine, a monthly shaft of light.  It was first sent to me by a friend who never subscribed to it. When I told her how informative - and realistically hopeful - it was, she turned her non-subscription over to me.

The March 2017 issue carried the story of an oil sands worker in Alberta, Canada, Lliam Hildebrand, who created a national initiative, Iron and Earth, to retrain out-of-work oil sands tradespeople - among them pipefitters, electricians, boilermakers, drillers, and construction laborers - to enter the Canadian renewable technologies workforce, including solar, wind and hydro.  A survey of 1,000 oil sands sector workers revealed that 63% responded that they could transition directly to the renewable energy sector with some training; and 59% reported that they were willing to take a paycut to transition into the renewable sector.  The Canadian wind company, Beothuk Energy Inc., has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Iron and Earth to retrain oil and gas workers for the company's proposed offshore wind farm project, which has the potential to create 40,000 jobs.

Why not a similar US program for unemployed coal industry workers, given that everyone knows - except the President - that the cost of coal generated electricity cannot compete with renewables, and that solar and wind are the biggest job creators in electric power generation.  A team of developers recently proposed to install a large solar farm atop two mountaintop removal sites in the heart of coal country, Pikeville, Kentucky.  Further, they have pledged to hire as many unemployed coal miners as they can.  What more prescient sign of the times than this: in April 2017, the Kentucky Coal Museum installed solar panels on its roof!

In nearby West Virginia, the Coal River Mountain Watch is fighting to save 6,600 acres of their mountain from being blown up for strip mining of coal with a proposal for a 440 Megawatt wind farm.  The windpower would generate electricity for 150,000 homes, remove only 200 acres of hardwood forest, create 200 jobs with 40-50 being permanent and longer lasting than coal jobs, and provide sustainable income for the local economy.

Oilpatch workers have a plan, but Ottawa needs to act: Four-point plan would get tradespeople retrained and back to work in clean energy

By Lyndsey Easton - Iron and Earth, Novemver 1, 2016

EDMONTON — A group of oil-and-gas workers has a plan to create job opportunities and retrain workers for clean energy projects, and they are calling on the federal government to step up.

The Workers’ Climate Plan was released today by Iron & Earth after four months of consultations with workers and industry. The tangible four-point plan stands in contrast to recent publicity stunts involving “roughneck” workers on Parliament Hill.

“This isn’t about taking jobs away from people, this is about opening up sustainable opportunities for skilled workers so their families can thrive,” said Lliam Hildebrand, executive director of Iron & Earth. “We’re giving a voice to real oil and gas workers who deserve a say in these issues and who want a better future.”

“Workers deserve something sustainable, so we don’t find ourselves in this boom-and-bust mess ever again,” said Kerry Oxford, mechanical engineering technologist and member of Iron & Earth. “That’s why we’re taking time out of our lives to work on this problem together. That’s why we spent four months talking with colleagues, coming up with a plan that works for the long term.”

Iron & Earth released the plan at a solar panel installation training facility in Edmonton — the kind of place where tradespeople and skilled labourers could find new opportunities in the energy transition. Making the switch is possible: of the energy workers surveyed for the Workers’ Climate Plan, the overwhelming majority say they could switch to renewable energy projects with minimal retraining, or sometimes no retraining at all.

The Workers’ Climate Plan identifies the four most important needs the government must address:

  1. Upskilling for the energy sector workforce
  2. More manufacturing capacity for renewable energy in Canada
  3. Support for contractors and unions that want to transition to renewables
  4. Integrating renewable technologies into existing energy projects

A draft of the plan was sent to the federal government during its climate change consultations in September. They’re asking the government to address their four-point plan in the federal climate strategy to be released in early December.

Iron & Earth has also submitted the Solar Skills proposal  to upskill 1,000 tradespeople for renewable energy jobs. The initiative would give them the skills to work on solar, energy efficiency and electrical vehicle installation projects. As these industries grow, out-of-work tradespeople are looking for help to make a transition.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

By Brad Hornick - System Change not Climate Change, October 4, 2016

The fresh new face Canada showed the world at the Paris COP21 climate meetings held out hope for many Canadian climate activists that a national course change was in the works.

In its less than a decade in power, the Harper government extinguished multiple important Canadian environmental laws, muzzled climate scientists, harassed environmental NGOs, created "anti-terrorism" legislation that targets First Nations and other pipeline activists, and generally introduced regressive and reactionary social policy while promoting Canada as the world's new petro-state.

Prime Minister Trudeau's political and social capital within Canada's environmental movement derives largely from distinguishing himself from a Harperite vision of a fossil fuel–driven economy that relies on the decimation of an environmental regulatory apparatus and colonial expansion deeper into First Nation territory.

Trudeau has adopted the same carbon emissions reduction target as Harper: 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, the weakest goals within the G7.

But after many environmental groups — such as Dogwood Initiative, Force of Nature, and Lead Now — campaigned to get the vote out to oust Harper through strategic voting, the results of the election only confirmed the largely bipartisan nature of Canadian plutocracy.

So far, Trudeau has not updated Canada's environmental assessment process as promised. The Liberals have sponsored a biased ministerial panel to assess both the Trans Mountain and Energy East pipeline expansions.

Canada's justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, says Canada will embrace the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but that adopting it into Canadian law would be "unworkable."

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has green-lighted the massive Petronas fracking and LNG project, ignoring First Nations protests in defence of Lelu Island. Trudeau has issued work permits for the Site C hydroelectric project in B.C. against the rights of Treaty 8 peoples.

(Preliminary) Workers' Climate Plan

By Lliam Hildebrand, et. al. - Iron and Earth, September 2016

Iron & Earth, a Canadian non-profit organization led by skilled trades workers with experience in Canada’s oil industry, is developing a Workers’ Climate Plan. This preliminary report describes how Canadacan become a leader in renewable energy, and a net exporter of renewable energy products, services and technology, by harnessing the industrial trade skills of current energy sector workers. A growing number of oil and gas trades people support a transition to renewable energy so long as it provides a just transition for current energy sector workers. By utilising Canada’s existing energy sector workforce, organizations and infrastructure, Canada can accelerate the transition to renewable energy, decrease the cost, and make Canada’s renewable energy sector globally competitive.

Throughout September and October, Iron & Earth will continue to reach out to energy sector workers over the phone and in person to speak about the Workers’ Climate Plan in more detail. Iron & Earth is consulting with a range of energy sectors take holders in partner ship with the Alberta-based EnergyFutures Lab in order to devise a set of recommendations based on worker demands. This will informan expanded Workers’ Climate Plan which we will release in November 2016 ahead of The 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22). In this preliminary, abridged version of the Workers' Climate Plan, we share insights from current energy sector workers for the consideration of the Working Group on Clean Technology, Innovation and Jobs, as they compile their reports for the ministerial tables in September 2016.

Read the report (PDF).

A Dream Scenario

By Cailynn Klingbeil - Future Perfect, July 2016

Tradespeople working in Canada’s oil sands have created their own organization to provide training in renewable energy. Positioning themselves at the forefront of a bourgeoning industry, they are seeking to realize a vision for a more sustainable future.

Over the six years that Lliam Hildebrand worked in Alberta’s oil sands, he regularly broached a subject around the lunch table that he expected to be taboo: renewable energy. But Hildebrand, a journeyman welder and steel fabricator based in Victoria, British Columbia, found that the topic was front of mind for many workers, himself included.

“I’ve always been environmentally minded, and always had a bit of a personal struggle with working in the oil sands and the contributions to climate change,” Hildebrand says. “I found in the conversations I was having with the tradespeople up there, it was a shared experience… they’re interested in innovation and technology and they care about the future of the planet for their children.”

Hildebrand previously worked at a steel fabricating shop in Victoria, B.C., building pressure vessels for the oil sands and ship loaders for coal terminals. Later, he watched the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth while working on a windfarm weather station at the shop. He realized that tradespeople could play a key role in building renewable energy infrastructure. “I started on a path to try and figure out how to make these things work in sync with each other,” he says.

His lunchtime conversations, combined with the atmosphere in Alberta – falling oil prices have led to massive job losses, while the provincial government has introduced a new climate policy – then encouraged Hildebrand to act.

He formally launched Iron & Earth, a worker-led initiative aiming to train tradespeople in renewable energy, in March 2016. Oil and gas workers have transferable skills, the organization posits, and they want to be part of building a greener energy industry in Canada. So why not help them get supplemental training to join this bourgeoning industry?

“It’s about time Canada starts diversifying our energy grid,” says Hildebrand, now executive director of Iron & Earth. “We can build products we’re proud of and contribute to preventing global warming – and provide greater economic security and energy stability in Canada.”

A shared vision

The organization is led by Hildebrand and four directors – all tradespeople – who have worked or are working in Alberta. More than 450 members from various trades have joined Iron & Earth and expressed interest in training programs, including boilermakers, electricians, pipe fitters, ironworkers and labourers.

Joseph Bacsu, a third-generation boilermaker in Alberta, shared many lunchtime conversations with Hildebrand, and ultimately agreed with his vision. Bacsu also recognized that a transition to green energy could fill a need inherent to oil-related jobs. The boom and bust cycles of the oil sands mean that workers crave consistent employment. “People want the work, they want to be trained, and they want to be called upon when these jobs [in renewable energy] are available. It’s a no brainer,” Bacsu says.

He is now a director of Iron & Earth and has seen many workers, including his father, a 35-year industry veteran, join the organization. “[My father’s] thoughts are the same as mine,” Bacsu says. “If I could be somewhere doing what I’m doing now, but knowing I’m making a better earth, why wouldn’t I?”

A Climate Plan that Works for Workers

By James Hutt - Our Times, Summer 2016

For the first time in over a decade, Canada has a government that is not ideologically opposed to even talking about climate change. Instead of criminalizing environmentalists, muzzling scientists and actively lobbying on behalf of the oil industry, Trudeau has promised a new age of cooperation.

Before the election, he committed to developing a national climate strategy by the end of 2016. Last March, all 13 provincial and territorial leaders met in Vancouver to develop that framework.

As the next step, Trudeau has promised to hold countrywide consultations to give people input into the development of the strategy. This is the perfect moment for the labour movement to lead the fight for a solution that tackles unemployment and catastrophic climate change.

By tackling inequity and creating good, unionized jobs, a climate strategy could represent a giant leap forward for the labour movement — but only if we force politicians to act.

Toronto Teach-In Poses Climate Justice Alternative

By John Riddell - East End Against Line 9, June 6, 2016

The People's Climate Plan Teach-in, held in Toronto June 4,[1] took great strides forward in presenting a forceful alternative to the inadequate and deceptive climate action proposals of Canada's federal government. In the opening session, five leading climate activists presented a coherent, unified climate justice strategy, proposing effective action to save the world from climate disaster interlocked with practical measures to assist working people and the poor who are the first victims of global warming. Displayed in the meeting, held in the University of Toronto, were the banners: “Pipelines = Climate Change”; “Stop Line 9”; and (in French) “Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground.”

After lunch, the more than 100 participants split up into training groups of half a dozen to develop skills for effective intervention in the “public consultation” meetings the Trudeau government proposes to hold over the coming three months.

People's Climate Plan

The proposed framework for this intervention is the People's Climate Plan (PCP),[2] a simple structure of three principles (or “pillars”) to guide those taking part in such gatherings.

“We've been to three of these consultations, and we know how they're organized,” PCP activists explained. “Government facilitators divide participants into small groups and then give each group a topic designed to force discussion into a channel favourable to government policy. “For example, they ask ‘How can we combine economic growth with emissions reductions?’ – implying that tar sands expansion is part of the bargain. If you accept the question on their terms, you've already lost the argument.”

If environmentalists argue at cross purposes or try to make too many different points, their voices can be sidelined and ignored. Those speaking for climate justice need to unite around a common focus and strategy. The PCP proposes three principles to assure this focus:

  • Science: keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
  • Economics: a rapid transition to a clean energy economy.
  • Justice: for Indigenous peoples, workers affected by the transition, and victims of climate change.

When government facilitators pose inappropriate themes, the PCP spokespersons suggested that we use an “ABC” approach:

  • A: Acknowledge the question posed by the organizers.
  • B: Bridge over to the question you wish to address, which should be aligned with one of the three PCP principles.
  • C: Provide Context to sustain your view, preferably with a personal anecdote or insight that illustrates why you care so much about the issue.

Achieving this degree of focus may seem a tall order for environmental and social activists. Often we use discussion periods to express a broad and seemingly chaotic range of personal viewpoints. We rightly prize our diversity. Yet when entering a discussion structured by a government with quite alien goals, PCP activists suggested, we must harmonize and unify our approaches.

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