According to an estimate, pollution is the cause of more than 7 million deaths every year (ScienceAlert). The statistic, however, says nothing of the innumerable plants and animals that also suffer premature deaths due to environmental degradation.
We know that climate change is real: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that the climate crisis is almost (95% certainty) exclusively man-made.
Its causes are also clear: Consuming non-renewable energy, mainly, for power supply, industrial use, and transport releases greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, that turn the planet into a heat-trapping greenhouse.
It is high time we end our reliance on non-renewable sources of energy, like coal and oil, and instead use renewable sources of energy, like solar and wind, if we wish to limit the alarming rise of our planet’s temperature below 2° C before the end of this century. At least, that is what the Paris Agreement says.
Not that reaching the goal is technologically or economically difficult.
In 2009, IPCC concluded that the world very well possesses the technology and financial resources to make a complete transition to low-carbon and renewable energy by 2030. But the target was moved to 2050 for “practical” reasons — the social, political, and cultural challenges to adopting strict climate policies.
Employment, for instance, is one large thorn. Strict climate policies could leave a sizable chunk of fossil fuel workers unemployed, which has led to substantial fear and apprehension brewing around the policies.
Politicians have not helped.
Donald Trump, for example, has repeatedly addressed the fear to gain favor, referring to coal miners 294 times in his 2016 presidential campaign (Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change). Instead of encouraging sustainable change, Trump campaigned for reviving the coal industry, an attitude that compelled him to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2017, as he happens “to love coal miners.”
The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, too, has vowed to protect the industry and the people employed by it.
However, a study recently published in One Earth has found that while fossil fuel jobs will decline, the decline will be well compensated for by a significant increase in “green” energy jobs.
Of course, adoption will face a few challenges. But the study essentially claims that, in the long run, the fears might be ill-informed. The transition has no downsides.
Net gain of 8 million jobs
Currently, the energy industry employs more than 18 million people. Out of those 18 million, 12.6 million people are employed by the fossil fuel industry, while only 4.6 million jobs are concerned with renewables. The rest belong to the nuclear industry.
Unquestionably, if we were to abide by climate policies to achieve 100% transition by 2050, fossil fuel employment will decline while renewable employment will incline.
The study aimed to answer the question “by how much?”
The study answered the question under two major scenarios. First, the current scenario with current climate policies, which the authors called the reference model. And second, with policies that are stricter, such that the temperature by 2050 is limited to well below 2 °C.
The authors of the study collected data regarding jobs from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), made certain assumptions about jobs in non-OECD nations, and combined the two with “global datasets of job intensities across 11 energy technologies and 5 job categories.”
To spare you the details, the authors studied energy employment in 50 countries across the world and developed what is called an Integrated Assessment Model (IAM) for two scenarios.
In both cases, as predicted, fossil fuel employment was found to decline, while renewable energy employment inclined. However, the net incline in employment, when the temperature was well below 2 °C by 2050, was found to be much greater – by nearly 50%.
Under the first scenario, energy employment increased to 21 million, while under the second, it increased to 26 million. In other words, fighting climate change with greater rigor would not wipe out, but instead lead to a net gain of 8 million jobs, according to the study.
Of the 26 million, 84% would be related to renewable energy, 11% to fossil fuels, and the rest to nuclear power. What that means is that the decrease in fossil fuel jobs would be rapid and severe. This would be especially true for “core” jobs directly related to the industry, like manufacturing, mining, or extraction — jobs that dominate the industry today.
However, according to the study, the decline will be well compensated for by a rapid and severe increase in manufacturing and other core, supply chain jobs in solar and wind energy industries.
There’s just one problem. We need to act immediately.
A new kind of energy workforce
While the technology to replace non-renewable sources of energy is readily available, the workforce to manufacture, install, and utilize the technology is not.
There are two challenges to the transition:
- Re-training today’s energy workforce to compete with tomorrow’s workforce.
- Ensuring the benefits are evenly distributed.
Re-training is critical to the transition to ensure that fossil fuel workers are not left behind as policies become stricter and transition practices, more established.
Overcoming the challenge requires an investment, which varies with the course and the school. But the investment is very likely to pay off when the renewable market takes off.
On the other hand, the study confirmed the distribution of jobs will be unequal – a scaled-up picture of the inequality extant today. In India, for example, it takes 725 workers to extract 1 million tonnes of coal (International Science Council). In the United States? 73.
Still, inequality may impede the transition, but inequality cannot prohibit it.
The photovoltaic market first gained traction in the 1980s. China, however, entered the market in 2000, nearly 20 years later. Today, the superpower accounts for more than half of all manufacturing.
They made it happen because they wanted to make it happen.
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