Green jobs are polarizing.
Like much of our current political landscape, there are opposite poles on the topic of green jobs, although many people will agree that mitigating climate change is necessary. It is difficult, though, when it impacts your job.
Biden continues to claim that renewable energy will create “family sustaining jobs” that can ease the transition away from fossil fuels, sometimes called a just transition. That is mostly true. Energy jobs of all kinds pay better than the average American job. About three quarters of energy jobs are in energy efficiency. But the debate is about jobs in producing energy.
Part of the debate centers around which numbers to use to compare pay. The Energy Futures Initiative report shows that oil jobs pay better than jobs in wind, solar, energy efficiency or storage. However, the Clean Jobs, Better Jobs report shows that jobs in renewable energy offer a slightly higher wage per hour. The difference in the reports is that the Clean Jobs, Better Jobs report is comparing jobs with similar requirements for education and skill, instead of including the various engineering type jobs prevalent in the oil sector, that the Energy Futures Initiative includes for each sector.
In addition, there are more jobs in fossil fuels today than in renewable energy. That makes the workers in the fossil fuel sector wary about the claims that promise ample jobs in renewables to replace jobs lost in the traditional energy production sector. Workers remain skeptical. The United States doesn’t have a good track record at transitioning employees and communities away from industries on the decline. Workers and their communities bore the brunt of the changes when manufacturing was sent overseas.
Changes to the fossil fuel industries are coming as the world rises to unite behind mitigating climate change. Coal workers in particular are looking at job cuts and benefit reductions. Some changes are immediate, such as the reduction in coal mining and coal use, and some will take decades, like the phase out of natural gas. Hopefully a collaboration of government and corporate players will create training for new jobs in the burgeoning renewables industry as well as safety nets for those workers who may need it.
We need to aggressively mitigate climate change without leaving families and communities destitute by relocating energy production. Rather than stand on one side of the debate, we need to work together to phase out what damages the climate and turn to cleaner, more sustainable options, and create resilience for the people working in fossil fuels and those working in renewables.
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