Seeing as it is election season, the dumbed down streamlined talk of energy and jobs frequent the airways. President Obama came out with a green jobs stimulus package, and both parties gave it considerable attention. Forbes came out with an interesting article arguing that green jobs are overvalued do to the ‘broken window fallacy,’ which is an argument that states throwing a rock through windows will encourage economic growth because everyone will have to buy new windows. Green jobs would absorb money that could otherwise be spent creating other jobs. I would argue the opposite- that fossil fuels are the real ‘broken windows’. With the increased air pollution, more doctors are needed. By worsening the climate, a larger military is required to protect diminishing resources. To correct some misconceptions about energy jobs, here are some facts below.
Coal miners received considerable attention during the 2012 presidential election. Current cross-sectional analysis of different coal jobs provides an indicative forecast for the future of miners. Machines and computers have replaced manual labor in virtually every phase of mining. The Western U.S. produces more coal than Appalachia, yet they employ considerably less workers; thus coal executives have moved more coal production to the west. For the coal industry, miners must compete with technology to keep a job. (EIA Coal Data, pg. 25) Mining productivity has been a larger destroyer of coal jobs than environmental regulation, activism, and unions combined. Over the past century, coal miner employment has fallen over 90% despite due to a twentyfold increase in production per miner. Despite a one-third increase in production, coal industry employment has fallen by half in the past two decades. Despite supplying less than a twentieth of the electricity, the wind industry already passed coal jobs in 2008. The coal business owners also went to other lengths to lower the number of people employed. Coal industry executives and their advocates in Washington call for deregulation as a catalyst for job creation. Oddly enough, that deregulation lead to shoddy record keeping and the preventable deaths of miners, whereas enforcement of environmental and safety legislation boosted coal employment to a 15-year high. Disregarding the fact that the industry must perform malicious business practices to stay on top, it is highly concerning that the industry hopes for policies that completely oppose their claims of job creation. Regulation of toxins from coal power plants do not kill jobs, but actually save them and create thousands more. (Not to mention saving 17,000 lives as well!)
Oil and natural gas drilling in North Dakota is heralded as the reason for low unemployment in the state, which is currently at 3%. However, the population is only slightly larger than that of Washington D.C. Also, states such as Alaska have comparable population and even greater oil production, yet higher unemployment rates. Natural gas and unconventional oil create 1.7 million jobs, but they do not affect everyone equally. In fact, 40 percent of oil-related jobs are for minimum-wage work at gas stations. Of course, a number of other industries are inextricably linked to energy production, just like the public relations boom required to maintain a good image for fracking and natural gas production. The magnitude and potential of oil jobs should not be understated though; it could lead to the economic independence of Greenland from Denmark. Michael Klare states, “oil will generate high-paying skilled jobs and eliminate the territory’s economic reliance on Denmark, widely considered a relic of the colonial era,” (Race for What’s Left, Location 1213 of 6515).
Despite rather dubious jobs claims from both conservative media and politicians, the job potential for the Keystone XL Pipeline is not as high as they advertise, which even the company will admit. The job metric for the pipeline was based on “one job one year”. So one person working two years, a pretty short time if you ask me, would count as two jobs. The quality and quantity of jobs are not the only indicative employment aspects of an energy industry. The personality types of employees must also be addressed. During the construction of the [toxic] Keystone XL Pipeline, environmental activists and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein discovered a worker with a Swastika drawn on his construction helmet. On the management end, coal producers are announcing layoffs due to President Obama’s second term and the purely rhetorical “war on coal.”
Although green job creation is temporarily down across the country greener industries grow faster and hire more workers than the overall economy. In the state of Georgia, the solar industry had a 6.8 percent job growth rate in 2010, compared to 0.0 percent growth in the overall economy and a 2 percent loss in the fossil fuel electric generation work force. Furthermore, the solar power is not only sustainable and renewable in an energy perspective. The jobs renew themselves as well. Photovoltaic panels last 20 to 30 years, which is still considerably less than (aging) coal plants. With such a small environmental impact anticipating increasing regulation, citizens will enjoy job security by having to replace the solar panels with newer ones. Solar PV production alone could create over 6 million jobs by 2030. As for the mechanization of renewable energy development, it could go either way. Some companies are trying to reduce the labor required in factories; others could be facing a shortage of labor. Since renewable energy jobs require continual maintenance such as inspecting wind blades or cleaning the panels, they will enjoy a long period of job security.
For a jobs argument, renewable energy wins, period. Indirect jobs are difficult to predict, and will almost always be lower than what the industry reports. Natural gas jobs cost twice as much as green jobs, and the health costs of coal and oil do not tip the scales towards the fossil fuel industry. In West Virginia, group called the Jobs Project employs unemployed coal miners and contractors to install PV panels in the coal-heavy state. Their intentions are not to overtake the coal industry, but their efforts provide a symbolic example of the employment benefits to the renewable energy industry.