Just Transition: Renewable Energy Can Drive Equitable Job Creation

Reader Contribution by Ted Flanigan and Ecomotion
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Photo by Justin Lim on Unsplash

The role of community choice aggregation for solar — programs that allow local governments to procure power on behalf of their residents — has quickly expanded from a green commodity program to one where social benefit is at the core, providing energy resiliency and equitable jobs in the communities they serve.

Perspectives provided by a Rocky Mountain Institute webinar, moderated by James Newcombe, Aligning Toward a Renewable Economy for a Swift and Fair Energy Transition, put the plight of equitable jobs and opportunities in the clean energy transition in the fore.

Renewable Energy Driving Economic Growth

Newcombe welcomes all and lays it on the line: There has been and continues to be a lingering perception that a clea- energy economy will burden global economies. But no. He cites data that shows far more jobs in clean energy. They are growing fast and creating sustained jobs in our society.

The World Energy Outlook of the International Energy Agency (IEA) presents a sustainable development scenario — “nearly Paris-compliant” — that projects that there could be 27 million clean-energy jobs in the next three years, while preventing 12 million deaths related to asthma and other respiratory diseases exacerbated by fossil-fuel emissions.

Another study by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) projects that 2 to 7 million jobs will be lost in the fossil fuel industries by 2030, and 38 to 60 million new jobs in clean energy. There are already three times as many clean energy jobs in the United States as there are fossil fuel jobs. Panelist and RMI Principal Jacob Corvidae posited a discussion with his son: “So, do you want a job in the fading fossil fuel industry, or the booming solar industry?” The choice is pretty obvious.

The pandemic has hit the fossil fuel industry really hard, so hard that it may never recover. A Deloitte study notes that of the 107,000 oil and gas jobs lost in the pandemic, as many as 70% may be permanently lost. Newcombe noted that the year 2019 may be oil and gas industry’s peak year. Meanwhile, the clean energy industry will rebound quickly. The challenge and opportunity is for the public and private sectors to come together to strategically chart a sound clean energy course. A big part of this involves jobs and equity.

Clean Energy Industry Driving Equitable Job Creation

Corvidae discussed jobs in inner cities and creating a just transition to a clean energy economy. How can small, disadvantaged businesses participate?

Corvidae said that it will take policies to make it happen. In Boston, RMI is working in collaboration with the Emerald Cities Collective to promote means for minority-owned contractors to access the pipeline of public-sector work, providing normally underrepresented companies with good paying jobs. This is “doing development differently.” He talked about Detroit and its Community Benefit Agreements, creating opportunities and addressing the structural injustices. New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act requires that 35% of its funds are targeted into disadvantaged communities.

Panelist Sharon Burrow Leslie began by making it clear that the post-pandemic recovery will need to be in both social and environmental balance. Due to the pandemic, a half billion jobs have been lost around the world. There is both a climate and health emergency at hand. Furthermore, Leslie noted that there has been an erosion of trust in democracy.

Fixing the Crisis of Democracy

A recent study shows that less than 45% of young people trust democracy. Given social unrest, Leslie said that we need to rebuild the public’s trust through transparency and accountability. There needs to be a just transition to our clean energy future. The European Union has plans for recovery that have a social pillar based on a green new deal and cutting supply-chain exploitation.

Martin Luther King was quoted, that we need leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice. If the recovery is just about money, we fail the planet, we can’t have justice. Yet there has been an explosion of global monopoly power and profits during the pandemic. Just as there have been huge corporate gains, and unconditional public subsidies of corporations, there has been marked social unrest and Leslie predicts that there will be more unless justice is served.

The times are indeed unprecedented, but they are predictable. The pandemic was predictable; so are the effects of climate change. So is the civil unrest. Now we need policies to support a just clean energy future: Yes, we need zero-net energy. We also need zero-net job loss. We cannot rebuild the global economy if people don’t have jobs and income. Every job lost must be replaced with new jobs.

How Can There be a Just Transition to a Clean Energy Economy?

Capitalism does have the brilliant merit of self-organizing. But it has inherent flaws. There needs to be means to address justice and equity within a capitalist society and in the transition to a sustainable future. Externalities can be no longer. We have the challenge and opportunity to meet both our social and climate objectives together. Jobs are a fundamental aspect of the recovery we all crave. We redefine the rules; we cannot prescribe the status quo.

Ted FlaniganrunsEcoMotion, a California-based company with the mission of the cost-effective greening of cities, corporations, and campuses. He has dedicated his career to finding win-win solutions that create financial and environmental benefits while fostering a sustainable society. Connect with Ted onFacebook and Twitter, read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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