Oilsands workers supporting renewable energy

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Adam Cormier and Lliam Hildebrand. They are co-founders of Iron and Earth, an organization of and for workers in the Alberta oilsands who are pushing for greater support for the development of renewable energy resources and for a sustainable energy future for Canada.

Mainstream media outlets are not always known for their attention to complexity and nuance in the stories that they tell. Nor are they known for centering the voices of workers. It is not surprising, therefore, that for all the attention that media have given to the oilsands in Alberta in recent years, there has been relatively little recognition that robust government support for the transition to renewable energy sources is in fact in the interest of many oilsands workers. Don't believe that? Listen to what workers themselves have to say.

Lliam Hildebrand and Adam Cormier are skilled tradespeople who have worked primarily in the oilsands and other extractive industries. Hildebrand is a boilermaker and Cormier is an electrician. Both have been concerned about the environment in a broad sense for many years, and both became actively focused on the dangers of climate change in ways similar to millions of other people in North America -- Hildebrand through seeing Al Gore's documentary film An Inconvenient Truth and Cormier through reading Naomi Klein's book This Changes Everything. And like millions of other people in North America, they want both good jobs for themselves and a habitable, healthy world for their children. They also happen to know very well that these things are not mutually inconsistent -- but only if we take action at all levels to jumpstart a just transition to renewable energy sources. An important piece of understanding how practical it really would be to make such a transition is recognizing that most jobs in the oilsands are in fact construction jobs, both for those in the trades and for labourers. Many of the skills that are required to build, maintain, and run oilsands facilities are very similar to those required to build, maintain, and run energy production facilities based in renewable technologies, from solar to geothermal to biofuels and beyond.

According to Hildebrand, he was on a job in an oilsands plant in early 2015, when oil prices were in free fall, and lunchroom conversation among many of the 600 workers -- many of whom are fully aware that climate change is a serious problem -- turned more actively than ever before to questions of alternatives, renewables, and the future of their work. Out of that experience, Hildebrand and a few others (soon including Cormier) started Iron and Earth. Though they are quite firm that they are not opposed to the oilsands, their main focus is on advocating for investment in renewable alternatives and on making sure that oilsands workers are equipped to make the transition to working with such alternatives. Their first major initiatives include developing a model program for training tradespeople to work in solar energy projects and consulting with oilsands workers to develop a Workers' Climate Plan.

Cormier and Hildebrand talk with me about working in the oil and gas sector, about climate change, about the work of Iron and Earth, and about why they and many other oilsands workers are beginning to push for a just transition to a sustainable energy economy.

To learn more about the work of Iron and Earth, click here. To learn more about the Workers Climate Plan, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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