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No more pipe dreams, green jobs now

Justin Robertson

January 23, 2015

Pipeline proponents defend the devastation of Indigenous communities and ignore catastrophic climate change because the tar sands creates jobs. But with the drop in the price of oil, Shell has announced it is laying off 300 tar sands workers and Suncor 1,000 layoffs--removing the only argument left for pipelines.

Conservatives seem to view the tar-sands like cure-all bitumen that can fill all the pot-holes in a stagnating economy. Most of us need jobs and want an economy that can provide work for the next generation as well. The question is, at what point does the quality of those jobs start occupying the forum?

Tar sands workers
I've done my fair share of cellular work around the oil-patch and met many people who've lived in places like Fort McMurray. To leverage Canada's economy on fossil fuels is plowing us into a catastrophe, both short and long-term.

In the short, most of these industry workers are well paid, though there are increasing numbers of migrant workers denied basic rights. Tar sands workers are isolated into shifts for weeks at a time, in joyless conditions resembling a minimum-security prison camp, in jobs that destroy the planet. The resulting data on domestic assault, suicide and drug addiction is shocking, but predictable. Instead of promoting these few, transient and dangerous jobs at all cost, the focus should be on mental health and creating industries that are good for people and the planet.

The oil economy
Yes, I'm writing this from a computer made with petrochemicals; the microchips were undoubtedly processed with industrial technology powered by oil, my breakfast traveled via diesel trucks from outside Vancouver and I'll drive a gas-powered car many more times in my life. But to say this argument has credence is to say that a guy born onto a monopoly board, with his life unequivocally dictated by narrowly set rules of the game, woke up to find his critical choices were either politicized, institutionalized or patented out of reach and he should just shut up and enjoy his supposed freedom.

The deeper we hinge our infrastructure on fossil fuels the more costly it'll be to build cleaner, sustaining industries to off-set it. And this is an inevitable decision, whether it's made by us now or the ecology that we depend upon, later. We need plans that span generations, not election cycles. Oil might be effective, but its necessity creates destabilizing wars to maintain a cost value; and it's so deeply embedded into Canadian politics that it's now become the pied-pipers tune that both the media and science need to calibrate their message to in order to maintain the narrative of progress.

Green jobs now!
The lack of response from our politicians, provincially and federally, is pathetic and this is another pressure valve where people have felt unrepresented for way too long. But the Burnaby protests showed how people are rejecting an ecocidal industry, and now we need to demand the green jobs alternatives. The billion dollars in subsidies to the oil and gas industry could create far more jobs, ones that don’t destroy people and the planet.

I hope we stay engaged and maintain social pressure in reshaping all the major aspects of our lives. We deserve that choice, but it won't be handed to us without taking the gloves off and fighting for it.

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