Fossil fuel workers talk about their malaise


We are the little hands of climate change, and this idea eats me … Nathalie sighs [*]sitting on the terrace of a Parisian café. Coal, oil, gas: fossil fuels account for almost 90 % of global emissions of CO [1]and, like Nathalie, the employees in the industry are not wrong. In a recent report, entitled For a right transition , Friends of the Earth, the Veblen Institute and the Rousseau Institute conducted a survey of 266 workers in the oil and gas sector. Asked about the future of their work in the midst of the climate crisis, 95 % Of respondents see global warming temperatures as a problem. Almost half think their work is at risk.

Reporter he met five of these workers, employees of multinationals or small companies in the oil and gas sector. Between the ages of 30 and 50, they work as shop managers, HR managers, engineers, geologists and even refiners. They tell of the anxiety that runs through them in the face of climate upheavals, instability and transformations in their sector. And express their search for meaning, their hopes for internal development or their intention to abandon everything to work elsewhere.

We will call one of them Julien. Like his sisters and brothers, he wished to remain anonymous, to avoid any grievances from his employer. It took me a while to understand the extent of climate change he confided Reporter. Remember the 2000s, a time when, just graduated from the A.Y. BTShe appreciated his hiring as a technician in a factory specializing in the design of components partly destined for the fossil industry. I didn’t want to continue my studies and I wasn’t green for a dime, I just considered myself happy to have a job , remember. For years, she says she has he rolled his belly, rose in rank like a good soldier within his company, without asking too many questions, to become responsible for quality.

It was before 2015, when the reality of climate change hit him in the face. With the COP21 and all the services that were on TV, I realized we had a big problem and pulled the strings. As a young father he immersed himself in the lectures of Jean-Marc Jancovici – a man who knows how to talk, coldly, to the people of the sector -, read the alert of 15,000 scientists about the state of the planet in 2017, published the reports of the IPCC in the relaxation room even if others don’t desperately care witnessed the resignation of Nicolas Hulot and attended his first climate rally in May 2019.

I feel like I’m working on the Hiroshima bomb

And then by dint of scratching, exchanging with others, at a certain point you say to yourself “fuck, my job is really shit” continues Giuliano. Faced with climate change, the scientific consensus is in fact clear: in order to maintain living conditions suitable for human societies, it is urgent to drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. [2] And in the meantime, I make parts for the American shale gas and for the Arctic project LNG, which consists of harnessing climate change to extract all possible gas from the Russian Arctic. It is the dirtiest thing. I feel like I’m working on the Hiroshima bomb.

This malaise, Nathalie felt it grow inside her until it explodes . A cadre within the human resources department of the Gaz de France company, which became Engie, explains that he lived hard the consequences of the merger with Suez in 2008, then International Power in 2010. From there, our business was not just about gas, but also the dirtiest energies, such as coal and oil. A dissonance was growing in me and I felt that the box dreamed of much less young people doing internships or executives under 40.

© Cécile Guillard / Reporter

He regained hope, for a while, when our general manager was Isabelle Kocher, a climate proactive woman. But she was immediately fired. Changing the world doesn’t bring enough shareholder value … Disillusionment was all the more difficult for Nathalie. I tried to put a partition between me and my work, but it didn’t last. I couldn’t be proud of what I was accomplishing. It was getting harder and harder to get out of bed to go to work. And one day, the head said enough. I did a burnout.

Without even going as far as this dissonance, half of the workers questioned in the report say they are also worried about the possibility of losing their jobs. I was fired like shit during the Covid-19 post-pandemic oil crisis says Carlotta [*]33-year-old geologist specializing in the research of oil and gas reserves. A crisis such as that of climate change is bound to have implications for employment in the sector , she believes. This is already the case: in France, for example, the workforce of oil and gas service companies at the service of energies in particular it fell from 47 % since 2015. Globally, the International Energy Agency (AHIA) estimates that 5 million jobs will disappear in the coal, oil and gas sector by 2050, when 14 million jobs could be created in the sector clean energies . It is still necessary to anticipate these changes and support employees from each other says Carlotta.

On French territory, refineries are the most visible example of the failure to anticipate changes in the sector: as the report points out, For a right transition , the closure of the Flandres refinery in Dunkerque, the reconversion of La Mède (Bouches-du-Rhône) and then of Grandpuits (Seine-et-Marne), poorly prepared, have all been the subject of strong social and environmental protests. Thomas [*]is about an executive in TotalÉnergies’ chemical refining business a great environmental darkness which affects employees: We have entered a sort of wake for refining, in France and in Europe. Many of my colleagues tell me “Thomas, I can’t take it anymore”. We feel it is the end and, at the same time, we are caught off guard because we are not clearly told where to go.

An overwhelming majority ready to retrain

In the survey by Friends of the Earth, the Veblen Institute and the Rousseau Institute, the vast majority of respondents say they are ready to retrain outside the oil and gas sector, especially the younger ones. Most would like to capitalize on their expertise in other energy sectors, such as geothermal energy, carbon capture and storage, or offshore wind, the latter being David’s choice. [*]a 40-year-old engineer about to start his new job. I searched for several years, but it was complicated, employers were quite hostile to candidates from the oil industry, as if we were dirty, He explains. My luck is that there isn’t much difference, technically, between a project offshore oil, gas or wind power. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated for others.

Natalia [*]he’s waiting for Engie’s next floor to get a check. My spouse does not have a fixed salary, I cannot leave without anything she says. But it is out of the question for me to drag myself, my work has already exhausted my health enough. At the same time he participated in the creation of a group of agricultural land (GFA), which buys agricultural land to help create young organic farmers. I try to put my skills at the service of a just cause, freeing them from administrative tasks , explains. Amused and inspired by civil disobedience actions against their employer – for example, activists disguised as kangaroos in 2016 – [3]it is also involved in environmental struggles in western France, particularly against intensive farming.

© Cécile Guillard / Reporter

Thomas, he has no illusions about what he defines greenwashing (or greenwashing) by TotalÉnergies [4]. But he persists in believing that his employer and the oil and gas industry have the most appropriate economic and technical means to make the transition. She is also afraid to leave some comfort, social benefits which you benefit from as a manager. He therefore tries to Reset in the renewable energy branch of the company.

I have some leeway to delay dirty orders

Julien, he sees himself like the worm in the apple and try to waste time on fossil projects: As a quality manager, I have little leeway to delay orders. The dirtiest all leave at least fifteen days late. But mostly he feels lonely in a bucket of molasses . I would like to make my colleagues understand that we make shitty products, that we are screwing the planet, that we should all say enough, collectively. But they are all eliminated by the 3/8, they don’t have time to think about these things.

All agree, however, on the need for a systemic response by the state for the exit from fossil fuels and reconversions. Oil is everywhere around us: in the fuel of our means of transport, in the plastics, in the electricity we consume … Until global choices are made to get out of dependence on fossil fuels, and redirect workers in the sector, even if I’m not the one who works, he will always find someone to do the job breathes David. We will suffer only shocks and abrupt and unprepared decisions … And unfortunately, for now, this is the path we are on. Storm Julien.

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