SNAPSHOT: Renewables and Efficiency Jobs Surge While Fossil Employment Sags

Full Story: The Energy Mix

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At the level of raw numbers, job creation in 2018 was one of the simplest, most straightforward pieces of the climate change puzzle: while renewable energy and energy efficiency delivered more than 10 million jobs around the world and promised many more in the near future, oil and gas producers were trying to actively trim their work force, while a crashing coal industry continued to lay off workers by the hundred.

In May, the International Renewable Energy Agency reported that renewables had created 10.3 million jobs worldwide as far back as 2016 and was on track to employ as many as 28 million people by 2050. An early September report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate was even more optimistic, projecting that “bold action” on climate could deliver more than 65 million low-carbon jobs and at least US$26 trillion in economic benefits by 2030.

Environmental Entrepreneurs identified the cities that had become “America’s top 50 clean energy job engines,” with more than half of the national total of nearly 3.2 million jobs. “Each day, more than three million Americans wake up and get to work building our clean energy economy,” E2 reported. “These workers install solar panels atop our homes and commercial buildings, manufacture wind turbines, and reduce wasted energy by making our homes, schools, and offices more energy efficient. And they now work in every zip code in the country.” Renewables employment was booming in the United States in spite of trade action against the country’s solar industry and assorted uncertainties at the state level, and New York’s new energy efficiency target included training for 19,500 workers.

Canadian fossil lobbyists continued to tout their industry’s commitment to job creation despite continuing efforts to “de-man” the industry, and U.S. fossils tried to court Hispanic and African-American communities by promising employment in a re-emerging offshore drilling industry. Labour-saving efficiencies wiped out thousands of fossil jobs in Alberta, although Canada’s railways went on a bit of a hiring spree as oil-by-rail shipments set new records. A moment of relatively high oil prices produced optimism but not euphoria in the Canadian oilpatch, as analysts conceded that even a full fossil recovery would not bring a huge spike in employment. Suncor introduced driverless trucks and cut 400 tar sands/oil sands jobs, and Parkland Institute political economist Ian Hussey cited declining jobs and tax revenue as evidence that the tar sands/oil sands era is over.

Globe and Mail columnist and self-described climate hawk Denise Balkissoon said a commitment to a just job transition would help bridge the divide over the intensely controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. I’m glad the oil sands are a sunset industry: they’re an absolute environmental nightmare,” she wrote. “That doesn’t mean those who work there are bad people, but that everyone in Canada needs to help them move on.”

The Dogwood Initiative shone a light on the coastal jobs in British Columbia that would be put at risk by Trans Mountain. Colorado ski operators and their employees stood to lose billions due to warmer, drier winters; the Trump administration’s attack on tailpipe emission standards was set to undercut the competitiveness of the U.S. auto industry; and questions about the future of work in a warming world were being met with deafening silence.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives issued a just transition report calling for a stronger social safety net for workers affected by the post-carbon transition. Ottawa unveiled its 2030 transition plan for coal workers and communities and appointed Hassan Yussuff of the Canadian Labour Congress and Lois Corbett of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick to co-chair its 11-member Just Transition Task Force. In early November, the task force called for a longer time span for retraining grants for coal workers. “It’s easy to say, ‘You’re going to phase out an industry, this is government policy,’” Yussuff said. “The next thing is, what will take its place? Because you can’t just shut down a coal generation facility.”

A study for Efficiency Canada calculated that the pan-Canadian climate plan will generate 118,000 energy efficiency jobs through 2030, Alberta introduced a new training course for solar and wind farm technicians, and a technicians’ course in Texas had students “climbing wind turbines to the middle class.” Coal miners and their work ethic were finding a home in the green economy.

In the United States, meanwhile, government data showed a purported coal industry recovery evaporating. The looming closure of the Navajo coal-fired generating station in Arizona imperiled 800 jobs, a West Virginia coal mine closure cost another 400, and eight coal executives took away US$10.2 million in salary and bonuses when the Westmoreland Coal Company went bankrupt. Oakland cancelled a coal export lease, Kentucky’s coal industry continued to decline despite Trump’s overblown promises to the contrary, Korean banks refused to finance the massive Adani coal mine in Australia, and the global coal industry was on track to shed 100,000 jobs this decade.

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