Workers are laying down their tools across the Canadian oilpatch as the price slump draws on. Alberta had a net loss of nearly 20,000 jobs in 2015, with skilled workers being laid off and little hope in sight. The reaction, then, to talks of climate action has been often hostile, with people fearing more economic damage from carbon pricing or other new environmental regulation.
But for some there is an upside to the glut of out-of-work skilled people: it's an opportunity to shift gears and put them to work in a growing green sector. Former oilsands tradesman Lliam Hildebrand started a non-profit group, Iron & Earth, to get oilpatch workers back to work on the next generation of green energy projects. (Investment in clean energy now doubles that of fossil fuels world-wide.)
"We have the skills to build the renewable energy infrastructure required for Canada to meet their climate target," Hildebrand told CBC News. "That will open up a huge amount of opportunity for us if we can start diversifying our energy grid and it would ensure that we are less vulnerable to price fluctuations."
The new organization brings a fresh perspective to a longstanding perceived tension between climate action and its spinoff benefits and the fear of damaging existing emissions-intensive industries.
In a recent panel discussion, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna assured Albertans that the Liberal government would not risk damaging "national unity" by acting quickly on climate change. For some, her comment begs the question: when exactly will the Liberals be ready to start acting on their emissions reductions targets?
"Climate policy that is effective -- by that I mean significantly reduces emissions over two decades -- will challenge national unity in most countries," says Mark Jaccard, a professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University.
The tone since the Liberals took office has been to reassure Albertans that the climate police aren't coming to kick them while they're down. Trudeau's "Canadian approach" to climate change action has thus far meant that little in the way of concrete policy has been set down to meet his ambitious Paris goals.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair came out this week in support of a carbon price to keep oil in the ground, saying the political will to get it done has been lacking so far in Canada. Federal plans to put a price on carbon, while supported by most of the premiers, have met the expected opposition from fossil fuel industry boosters like Premier Brad Wall, who handily won a third mandate this week in Saskatchewan.
"Don't set a climate target that is ambitious if you're not willing to take on national unity," Jaccard says. "It's one or the other; they're trade-offs."
McKenna's comments frame the notion of climate change action as something that can potentially be done gingerly, with the cooperation of emissions-intensive industries, doing little to disrupt the status quo. Environmental psychologist Renee Lertzman says this kind of wishful thinking is not a helpful way to approach a complex issue.
"It sounds to me like it's a mode of leadership that's not really applying...emotional intelligence," says Lertzman. "As humans we have tremendous capacity and capability to deal with this. When we communicate in ways where we're trying to be cautious we can unintentionally send a message that's deeply disempowering. What's most needed, in fact, is leadership that's deeply empowering, that's above-board, that's compassionate but grounded and strong."
She echoes a sentiment expressed by Naomi Klein in a recent op-ed for The Nation, in which she skewered Hillary Clinton's "corporate worldview:"
"For [climate action] to happen, fossil-fuel companies, which have made obscene profits for many decades, will have to start losing," she writes. "And losing more than just the tax breaks and subsidies that Clinton is promising to cut. They will also have to lose the new drilling and mining leases they want; they'll have to be denied permits for the pipelines and export terminals they very much want to build. They will have to leave trillions of dollars' worth of proven fossil-fuel reserves in the ground."
There is also a growing cost to delaying action on climate change. Consequences are compounding and tipping points are approaching, and every investment in fossil fuel infrastructure like oil pipelines, LNG facilities or coal ports further commits the Canadian economy to emitting more, not less, into the future.
"Once you go down that road, you may not be able to turn back," said Naomi Oreskes, Harvard professor and author of Merchants of Doubt in an interview with The Tyee last week. "And if you can't turn back, then you're looking at four degrees of climate change, metres of sea level rise, and massive intensification of extreme weather events."
This kind of grown-up discussion about the current direction and how and when to slam on the brakes is lacking in Canada, seemingly out of respect for Alberta's fiscal trauma. It's times like this, however, that Lertzman says traumatized people most need to hear the truth spoken plainly.
- Jimmy Thomson, DeSmog Canada
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
The 22-year-old from Lincolnshire is tudying for an MSc in Sustainable Cities at King's College London. "It felt right to shift from the humanities to geography after I realised climate change and being green had become my most passionate cause," she says. "I'm an active member of the KCL Environment Society and the Fossil Free group, campaigning for green innovation across King's and particularly for their divestment from fossil fuels." "In my spare time I'm leading a small garden project on campus, collaborating with Trees for Cities and Science Gallery London. The aim is to encourage students to interact more with their green spaces by planting fruit, herbs, vegetables and flowers that everyone can pick, smell and enjoy. So far I've got lots of mint growing, which the Student Union will use for mojitos. Once spring arrives I'll plant lots more."
The 26-year-old is studying a PhD at Reading University, focusing on ice shelf collapse. "Ice shelf collapse is important as it can lead to habitat loss for creatures such as penguins, changes in the ocean, and sea level rise through the speed up of glaciers that used to flow onto the ice shelf," she says. "I was motivated to do this through learning about climate change during my undergraduate. I think it’s important that scientists communicate their work to the public in order that the facts about topics such as climate change are known. I blog about what I do and try to simplify some polar/climate news stories here. "I also am co-president of the UK Polar Network, a group of early career scientists who, among other things, help to send young scientists into schools to talk about polar science and run climate change activities with students."
The 28-year-old studied atmospheric physics (climate science, basically) at Oxford and now makes videos to explain key climate issues. "Although I realised during my studies there's some amazing climate research going on, the biggest problem seemed to be the gap between scientific understanding and public perception of climate change. So I decided to do something about it! "I wanted to make videos that we're engaging, playful and accessible, and so I embraced the YouTuber style of storytelling. I was hoping the videos would be fun enough that people would enjoy them regardless of whether they cared about climate change or not - so I could trick them into learning!"
Aged 19, the Dutch inventor, entrepreneur and aerospace engineering student has a remarkable vision for cleaning oceans that have been decimated by human waste. Inspired by fishing trawlers, Slat devised a way to recover waste that has been sent out to sea with huge nets. "I don't really view my age as a disadvantage to get these things done. Simply I've thought about how to tackle the problem and I've worked for a number of years to bring it closer to reality," he says Slat, who is founder and president of the Ocean Cleanup Foundation. "The Internet really made this project possible... You can do an awful lot of things with a limited amount of resources." Read more about his project here
After graduating with a degree in Architecture, Arthur Kay took an unusual career turn and decided to start a biofuel business. Recycling used coffee grounds which would otherwise go straight to a landfill, biobean turns them into biomass pellets that can be used to heat houses. "At the heart of my work is a desire to combine the practical with the aesthetic, the functional with the idealistic, and to meet the challenges of a modern world in an innovative way," he says. Read more about his project here
The three architecture students have come up with a design for a tidal barrage which could power up to 200,000 homes in Liverpool with green electricity. "We wanted to design something that supported the natural progression of Liverpool and the surrounding area," Thomas explains. "We all have an invested interest in Liverpool. "The ultimate aim was to provide a barrage which would act as a unifying destination promoting a healthy, holistic strategy to support the sustainable progression of Liverpool and the Wirral." Read more about their project here.
Follow DeSmog Canada on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DeSmogCanada