As the coronavirus pandemic rages on and as people rise up against entrenched racism, it’s easy to forget that we’re facing another global crisis.
Last year was the second hottest year ever recorded since humanity started recording temperatures, and nine out of 10 hottest years have been since 2005. Siberia, of all places, is going through a heat wave and wildfires that scientists attribute to climate change.
The scientific consensus is overwhelming: We have to transform our entire society and economy at a rapid pace to avert catastrophic climate change.
Given the facts about climate change, the only valid debates around phasing out fossil fuels are how fast we do it, what we replace them with, and how we ensure that the process of transition is just for all workers and communities.
The good news is that renewable energy can create far more jobs than fossil fuels in the places that need them most — while protecting our planet. That’s why the recent news that three key oil and gas pipeline projects are either dead or on life support should be a cause to celebrate.
First, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy abandoned the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) project, which would have transported natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina.
Finally, the Supreme Court refused to lift an order by a lower court blocking a key permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported Canadian tar sands oil, an especially polluting fuel.
When pipelines shut down or don’t get built, that means fewer fossil fuels can be extracted and sold. That’s good news for the planet. It’s also good for those communities — who are disproportionately poor and people of color — who are affected by toxic pollution at every stage of fossil fuel production and use.
That includes Indigenous peoples in Alberta, Canada, whose homeland has been turned into a hellscape by tar sands oil extraction. It includes the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota, whose drinking water supply is threatened by DAPL. And it includes the historic black community of Union Hill, Virginia, which would have been exposed to a polluting compressor station if the developers of the ACP had their way.
It’s true that workers in the oil and gas industry need good jobs as the industry is phased out. They’re not to blame for their employers’ reckless greed. Likewise, communities who depend on the industry for their local economy and tax base must not be left stranded, but provided the resources they need to build a thriving new economy in place of oil and gas.
But the claim that these pipeline projects are good for jobs is disingenuous. The truth is, the fossil fuel economy doesn’t create that many jobs, particularly when compared to renewable energy.
The nationwide total of energy efficiency jobs alone — for example, retrofitting buildings and manufacturing and installing energy-efficient appliances — is more than twice the total of all fossil fuel jobs (in mining and drilling, transportation, processing, refining, and power generation). It’s also growing six to seven times faster.
Similarly, solar energy jobs outnumber natural gas jobs, and the two fastest growing occupations in the country are solar installers and wind turbine technicians. A systematic program of investment in renewables and energy efficiency will create many more jobs than pipelines — and pose far less threat to life on our planet.
We should be celebrating the loss of these pipelines. It’s good for all of humanity, especially affected communities. And we’ll have many more jobs overall if our government reverses its backward policies of subsidizing and propping up fossil fuels, and proactively transforming our energy system instead.