I’m thrilled to introduce myself as Iron & Earth’s new Executive Director!
It’s exciting to be part of the team at Iron & Earth, amongst such a talented and dedicated group of people. Entering this position, I’m greatly encouraged by the team’s strength, the vibrancy of the organizational culture, and the incredible level of innovation and acceleration within each initiative underway.
I’d like to take you on a personal journey that started in the Alberta oilsands, led me around the globe, and brought me back to the heart of the Canadian energy discussion.
(Working in the doghouse, holding bitumen)
I began my career in the Alberta oilsands as a young geologist. In the frozen landscape of the Alberta winter, on frozen peat bogs, several drilling teams I worked with explored the subsurface for the Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage exploration programs. Cold days and colder nights, exceeding -40C was the norm, the wind kicking up and howling through the night.
Throughout my life, I had always had a deep respect for nature, and working in the Alberta wilderness was no exception. There I experienced first-hand how the warming or cooling of temperatures affected both local wildlife and our human activities. It was an education and an adventure.
As I logged core samples in the doghouse (the steel-sided room adjacent to the rig floor), or off the back of my pick-up, I was driven to succeed and learn as much as I could. My job on the winter drill exploration programs south of Fort McMurray furnished me with many life skills and taught me the importance of family, friends, hard work, and professionalism. Although the conditions were harsh, our community was solid; when we couldn’t have supper together in the lunchroom, someone from the team would bring a colleague out on the rigs their warm meal.
Working in the oilsands was a great challenge; times were good, jobs were secure, and the pay supported growing families. People came from far and wide to work in the oilsands. Outside Alberta, I had colleagues from all over Canada including Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Manitoba, even some from further abroad. Everyone brought professionalism to their role, and we all worked hard to build what was then a critical part of the Canadian economy.
Each winter drill season ended in tandem with the warming weather and the annual Cariboo run. I would bid my oilsands friends farewell, confident that we’d be back for another season the following year.
My career took a few twists and turns after the first signs of a job slow-down in the oil patch. Looking to continue developing my geology career, I began my next adventure in Sweden at a gold mine. My appreciation of nature intersecting with industry continued. The project was in lush green wilderness, with swans nesting in the tailings ponds area, and every morning I’d see reindeer, moose, or even bears on my commute. At night, the aurora borealis would dance across the sky. Everything seemed to be in balance.
I moved on from Sweden to a role in Melanesia. There, amid vast jungles and canopy forests, my focus shifted from building a career in geology to focusing on people. I worked closely with Indigenous communities, and learned what was important to them.
(Seghe airport, Solomon Islands)
Our operations were on previously logged land, but the jungle quickly grew back. To an untrained eye, the jungle looked fulsome, but my Indigenous colleagues saw the impact and damage the logging had done. Through these relationships, I developed a deep appreciation of balancing the land with the people.
Years later, I worked in an area of Mexico that had been experiencing drought for many years. I’ll never forget the very first day I arrived at the project in Mexico. As we slowly drove towards the local town and project area, I saw a beautiful white horse whose final resting place was on the side of that road. Its life had ended from the unforgivable drought - it made me wonder how the local town people could survive with such limited water resources, and how operations could be sustainable. My desire to work in sustainability grew in leaps and bounds.
Back in Canada, I worked with a grassroots environment conservation organization that preserves land along the UNESCO Niagara Escarpment both for people to enjoy and for flora and fauna to flourish. Along the way in my career, I worked as an adult education teacher, empowering adult learners to prepare for career transitions, and completed an Executive MBA. It was rewarding to see people grow enthusiastic for the new adventures that lay ahead of them.
(Trillium, growing along the Niagara Escarpment)
All these experiences combined have led me to Iron & Earth; from my experience in fossil fuels, Indigenous communities, my passion for sustainability, conservation and environment, helping adults transition to new rewarding careers, everything I have ever done led me to this role at Iron & Earth.
My colleagues in the oilsands were proud of the work they did. They wanted to raise their family well and earn an honest living. Workers still want the same things, but the energy world is changing and will continue to change. I’ve watched friends struggle to find good jobs in fossil fuels, while at the same time, good jobs in the renewables sector are expanding. We know that jobs are set to grow in a wide range of climate solutions, and that fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers are poised as the hands and feet required to build these solutions.
You, dear friends, are the future. You bring relevant and essential skills from your experience, trades and fossil fuel backgrounds that form the basis for the skills needed in the transition to clean energy.
I joined Iron & Earth as the Executive Director in May 2021, to continue the work that started five years ago: to empower fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions. This is what we will continue to do together, now, and into the future. Let us join together to bring about change, and implement solutions that will bring Canada and the world to net-zero by 2050.
There is still much to do, and we have many more projects underfoot.
In hope and action,
Luisa Da Silva
Iron & Earth