Canada is currently working towards enacting a just transition achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. In order to reach this goal, it is clear that our economy must become greener. Green jobs provide goods or services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. However, not every sector has the same carbon footprint, and they can differ significantly.
In 2018, the biggest polluting sectors (in megatons of CO2) were: oil and gas (193.2), transportation (185.9), heavy industry (78.3), and agriculture (73.1). The increase of GHG emissions between 1990 and 2018 was mostly due to an 82 per cent increase in emissions in the oil and gas sector and a 54 per cent increase in the transportation sector. Despite the federal government’s stated desire to make our economy greener, the upward trend of our emissions continues.
For example, social workers serve marginalized populations that are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. Other caring professions, such as teachers, nurses, and early-childhood education workers, engage with a broader portion of the population. There too they see that the social determinants of health – how the conditions in which people are born, grown, live, work, and age combine to influence their health – are being negatively impacted by climate change.
The physical environment has been left out of the scope of practice for caring professionals for too long. However, more and more social workers are considering how the environment impacts their clients’ wellbeing and are demanding change. They are including environmental considerations in their practices and pairing social justice with climate justice. They are recognizing that the wellbeing of the environment impacts the wellbeing of their clients.
Investing in the caring professions would greatly contribute to a just transition in Canada. It would provide more good, green jobs with minimal emissions and greater attention to societal wellbeing. There is also potential to address gender and race disparities in employment and income as women of colour are overrepresented in caring professions and often excluded from heavy industry).
While the ongoing pandemic changes the way we work, interact, and go about our daily activities, there has been a shift in public opinion about the essential work done by caring professionals, especially in healthcare. In Ontario, recent increases in pay are an example of how the government has tried to show its appreciation during these trying times. Still, most caring organizations (public health centres, nursing homes, schools, and hospitals) are dependent on funding from various tiers of government and they all compete for the same piece of pie. In contrast, heavy industries such as the fossil fuel industry receive billions of dollars in subsidies while continuing to exacerbate the climate crisis.
Caring professionals, especially social workers and public health nurses, see the impacts of climate change first hand in practical terms. Their clients are among society’s poorest and most marginalized communities and are most severely impacted by the climate crisis and response measures. For example, rising energy costs leave families with less money for healthy food. Changes in weather patterns impact those dependent on harvests or seasonal work. Urban heat islands cause significant strain on elderly and health-compromised apartment dwellers. Entire communities are impacted without having contributed to the crisis. This is another reason why a just transition is imperative; the burden is not shared equally.
It is time for a just transition, to move away from jobs that heavily pollute our environment towards jobs that are green. Our federal government should act now and invest in health care, education, and social work, to both serve the community and address climate change. We do not need polluting sectors to keep our economy going. We need green jobs—broadly defined—that will both keep our economy going and allow for us to have a better future.
If we want to have a fighting chance to turn this crisis into an opportunity, it is time for all professions to work towards a green economy. Let’s not stall any longer. Let’s show future generations that Canada has turned over a leaf, and that it is green.