There are always winners and losers in any technological shift. That includes renewable energy. If we are to avoid runaway climate change, it is vital that the world leaves fossil fuels in the ground and moves towards solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy. But there’s no denying the fact that it will hurt mining communities and those working in the oil industry.
Aberdeen is feeling the pinch as North Sea oil declines. Other British communities have never fully recovered from the closure of the coal mines in the 1960s and 1980s. In many of those places there were no alternative sources of employment, and there was a loss of identity and pride as well. It’s hardly surprising that workers in the extractive industries use whatever power they have to protect their jobs. In Germany, the much celebrated Energiewende is held back by the country’s loyalty to its mining regions. Donald Trump made campaign promises to keep coal mining jobs and boost US coal exports.
Compensating, supporting and retraining workers is an important part of the transition to renewable energy, so that communities aren’t left behind. One inspiring example of that is Iron & Earth, a Canadian not-for-profit that retrains oil sands workers to find jobs in renewable energy instead.
Oil industry workers often have a wealth of transferable skills, but have little choice about where they work. Jobs may also be vulnerable to swings in global oil prices. There was a rush of investment in the tar sands a few years ago, but it has evaporated as oil prices fell. 100,000 people have lost their jobs in the Canadian tar sands since Iron & Earth was founded in 2015, so retraining for renewables safeguards livelihoods and communities as well as providing cleaner energy. Here’s their video: