D.E. Smoot

D.E. Smoot

Climate change skeptics and critics who oppose a shift from a fossil-fuel economy to one driven by sustainable energy sources complain about costs. 

Folks in those circles typically cite lost jobs as the biggest cost of that transition. That’s a legitimate concern, but U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show the economy has been shedding those jobs for several years.

Much of that decline can be attributed to economics and automation. That is especially true in the coal industry, which saw its fortunes decline 40% or more during the past decade due to the low cost of natural gas and a move toward machines and away from people.

BLS statistics show employment in the utilities sector, which includes generation, transmission and distribution of electricity and natural gas, dropped sharply from 2000 to 2007 before it began to stabilize. The industry began shedding jobs again in 2016, and jobs numbers continue to erode.

Extraction-related jobs in the oil and gas industry hit a peak in 1982, when employment in that sector began a 20-year slide that ended with about half the number of workers reported two decades earlier. Hiring picked up in 2005 but petered out 10 years later, according to BLS data, and the number of oil and gas extraction jobs continue to shrink today.

Promoting policies that value an investment in a clean economy driven by renewable energy would create new manufacturing and infrastructure jobs. Other job opportunities would include those to mitigate the environmental and social costs that have yet to be paid. 

We have yet to reckon with the true costs of a carbon-based economy. The Blackjewel coal mining company will be allowed to walk away from its obligation to clean up and reclaim several Kentucky coal mines after seeking protection of a bankruptcy court, and its legal obligations for mines in four other states remain in limbo. 

Extreme weather events recorded this past year are expected to cost taxpayers, businesses, investors and homeowners $95 billion. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said a changing climate exacerbated by a carbon-based economy poses “an existential threat to not only our environment, but also our economy.” 

Economists at Scientific American estimated a “$25 carbon tax would boost U.S. employment by 1.4 million jobs” annually for a decade and expand in later years due to economic expansion. The analysis was performed in 2019 after details of the Green New Deal were unveiled. 

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade group, endorsed the concept on Thursday after rejecting the idea for years. There is reason to be skeptical of this sudden shift from an organization that waged a disinformation campaign for decades in an effort to cast doubt on climate science.

Managing risks and rewards is part of a free market economy. The oil and gas industry — like others that extract natural resources — is satisfied to reap the rewards but prefers to pawn off its risks to taxpayers.

A move to clean energy will put a stop to that. 

D.E. Smoot covers city/county government for the Phoenix. 

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