At COP21 in Paris, an oil sands worker from Alberta is urging a transition off of fossil fuels.
Ken Smith, a 55-year-old Suncor heavy equipment mechanic and head of Unifor Local 707A, spoke about the need to protect the environment while also ensuring oil sands workers still have jobs and can provide for their daily needs.
From the National Observer:
“We’re going to need some kind of transition. We’ve moved out there, we’ve invested in that industry —and when it ends, we’re going to be left holding the bag,” said Smith, who had relocated his family to Alberta from Bathurst, New Brunswick in 2013. Smith’s message comes amid news reports that suicide rates in Alberta had jumped 30 per cent in the wake of mounting job losses.
“Our employers will move on to the next shiny thing they see and make another billion dollars —but where are our workers going to go?”
Smith raised eyebrows in the room when he said he’s the union president for 3,500 oil workers in the heart of Alberta’s Big Oil country. Many workers’ attitudes have shifted, he said, and know climate change is real and dangerous.
“Ten years ago, there was nothing but resistance from our workers. ‘This can go on forever, and it’s not so bad.’ But the science doesn’t lie, and we keep watching television. Last summer, northern Alberta and northern Saskatchewan were on fire. We’re seeing stranger and stranger weather.”
Smith’s voice brings an important perspective to the conversation. Some people assume oil and gas workers don’t care about the environment; others think that transitioning off of fossil fuels will inherently bring massive job losses. Smith’s argument proves that both of these positions are wrong, as we can transition in a just way.
For more on the transition to a low-carbon economy here in BC, check out ACT’s work on the topic here.