Events, News

Bringing People Together – Steve Shallhorn and Sarah Kamau

Steve Shallhorn and Sarah Kamau were among the speakers who helped us explore and express the importance of talking about and working for climate justice. They shared insights about how we might frame and present our conversations from a labour perspective and a global perspective.

Steve Shallhorn – Executive Director at Labour Education Centre, Bio

The Labour Education Centre is a Literacy and Basic Skills provider and an Employment Service. These programs are funded by the Ontario provincial government. LEC also has a pre-apprentice program for the construction industry called I’m Eglinton. LEC also provides fee for service skills training for union members. LEC was founded in 1987 and is a project of the Toronto and York District Labour Council.

Working Green

 LEC’s Working Green program is a research and action approach to climate change. Working Green helps workers learn how to take action on climate change, including how to advocate for Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHGs) reductions and for good, green jobs.

The Seven R’s of a Just Transition

Speaking about a Just Transition, Steve started by saying “I think it is important for workers to know that the rest of society has their back and will assist them in the transition to work in a low carbon economy or a net zero economy. Workers who are afraid to lose their jobs are likely to vote for politicians and political parties that do not support going to net zero and could provide a political block. So I think it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure that workers do not feel bottled in by a transition to a low carbon economy.”

Steve introduced us to “seven general areas where policy makers should be thinking of putting programs in place to make it easier for workers to transit out of fossil fuels.”

Steve expanded on the 7 Rs, saying that when we think of a worker transition, “[r]e-employment is probably what we think of most….The important thing here though – and I learned this from speaking with coworkers in Alberta who were about to lose their jobs – is that the grants to provide support for workers to transition to new jobs have to be in place before their old job ends. Because there’s a lag time in the training and looking for new jobs, those are periods where workers will have no income and that causes a lot of anxiety. Some re-employment programs maybe are only offered every six months or once a year. So it’s important that workers be able to enroll in re-employment programs before they actually get their pink slips.”

As far as re-deployment goes, Steve says “[s]ometimes jobs can be created within the same employer. And that’s certainly what happened in Ontario with the phase-out of coal plants, because the plants were run by Ontario power generation, a large employer, people were able to redeploy within the company….Sometimes there is environmental remediation work that needs to be done at the coal sites and coal mines. So workers can be employed temporarily in the decommissioning or rehabilitation of that site.”

Steve ends the discussion of the 7 Rs by talking about investing in communities, saying “that can include support for counselling services, services for victims of domestic abuse and family violence.” He explains that “[w]hen we looked at Alberta and the closure of coal plants in Alberta, as soon as the announcements were made, RCMP detachments noticed a dramatic increase in domestic abuse and family violence. And that’s a reality that is not often spoken about.”

Steve reminds us that when we consider and talk about a just transition, we should look at all 7 of these Rs in order to assist fossil fuel workers to transition to a net zero economy.

Next, Sarah Kamau, from our partner organization ACAI, spoke about some of the global imperatives for climate justice.

Sarah Kamau – Africa Climate Action Initiative – Bio

Sarah Kamau is a change agent and social entrepreneur. She is passionate about championing for the rights of the less privileged through advocacy and community development. While living in Kenya, she graduated with a Bachelors of Education (Arts) from the University of Nairobi and worked in various national and international organizations in refugee camps and in the humanitarian field. Through these experiences, Sarah has witnessed firsthand loss of lives and livelihoods, and forced migration due to climate change. Currently, Sarah is working as co-founder and co-coordinator of the Africa Climate Action Initiative (ACAI), a CAP Network initiative to coordinate and build the capacity of African communities and partners to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Why oh Why Climate Change?

Sarah started by sharing a bit about her family, saying “…I come from a family of farmers. And with time, our family cut all the coffee plantation and all the tea plantation simply because rain was not adequate. Our family became so depressed because of the issues of climate failed crop production….And my sister is a mango farmer currently. And every season, it’s the same story. She tells me, ‘help me pray. I dunno what I’m gonna do because there’s no rain this particular season.’ And that is why I’m so passionate about these particular conversations, about climate change.”

She says Canadians may think they do not feel the impacts, “[b]ut already the impact is there, the winters are much warmer than possibly they have ever been. Look at our favourite beverage, most of the coffee that we drink is actually coming from other countries and these countries are also affected by climate change. So you may think that climate change is happening in Africa, is happening in Asia, but it’s coming much closer than we ever think. You may say ‘I don’t drink coffee, I like my wine’, but…all crops are being affected by climate change.”

We thought that in the next hundred years, we were going to experience bush fires, we were going to experience severe drought and mass extinction. But that is not the case. It’s not a hundred years anymore, we are talking about what is going on currently…..and all these people are being affected, their livelihoods have been affected….People are being uprooted simply because of climate change.”

She councils, “if you ever wanted to travel, go and see the animals that you have a desire to see, because what will happen in the next five years, the next 10 years, those animals will not be there….Over 160 species of animals have gone into extinction between 2010 and 2019. That is in a span of less than 10 years. And currently Kenya is hosting the only two female Northern White Rhinos on the planet. The last male Rhino that was there….I was lucky to have seen it.”

“So what are we going to tell our children, our great grandchildren. That we had a role? That we were supposed to take a decision, but we never did anything, we were quiet? That is the reason why it is imperative that you talk about the climate change issue.”

See more slides here.

In the next blog, we’ll take a closer look at Dr. Antonia Sappong’s speech.