Many people hope and believe that renewable energy will create more jobs than it will destroy, but at the end of the day, the numbers used by Mark Jacobson – who is promoting the plan – would still leave us at losing over a million more jobs than we gain. If this is the optimistic outlook, we have to wonder what the pessimistic one would be.
That hasn’t stopped this plan from gaining some traction and popularity, however. Of course, fossil fuels don’t seem set to go quietly into the night anytime soon, so perhaps this is a bit early to be worrying about that. Read the details below the break, and judge for yourself!
A recent study outlining a “roadmap” for transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy would cause a significant loss of permanent jobs, based on a review by Energy In Depth. The research has been widely cited by anti-fossil fuel activists, whose advocacy includes the supposed job benefits of replacing oil, natural gas, and coal with renewable technologies like wind and solar.
The study, whose lead author is Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, was published last summer in the journal Energy & Environmental Science. The authors attempted to model how the United States could transition away from coal, oil, natural gas, and even nuclear to rely solely on wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and tidal and wave energy by 2050. Jacobson has produced similar research for individual states, and has long advocated for a renewables-only energy system.
Stanford professor Mark Z. Jacobson promotes his plan to transition to 100 percent renewables during a New York anti-fracking rally in 2013.
Jacobson claims that the nationwide transition would create more jobs than it would destroy, while generating several other economic and environmental benefits. As he noted in a release from last summer:
“When you account for the health and climate costs – as well as the rising price of fossil fuels – wind, water and solar are half the cost of conventional systems… A conversion of this scale would also create jobs, stabilize fuel prices, reduce pollution-related health problems and eliminate emissions from the United States. There is very little downside to a conversion, at least based on this science.” (emphasis added)
In addition to his peer-reviewed study, Jacobson also directs his website’s readers to visit the Solutions Project, an advocacy group at which Jacobson serves on the Board of Directors. A graphic from the Solution Project claims that a transition to 100 percent renewable energy in the United States will create millions of new jobs. A separate graphic allows users to see the jobs that would be created in each of the 50 states.
But according to the supporting data that Jacobson published on his website, the transition would actually destroy nearly four million long-term jobs nationwide, with a net loss – incorporating the permanent job gains from renewables and energy efficiency – of more than 1.2 million jobs.
In a recent interview with CNN, Jacobson said three times that transitioning the world entirely to renewables would create “22 million more jobs” than it would destroy. He even conceded that “one does not need to believe in climate change to want to transition energy,” due to the supposed economic benefits.
But buried toward the end of a dense Excel sheet with over 60 tabs, located on a dedicated page within a faculty website, Jacobson quantifies the exact number of job losses by sector from transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. In transportation, more than 2.4 million men and women would be put out of work. Over 800,000 people working to produce oil and natural gas would lose their jobs. Nearly 90,000 jobs connected to coal mining would be wiped out. All told, more than 3.8 million jobs would be lost, far more than the nearly 2.6 million long-term jobs that Jacobson has estimated would be created.
In a highlighted column entitled “Net Long Term Jobs,” Jacobson’s table shows a negative 1,284,030.
The job losses, however, are not equally distributed across the country. Many states, even those with a “green” reputation, would experience tens if not hundreds of thousands of lost permanent jobs.
- California: 221,738 long-term jobs lost
- New York: 80,113 permanent jobs lost
- Hawaii: 9,013 permanent jobs lost
- Vermont: 4,584 long-term jobs lost
Other states would also see huge losses. Texas, the country’s largest oil and natural gas producer, would shed more than a quarter million long-term jobs by transitioning to 100 percent renewables. In Wyoming, the largest coal producing state, the transition would destroy more than 32,000 jobs connected to the energy sector.
However, Jacobson’s study has given environmentalists a chance to sell their vision on economic terms, even if the details contradict that message. Prominent environmental groups have embraced Jacobson’s work, placing heavy emphasis on his economic claims.
Earlier this year, Hawaii announced a plan to go 100 percent renewable by 2050, the same implementation timeline that Jacobson estimates will cost the state nearly 10,000 permanent jobs.
On the campaign website for Bernie Sanders, the socialist U.S. senator running for president, Bill McKibben promoted Jacobson’s 50-state transition plan, which he said shows how states “could be easily and affordably producing all their power renewably by 2030.”
While many experts dispute the feasibility of Jacobson’s plan for a renewables-only energy grid, the severe job losses are far more difficult to dispute, given that they come directly from Jacobson’s research. Those job losses would undoubtedly be devastating for millions of American families.