Finding common ground in the pipeline dilemma

Images of pro- and anti- pipeline demonstrators are front and centre in the news these days.

Finding common ground in the pipeline dilemma

Images of pro- and anti- pipeline demonstrators are front and centre in the news these days. These highly emotionally-charged demonstrations reflect the broader conversation, and conflict, about climate change and how, or even if, to respond. Literally and figuratively we see two groups of citizens shouting across the road at each other.

If we were to imagine a hypothetical but plausible “conversation” between two demonstrators, it might look like this:

Oil Patch Worker (OPW): “Look, I’ve got a family to feed, so we need to support pipeline expansion to support the industry and our jobs. I’m really worked up about the delays and opposition that we see from environmental groups and the courts. Hey, my job future feels really shaky these days!”

Climate Change Citizen (CCC): “I’m really concerned about what we hear, that the next 12 years are critical to averting an environmental and economic catastrophe. I’m really afraid that humanity will fail to act quickly enough to transition to a lower carbon future. Isn’t this the No. 1 issue facing the planet? Come on, people, wake up and act!”

Both sides appear to be competing for the definition of “crisis”. Both sides feel fearful.

Now let’s imagine that someone has convinced these two people to sit down for a (hopefully) calm discussion in which each party listens carefully to the other. Might they also learn if they have any common values or share any common ground?

OPW: “Do you get it that I feel under threat in my work? What if your job were under threat? Wouldn’t you want to do something publicly to promote your industry? I want to be able to enjoy my time outside of work, too, and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the outdoors like I do now, if I were unemployed. I like camping, snowmobiling, fishing, boating and hiking. It’s a family and friends thing. My kids have a ball out there in all seasons.”

CCC: “Yes, I would probably feel just like you if I believed that my livelihood were threatened by a big shift in my industry. In fact, I have experienced layoffs in my own field. Not at all pleasant. It took me quite a while to find new employment. Like you, I also enjoy the outdoors, and some of the things that you like doing. I also have children, and am so afraid that they and their children will inherit a mess that’s beyond repair if we don’t act in time.”

OPW: “Well, I’m afraid of a long layoff in future, partly because I’ve experienced such a thing in the past. I was on EI for several months twice in the past 15 years. No fun at all, since I earn about $90,000 a year as an equipment operator. My industry is cyclical, and there have also been huge job losses in recent years because of lower oil prices. I’ve also noticed that there’s more smoke in the air from wild fires, and less fish in the lakes over the past few years. I’m no dummy, I see the writing on the wall, but I don’t have to like how my job is threatened. Such a dilemma.”

CCC: “Dilemmas are uncomfortable for sure. My own dilemma is how to maintain hope in the face of such gloomy news about the current state of the planet. I guess we’re both looking for hope. Have you ever wondered about a job or career change, what with all this instability in the oil and gas industry? I really get it that job security is a high value for you. And I suspect that the future of the planet for your children may be on your mind sometimes as well.”

OPW: “Oh, our family has talked about a change from time to time. But what would I be able to do? Could I get financial support from the government to re-train? And how would we get by and pay the bills if I were in a training program for something? Sometimes it just feels easier to try and carry on in my industry.”

CCC: “Not saying that re-training is for you, or that the renewables industry is for you, but I read recently that job growth in the renewables area is nine times what it is in the oil industry. Are you aware of this? And I’ve heard that there are other occupations that also have a strong future. Look, I don’t know all that’s available out there, and what’s potentially suitable for you. Maybe a chat with an employment centre would help you to figure out your options.”

OPW: “I really didn’t have high hopes for this discussion, so I’m glad that you see my dilemma. I see your dilemma as well. Maybe I’ll check out my options. I’d feel better if I knew I had options.”

CCC: “I’m all about options as well. I’ve seen and read lots of positive stories about solutions that can bring us all more hope for the planet.”

Well, the fictitious discussion above is very real to me. As a retired career counsellor, I have had literally hundreds of similar discussions with people who are wondering about their current situation and the options they may have to make changes. I’ve learned that job losses in one industry are most often accompanied by great opportunities in another. And I know there’s assistance available.

Chris Ralston


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