Fossil fuels are hurting our health and environment: from oil spills and asthma to stressed water supplies and climate change impacts, we know that our economy should move away from conventional energy sources.
One of the burning questions attached to this shift is how to ensure that the people who work in these industries can find jobs working for the clean economy.
Appalachia has seen coal mining jobs steadily decline for years due to several factors: less-labor intensive practices like strip-mining and mountaintop removal, competition from natural gas and overseas coal, and to a lesser extent, pollution regulations. Today, the US coal industry (mining, transportation, and power generation) employs about 170,000 people.
The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) in Kentucky uses training, advocacy, and economic development measures to buffer low-income communities in traditionally coal-reliant regions. Their tools include small business loans, and energy efficiency and forestry programs.
Rory McIlmoil of Downstream Strategies believes Appalachia can thrive in a post-coal era:
“Do we want to be a country that is content with contaminating our air and water for electricity generation? Or do we want to continue to be a country that leads the world in innovation, efficiency, and sustainability?” he says. “If we choose to continue on a path of instituting new ideas and new, cleaner forms of energy, then we need to support economic transition in the communities that have given this country so much of their labor to help us grow over the past century and a half.”
Appalachian Voices points out that tens of thousands of jobs could be created in the region through energy efficiency programs alone. They’re working with electricity co-operatives to roll them out.
Meanwhile, the Jobs Project is creating locally-owned renewable energy capacity in Central Appalachia and the Highlander Center is sponsoring fellowships for young people who are pioneering solutions. These efforts are part of what locals call a “just transition” - one that provides not only jobs, but resilient and healthy communities.
Roughly two million people are employed in the oil and gas industry – these jobs include everything from oil rig mechanic to gas station attendant. But when compared to both the green jobs sector and the larger economy, fossil fuel jobs don’t stack up.
Consider that there are about 180 million jobs in the entire economy. Healthcare alone employs ten times as many people as fossil fuel energy generation. According to Scott Nystrom of Regional Economic Models, Inc., conventional energy jobs are “…incredibly capital intensive... as opposed to healthcare, labor and finance which employ a lot of us”.
Not only does the renewable energy sector creates more jobs, it creates more diverse and better paying jobs than conventional energy. With ambitious federal and state policies, clean energy could produce enough jobs to offset losses in conventional energy many times over.
There are already more jobs in the clean economy (2.7 million – that includes things like renewable energy, efficiency, and transit) than there are in fossil fuels. In 2013 alone, over 80,000 clean energy jobs were added to the economy. The solar industry is growing 20 times faster than other sectors.
Green For All is ensuring that the workforce, particularly low-income and minority communities, have the tools they need to take advantage of this environment. Their programs are directing capital to green businesses, mentoring entrepreneurs, bringing professionals together at events, reaching out to universities, and sponsoring fellowship programs.
Ultimately, supporting the green workforce is more than replacing “dirty” jobs with “clean” ones. It’s creating a vision for society that works for everyone, and is ultimately more prosperous, healthy, and equitable.
Clean Energy Victory Bonds, Green America
Made in America, Blue Green Alliance