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Bring to birth a new world from the ashes (and smoke) of the old

AUPE’s Environmental Committee is advocating for an energy transition that puts people first

Nov 09, 2021

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Whether you’re driving through a lush northern boreal forest or across a golden southern prairie, all it takes is one glance out the truck’s window to see that Alberta’s landscape ain’t what it used to be.

Our summer months, once precious, now choke us with thick wildfire smoke. Whole municipalities are devastated by blazes that grow deadlier every year. And still, the Government of Alberta’s only response has been to cut funding for wildfire lookouts and end the specialized Wildland Firefighter Rappel Program (RAP).

Alberta’s forests aren’t the only thing feeling the heat — ask any farmer and they will tell you that 2021 was probably the worst season in decades.

Crops just aren’t coming in like they used to, and it’s beginning to have major consequences for Alberta’s economy and food supply.

“Climate change is real, and we are seeing real damage being done to Alberta’s environment,” says AUPE Vice-President Mike Dempsey. “As an Environmental Protection Officer, I can tell you that the most precious thing we have is our planet. You cannot have good jobs and flourishing communities without the world we share.”

“We must diversify our economy and create more jobs by pursuing renewable energy sources. We cannot allow working people to weather climate change, either by doing nothing about it or by excluding Albertans from the transition.”
Headshot of AUPE Vice-President Mike Dempsey

Mike Dempsey, AUPE Vice-President

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According to a report by Global News after the Fort McMurray wildfire, seven out of the ten most costly Canadian natural disasters happened here in Alberta. It’s clear that a more volatile climate would be disastrous for Albertans.

Aside from the chaos that may befall the environment, there is also the obvious challenge Alberta faces as the world moves away from fossil fuels.

Our province’s economy has depended on oil and gas booms for decades. But for every boom there is a bust, and the one that threatens to sink this province for good is Alberta’s stubborn grip on an empty sack that the rest of the world is preparing to trade for more sustainable energy sources.

“We must diversify our economy and create more jobs by pursuing renewable energy sources,” says Dempsey. “We cannot allow working people to weather climate change, either by doing nothing about it or by excluding Albertans from the transition.”

All of this and more is at stake because of climate change, something AUPE’s Environmental Committee is looking to make one of the major topics of discussion at this year’s virtual convention.

“We have to shake the notion that saving our planet is somehow bad for our economy,” says Local 095’s Provincial Executive representative James Sullivan, who also chairs the union’s Environmental Committee. “At Convention 2021, we’re seeking a mandate for member-driven solutions to the challenges we face because of climate change.”

This year, the committee created a detailed submission for the Government of Canada’s Consultation on a people-centred just transition.

Government-run consultations can be bureaucratic, focusing on technical policies that may look impressive when charted on a graph but are useless if they don’t help real people. AUPE’s Environmental Committee sent a clear message to Ottawa: put people first.

“The world is going to make big changes to fight climate change,” says Sullivan. “AUPE members are hard-working, innovative, and thrive in the face of adversity. We are the workers who can help lead the way into a sustainable, green future for all Albertans.”

Vice-President Dempsey agrees that AUPE members need to be part of Alberta’s solutions to climate change, and he looks forward to the conversations the committee’s proposals will incite at convention.

“Enact any policy you like, but if it doesn’t help ordinary people then what is it good for?” he says. “AUPE members can’t afford to be left out of the green energy transition. That’s why it is so important to join this conversation right now, when everyone is laying the groundwork to save our planet.”

Talk to your coworkers. There’s more to the RAP story than meets the eye. Check in with Local 005 Chair Aaron Townsend who has an excellent two-page summary on the issue.

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