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Powering our world: How ex-oil and gas workers are making the move to clean energy

By Hannah Brunn, January 28 2020 —

Amidst a climate emergency, Canada, like many other nations, has not been spared from the politics that comes with it. With Alberta as a major oil and gas giant, many within the province argue that a movement towards clean energy translates to a loss of jobs. Albertans find themselves pitted against one another, thinking in terms of two options — protection of workers versus protection of the environment. 

One organization, however, is showing that a movement towards a cleaner future does not necessarily mean the decimation of Alberta jobs. Iron and Earth is a nonprofit organization created by a group of ex-oil sands workers in 2015. The company’s focus is on transitioning oil and gas tradespeople to work in Canada’s developing clean energy sector. They acknowledge the importance of job security — many of them living through the consequences of layoffs within the oil industry but also recognize the urgency of the climate crisis. Iron and Earth shows that Canada’s workers want to be part of the solution and grow Canada to be a prosperous nation and leader in the fight against climate change.   

While this transition is not without hard work and dedication, it is not impossible. Bruce Wilson, a civil and structural engineer with over 30 years’ experience in the oil and gas industry, became a board member for Iron and Earth, experiencing this transition firsthand. 

“I’m driven by the need that this has to happen,” Wilson says. He explained that his initial pursuit upon leaving his job at Shell was to apply his skills to help the world’s most vulnerable peoples. “But I quickly realized that if we can’t do this at home, what chance do we have overseas?”

Eventually coming across Iron and Earth, Wilson now uses his expertise and know-how to bring new ideas to the table such as geothermal engineering, energy efficiency and hydrogen. 

“We need to focus on technology that can broadly be applied across the world because in this transition if we don’t strive towards equality, we will have squandered a massive opportunity,” Wilson states, remarking that “this is not just how we change our energy system, it’s how we change our system.”

At the forefront of this change are companies like Iron and Earth. 

“What’s unique with Iron and Earth is this desire not only to match people’s skills to jobs, but by giving them classroom education and hands-on experience,” Wilson explains. Job stability in response to the ever-changing energy industry is extremely important. 

For those with strong roots in oil and gas, Wilson resonated with his ex-coworkers, celebrating all that they have achieved to contribute to the economy. “The two can both be true, it is time to change but we applaud you for what you have done so far. Now bring your skills to this new table and let us thrive.” 

There are barriers, of course, but according to Wilson, the barriers that prevent Canada from meeting its climate change targets are mainly political, not technology based. In response to the politics that tend to coincide with the climate change crisis, Wilson urges everyone to leave their political affiliations at the door,  “sit down and get this done.”

Despite the overwhelming amount of polarization in today’s political sphere, he remains hopeful of the future. 

“There is great reason for optimism, but that optimism has to be underpinned by action.” 

You can find out more about Iron and Earth online.

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