Renewable transition wind energy jobs

Majority of oil, gas and coal workers want climate solutions that create net-zero energy jobs, says poll

Former industry insider says new survey shows that workers have skills to transition, but face obstacles that prevent change

Bruce Wilson recalls hitting a wall a few years ago as he pushed the oil and gas industry to embrace a global transition to cleaner energy.

He had started work in the oil and gas industry in the 1980s, describing it as a great employer during a period of optimism.

But over the past decade, he says he became increasingly interested in pushing the industry to transform and solve issues such as the climate crisis.

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By 2018, Wilson said he decided it was time for him to move on.

“It just wasn’t happening fast enough,” he said in an interview with The Narwhal.

“It was time for me to leave and to go and try to make change in a more deliberate and personal way on my own.”

Wilson’s opinions and his experience are becoming more common today, according to a newly-released poll commissioned by worker-led advocacy group Iron and Earth.

The survey found that two-thirds of fossil fuel industry workers believe “climate change is an emerging challenge that we need to address” and that 61 per cent of workers believe “Canada should pivot towards a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 to remain a competitive global economy.”

The poll, conducted online by Abacus Data, surveyed 300 Canadian residents working in the oil, gas or coal sectors from May 24 to June 11. A poll with this sample size would have a margin of error of 5.66 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Wilson, who is a civil engineer with expertise in deepwater pipeline systems, volunteers as chair of the board of Iron and Earth, which aims to empower the fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions.

He has also started up his own company that designs and develops hydrogen energy projects.

He said when he made his own transition, he felt alone, and believes government officials could do more to support workers who are turning towards the future.

During the last election campaign, the federal Liberals promised to introduce legislation to promote a responsible transition of fossil fuel industry workers, but since being re-elected as a minority government in 2019, they have not delivered on their commitment.

Groups like Iron and Earth as well as conservation groups have urged governments to develop responsible transition plans to ensure workers can successfully move to new jobs as the world moves away from fuels such as coal, oil and gas and embraces new solutions to fight the climate crisis.

According to the Abacus poll, 88 per cent of respondents said they would consider making a career switch to or expanding their work involvement in a job in the net-zero economy.

A majority of survey respondents also expressed confidence in making the transition, provided that they had training, while some said they already had experience in some alternative sectors such as biofuels, hydro, wind and solar power as well as electric vehicle manufacturing.

“I think that’s an encouraging sign, but it’s also a call to arms in a certain sense,” Wilson said. “It’s a rallying call in terms of the need to illuminate those pathways to change.”

In some cases, he said that workers need more guidance about how to make the best use of their skills and more information about possible career paths. Otherwise, he said that many would want to stick with current jobs that provide them comfort and certainty.

“Whenever there’s uncertainty, people choose what they know,” he said.

He explained that the government could help move Canada forward on climate solutions with legislation that would bring in mandatory requirements such as setting targets for companies to diversify or transition to cleaner energy, with timelines for planning and implementation.

The federal Liberal government has previously provided funding to help coal workers transition to new jobs, but has not yet introduced a comprehensive plan for the future of the oil and gas industry.

“Canada’s fossil fuel workers have deep technical expertise that can be harnessed to power the net-zero economy,” said Iron and Earth executive director Luisa Da Silva in a statement. “Government must step up to support Canadian workers, by investing in training programs that enable fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to pivot their careers to the net-zero economy. Canada can’t be a global leader in a net-zero world without a strong, skilled workforce.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 7:18 a.m. PT on July 16, 2021 to correct a typo in a quote by Bruce Wilson. He said the survey results were “a rallying call in terms of the need to illuminate those pathways to change,” and not “eliminate” those pathways to change.

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