Two new reports foresee employment growth in the U.S. renewable energy industry – despite the chilling effect of the tariffs on solar equipment imposed by the Trump administration, as described in a Solar Energy Industry Association press release in December. The first study, Clean Energy sweeps across rural America (November 2018) by the Natural Resources Defence Council examines job growth in wind, solar, and energy efficiency in rural regions throughout the Midwest U.S., and finds that the number of clean energy jobs grew by 6 percent from 2015 to 2016 (a higher rate than the economic in general), to a total of nearly 160,000 in 2017. In 2017, in the rural parts of every midwestern state except North Dakota and Kansas, more people worked in clean energy than in the entire fossil fuel industry. The report emphasizes the outsized impact of job opportunities in rural areas in which job growth is normally negligible or even negative. The report also profiles examples of community solar programs operated by co-ops and investor-owned utilities.
A second report models the impact of replacing Colorado’s coal plants with a mix of wind and solar backed by battery storage and natural gas. This report was prepared by consultants Vibrant Clean Energy and commissioned by energy developer Community Energy Inc., with a main focus on cost savings and carbon emissions. However, it also forecasts job impacts under three scenarios (keeping coal plants to 2040, gradually retiring coal plants, and retiring all coal plants in 2025), and overall, it forecasts a 52% increase in employment in the electricity industry.
The January 9 press release quotes a representative from Community Energy Inc: “The key to unlocking these benefits is to create a legal framework that enables utilities to voluntarily retire the coal plants. Otherwise, it could take years to negotiate or litigate utility cost recovery, replacement power costs and impact on local communities.” The full Coal Plant Retirement study is here .
Finally, the Solar Energy Industries Association issued a press release in early December, highlighting its 2018 initiatives to improve gender equity and diversity – including the creation of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative, which includes summits to increase women’s leadership and various industry opportunities. In September 2018, the SEIA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to help the solar industry recruit and employ more students from the 101 Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This will include hosting a national jobs fair, individual jobs fairs at the HBCU schools and bringing solar companies to campuses for recruitment. A webinar series on diversity and inclusion is scheduled for SEIA member companies in 2019.
Children in Canada and around the world continue to demand climate action from their nations’ policy leaders, following the example of the now-famous Greta Thunberg. In the first week of January 2019, according Greta’s Twitter feed, climate strikes were held in “South Africa, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Czech Rep, Uganda, Nigeria, Faroe Islands, Italy and many more”. As you would expect, social media plays a huge part in the campaigns, centred on the #Fridays for Future Facebook page and @fridaysforfuture Twitter account.
In Canada, Twitter accounts to watch are from @Sophia Mathur , (the 11-year old Sudbury girl who was the first to join the international campaign – profiled here ); @Student Climate Activist , and Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition , both from Winnipeg, Manitoba; Toronto Climate Future from Toronto and the GTHA , also with a Facebook page here . The Citizens Climate Lobby is hosting an interactive map to track climate strikes around the world, and The Climate Pledge Collective offers free resources to help others organize FridaysforFuture events.
Traditional media have provided fairly limited coverage of the stoic students who protested in Canadian cities on January 11: from the Waterloo Record, “On a bitterly cold day in Waterloo, a new type of protest begins” (Jan. 12) and “Children and youth strike against climate change in Waterloo Region” at KitchenerToday.com (Jan. 11); “Students, climate activists protest provincial climate plan at Queen’s Park” (Jan. 13) from The Varsity, the student newspaper of University of Toronto; and “I want to know the earth will be ok” from the Winnipeg Sun (Jan. 11). CBC Vancouver reported the previous student climate strike on December 7 ; others are listed in the Work and Climate Change Report summary from December .
And another Canadian youth group to watch: PowerShift: Young and Rising, who are gathering in Ottawa on February 14 – 18 . From their announcement: “We will dig deep into discussions on topics including fracking, pipeline politics, Indigenous sovereignty, divestment, and green jobs. We will learn how to make lasting change through community organizing, direct action, art, storytelling, and using traditional and digital media. … PowerShift aims to ensure that once the convergence is over, the youth climate movement continues to grow through our networks, continued capacity building, and strategic action.”
A debate forum , Is Green Growth Possible? was hosted by the Institute for New Economic Thinking in December, consisting of papers by economists debating whether catastrophic global warming can be stopped while maintaining current levels of economic growth. The arguments are summarized for the non-economist in “The Case for ‘conditional optimism’ on climate change” by David Roberts in Vox (Dec. 31) . Economists may be interested in the full papers, which include “The Road to ‘Hothouse Earth’ is Paved with Good Intentions” and “Why Green Growth is an Illusion”, both by Enno Schröder and Servaas Storm. The authors conclude that “.. The world’s current economies are not capable of the emission reductions required to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees. If world leaders insist on maintaining historical rates of economic growth, and there are no step-change advances in technology, hitting that target requires a rate of reduction in carbon intensity for which there is simply no precedent. Despite all the recent hype about decoupling, there’s no historical evidence that current economies are decoupling at anything close to the rate required…. Without a concerted (global) policy shift to deep decarbonization, a rapid transition to renewable energy sources, structural change in production, consumption, and transportation, and a transformation of finance, … the decoupling will not even come close to what is needed.”
“The Inconvenient Truth about Climate Change and the Economy” by Gregor Semieniuk, Lance Taylor, and Armon Rezai summarizes and analyzes the October 2018 IPCC report, Global Warming of 1.5 °C. , finding it overly optimistic about global productivity growth and fossil fuel energy use, and reiterating the argument that politics are holding back climate change solutions. They conclude that “a big mitigation push, perhaps financed by carbon taxes and/or reductions in subsidies, is possible macroeconomically even if the link between energy use and output is not severed. This, however, would require considerable modifications of countries’ macroeconomic arrangements. Needless to say, military establishments and recipients of energy subsidies wield political clout. Fossil fuel producers have at least as much. Whether national preferences will permit big shifts in the use of economic resources is the key question.”
Finally, in “Conditional Optimism: Economic Perspectives on Deep Decarbonization”, author Michael Grubb takes issue with Schröder and Storm, saying that their papers rely on historical data and rates of change, and thus are characterized by a “pessimism about our ability to change what matters fast enough. ” Grubb states that this “may be emblematic of a growing trend in energy-climate economics, of what we might term historical futures analysis.” He lays out a technical economic critique and suggests four fundamental principles for his own “conditional optimism”, which relies on analysis based on the rate of displacement of carbon intensive energy supply by the growth of alternate sources.
The “Driving a Fair Future” website has documented the complaints against Tesla for years – including an analysis of Tesla injury rates between 2014 and 2017 at its Freemont California plant, which showed that injuries were 31% higher than industry standards. In June 2018, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board began to hear some of the workers’ complaints of safety violations and anti-union harassment, with the United Auto Workers representing them. Two themes have emerged in the saga of Tesla’s bad labour relations: 1. how can the apparently “green jobs” become decent, good jobs? and 2. would unionization at Tesla give a toehold at other precarious Silicon Valley workplaces such as Google, Amazon, and their like.
“Tesla’s Union Battle Is About the Future of Our Planet” (Oct. 9) in Medium describes the union drive at the Freemont California electric vehicle manufacturing plant, in light of its environmental mission. The article contends : “ This case isn’t just about Tesla. It’s about the future of an industry that sees itself as key to addressing the climate crisis. Clean tech companies peddle a progressive vision of a low-carbon future, but Tesla’s anti-union fervor suggests that some in the industry have lost sight of their work’s bigger point.”
Workers from Tesla’s solar panel factory in Buffalo New York expressed similar sentiments in interviews with the local news organization . Taking pride in their green jobs, they are seeking better pay, benefits, and job security through a unionization drive announced in December. The Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo received $750 million in taxpayer funding for the state-of-the-art solar production facility, promising new jobs in a high unemployment area; the unionization campaign involves about 300 production and maintenance employees in a partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Steelworkers. The drive is endorsed by the Labor Network for Sustainability , which states: “We are hearing a lot about the need for a Green New Deal that will provide millions of good jobs helping protect the climate. These Tesla workers represent the Green New Deal in action.” Follow developments on the Facebook page of the Coalition for Economic Justice Buffalo.
Implications for High Tech workers: “Why Elon Musk’s latest legal bout with the United Auto Workers may have ripple effects across Silicon Valley” is a thorough overview about the UAW unionization drive at Tesla’s auto manufacturing plant at Freemont California, from CNBC in early December. Similar themes appeared in “What Tesla’s union-busting trial means for the rest of Silicon Valley” appeared in Verge in September 2018, chronicling the arguments of the UAW and Tesla management – including Elon Musk and his tweets – during the NLRB hearings in June 2018. The article concludes that “Tesla’s case [is] a bellwether — particularly for Amazon. … Tesla might be a car company, but it’s also a tech company — and if its workers can unionize, tech workers elsewhere are bound to start getting ideas.”
What is life like for these high tech workers? A New Kind of Labor Movement in Silicon Valley” in The Atlantic (Sept. 4 ) gives a good overview, and introduces nascent groups as Silicon Valley Rising and Tech Workers Coalition .
Economist Brenda Frank contributes to the ongoing battle of ideas about carbon pricing in Canada with his January 9 blog : “Carbon pricing works even when emissions are rising”. Frank begins: “An old, debunked argument against carbon taxes has flared up recently: If total emissions aren’t falling, the tax must not be working. Let’s quash that myth.” Continuing the arguments he published in a 2017 blog, “The curious case of counterfactuals”, his central question is, “if emissions are still rising, how fast would they have been rising without a carbon price?” He cites recent studies, such as “The Impact of British Columbia’s Carbon Tax on Residential Natural Gas Consumption” (in Energy Economics, Dec. 2018), as well as the extensive carbon pricing reports produced by the Ecofiscal Commission, most recently Clearing the Air: How carbon pricing helps Canada fight climate change (April 2018). The conclusion: carbon pricing is more “complicated than something you can fit in a tweet”, and complex analysis demonstrates that it does work.
Marc Hafstead , U.S. economist and Director of the Carbon Pricing Initiative pursues a similar theme in “Buyer Beware: An Analysis of the Latest Flawed Carbon Tax Report” ( November 28). Hafstead contends that “some papers can introduce confusion and misinformation”, and demonstrates how this is done in The Carbon Tax: Analysis of Six Potential Scenarios , a study commissioned by the Institute for Energy Research and conducted by Capital Alpha Partners. Hafstead critiques the modelling assumptions and concludes they are flawed ; he also charges that the paper fails to explain its differences from the prevailing academic literature.
Even without Hafstead’s economic skills, one might be wary of the U.S. paper after a check of the DeSmog’s Global Warming Disinformation Database , which provides mind-blowing detail about the financial and personnel connections between the Institute for Energy Research and Koch Industries . DeSmog maintains records on organizations and individuals engaged in “climate change disinformation” in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.