Let's talk green jobs | Earth Day Network

By Brandon Pytel

Monday is Labor Day, a day inherently tied to the workforce and the economy. As the negative economic impacts of climate change come to bear, there’s also a positive flip side: the enormous economic opportunity of clean, renewable energy. The U.S. is in a unique position to cash in on this burgeoning market.

We’re talking green jobs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest projected occupation growth between 2016 and 2026 is in the renewable energy sector: Solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians top the list, with 105 percent and 96 percent increases respectively.

Ready to dust off your resume? National Geographic cites 11 of the fastest growing green jobs, from water quality technicians and natural scientists to green builders and recyclers (God knows we need help on the last one).

By 2035 more than half of the world’s power generation will be renewable. That means there will be a ton of job opportunities in cleaner energy.

The U.S. has transformed some of the 20th century’s most important fields. In transportation alone, the country led the way in railroad, automobile and airplane industries and contributed greatly to developments in space technology. Who says we can’t do the same for renewable energy jobs?

Admittedly, there are several big barriers.

The fossil fuel habit is tough to shake, and our country was built by the stuff. Modern America created an industrial superpower by cashing in on the vast expanse of land and resources unavailable in places like Europe.

Not to mention, fossil fuels are deeply embedded in our country’s history and identity: The boom-and-bust towns of the Wild West were dependent on mining operations; Texas is inherently connected to oil tycoons (two of my favorite movies are “There Will Be Blood” and “Giant,” so I get it); and from Appalachia to the Dakotas, coal runs deep into the geographical and social countryside.

But this reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable. By continuously burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, we emit heat-capturing gases into our atmosphere and warm our planet. Limiting this output is our best bet in avoiding a climate catastrophe.

If the last century was defined fossil fuels, the next one will be defined by renewable energy. Our resource-heavy history has given us an advantage over foreign markets; let’s use it to our advantage again.

Our coal-heavy, oil-gushing western lands are also full of renewable energy like sunshine and wind. If Texas were a country, it would rank fifth in the world for wind-power capacity. Not surprisingly, the sun-drenched southwestern states account for nearly three-quarters of all U.S. solar-energy production.

Recent investments in declining industries like coal, our consumption of which has been falling since its peak in 2007, distract from the opportunities elsewhere. Not only is coal dirtier; it’s becoming increasingly unpopular. Unsurprisingly, most people prefer clean air to smog.

A shift toward green jobs means we also need to stop subsidizing the oil and gas industry to the tune of $20 billion a year. It’s like burning money, if the smoke from that money also altered the Earth’s climate.

The world is warming up to the opportunity of green jobs: In 2017, renewable energy created half a million jobs, making more than 10 million people employed in renewables globally. If the U.S. doesn’t lead the way, we’re missing a big opportunity. And if we continuously invest in fossil fuels, we’ll fall behind in the global economy while also destroying our planet.

It’s time for another revolution, not industrial but green. Let’s take what we’ve learned over the last century and use it to become a green role model. We can’t bank on the massive coal and oil reserves anymore, but we can use our collective innovation and creativity to invest in a sustainable future.

Incredible opportunity is right around the corner. Will we seize it?