You are here

Iron and Earth

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.

Amid Price Plunge, North American Oil and Gas Workers Seek Transition to Renewable Sector

By Candice Bernd - Truthout, April 3, 2016, ©Truthout; reprinted with permission.

Lliam Hildebrand says he had a moment of clarity during an apprenticeship at a steel-fabricating shop in Victoria, Canada. He was learning the metal-working skills he would need to become a boilermaker, to eventually move on to work on the many steel vessels -- including furnaces, pipelines, "cokers" and "exchangers" -- that make up the oil industry's vast infrastructure in Alberta, Canada's oil sands fields.

During that apprenticeship, Hildebrand would come into the fabricating shop and see a pressure vessel on one side of the shop being made for the oil sands, and at the same time, on the other side of the shop, his own project -- a wind farm weather station. Hildebrand says he walked into the shop one morning, and the contrast between the two ventures struck him sharply. That was the moment when he realized, "We are the trade -- the building trade -- that's really going to help address [climate change]."

From then on he has felt as though he's been living two lives. Coming out of his apprenticeship, he started looking for jobs in the renewable sector, but was unable to find work. Six years ago, he reluctantly decided to apply his skills where there were plenty of jobs: the Canadian oil sands fields.

But after years of working in an industry that one top climate scientist has called "the biggest carbon bomb on the planet," Hildebrand came to realize that he was not the only oil worker in Alberta who felt "guilty about developing the infrastructure that is creating climate change."

EcoUnionist News #96

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, March 22, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists*:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.