The following speech was delivered by the President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) Dave Coles to "Confronting the Climate Crisis: Can Labor Help Shape an Effective Strategy?" at City University of New York.
The obvious answer to the question is yes and the voice of energy workers is a particularly important one to hear while talking about labour's role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As Canada's largest energy union, the CEP represents 35,000 members employed in oil and gas extraction, transportation, refining, and conversion in the petrochemical and plastics sectors.
CEP believes that it is necessary to transition away from fossil fuels by reducing consumption and investing in green energies while ensuring a just transition for energy workers and their communities.
My union believes we need to pause further development of Alberta's bitumen sands. Additionally, the bevy of export pipelines being proposed need to be put on hold until we develop a national consensus around a sustainable energy strategy.
We oppose the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and call on President Obama to reject the project. Climate pollution from the bitumen sands industry is already considerable and will only get worse by approving Keystone XL. The Canadian government's aggressive lobbying in the U.S. in favor of the pipeline is an embarrassment.
I have been arrested in the fight against Keystone XL because our union understands that this pipeline is bad for both the environment and Canadian workers. The pipeline will take potential upgrading and refining jobs away from Canadians and put our country's energy security at risk.
Fighting for economic equality and climate justice are at the base of our everyday work. The CEP understands that the same government that wants to extract as much oil (should I say profits) as quickly as possible from Alberta’s bitumen sands has repeatedly legislated workers back to work and attacked unions' political independence.
The CEP is active in numerous initiatives to fight the climate crisis. We recently supported PowerShift, a skills sharing conference that brought together 1000 youth fighting for climate justice.
When the leader of the official opposition Thomas Mulcair sparked a controversy by saying the Canadian dollar is "artificially high" because we're "allowing [the oil companies] a bit of a free ride in using the air, the soil and the water in an unlimited way" the right-wing accused him of causing regional tensions between the manufacturing-focused east of the country and the more resource dependent west. In response, CEP local 707 hosted Mulcair's tour of the bitumen sands. This helped undercut the right-wing's attacks by showing that many of those working in Fort McMurray's energy extraction sector are also concerned about unbridled oil expansion.
The CEP is part of Blue Green Canada, an alliance of labour, environmental and civil society organizations. A recent Blue Green report shows that six to eight times more jobs could be created by investing the $1.3 billion in federal subsidies that currently go to oil and gas subsidies into energy efficiency, renewable energy and public transit.
For science the threat of global warming is beyond sane dispute. But capitalists whose wealth and power depends on existing enterprises deny there is a problem. Our current economic system is dependent on endless growth even though it's clear as day that unrestrained growth is environmentally unsustainable.
Corporations and their sycophants in the media and academia tell us that we have to choose between jobs and the environment. But we reject this dichotomy.
It's possible to build an economic system that provides people with good and fulfilling work all the while respecting Mother Earth. If we don't seek that balance there may be no good jobs for our great grandchildren.
To deal with the unfolding ecological crisis we must jettison corporation-centric economic policies in favor of ones that actually address our world's many social and ecological concerns.
In conclusion, the main spokesperson for the largely successful student strike that rocked Quebec last spring, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, told PowerShift in October:
"The problem is not [personal] consumption, it is our economy and production. Our system is broken on a systemic level. The destruction of our environment is a natural and inevitable result. Without radical change we will be faced with extinction. Resistance in these times is not an option. It is a duty."
Dave Coles is President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.
Photo: John Maclennan