Well, I promised to do one of these a week. And my mother raised me never to lie to Twitter. Or something like that.

Today's energy nerd thread: Green Jobs. What's true. What we want to be true. And what we should be talking about. https://twitter.com/SeanCasten/status/1293905402686574592
1/ First, what's true: there are a lot of green jobs being created. Renewables, energy efficiency, EVs. Way more jobs were created there in the last decade than in dirtier sectors.
2/ And moreover, significant parts of the fossil sector haven't been major employers for a LOONG time. America has long employed more bakers than coal miners. Why we don't have politicians shooting ads in front of a row of flour-caked pastry chefs will always be a mystery.
3/ Now what we want to be true: the conversion to a green economy is a net job creation engine and all we need worry about is retraining. It's a nice story people tell, but it's not really true, nor is that necessarily a bad thing.
4/ The reason is because our energy infrastructure is old. Converting to a green infrastructure is essentially the replacement of 1950s tech with 2020s tech. That necessarily leads to a massive increase in productivity.
5/ A coal plant employs hundreds of people. Fuel handlers. Ash handlers. Rail yard operators. Boiler operators. Power & fuel marketers. A solar panel on your roof does not require you to hire an operator.
6/ Put 500,000 solar panels on 500,000 roofs and you will shut down a coal plant but none of those homes will hire new operators.
7/ Directionally, this is true for utility-scale solar too (+/- a few operators). And wind. And geothermal. And efficiency. Even going from coal to cleaner nat gas combined cycle leads to more MWh/unit of labor
8/ In other sectors, if you shift from a gasoline ICE to an EV, you go from a car that requires maintenance every 15,000 miles to one that only needs a tune up every 100,000 miles. Fewer moving parts. But also fewer service techs per mile driven.
9/ That's not to say we haven't really created a lot of jobs. But we've created construction jobs. Lots of them! But over the life of the investment, we are losing more operating jobs than we are gaining in construction jobs.
10/ But here's the thing: at a macro level, that's not a bad thing. Growth in labor productivity is ultimately the only long term way to ensure economic growth.
11/ Our lives are vastly better now that we don't depend on muscle power to churn our butter, weave our textiles, can our foods or smelt our steel. More wealth per person = higher standards of living and more free time for us to innovate whole new fields of endeavor.
12/ And those productivity gains aren't limited to "heavy" industries. Lots of Wall St. types have been replaced by algorithms. Much of the more mundane ends of the legal profession have been automated. AI is revolutionizing disease detection and diagnosis in the medical space
13/ Your phone is a job destroyer. The books you can get without going to a librarian. The magazines that no longer require a printer. The games that no longer need a video arcade attendant to refresh your stock of quarters.
14/ And so, like all forms of technological progress, the conversion to a green economy will also drastically boost labor productivity. That is a good thing.
15/ BUT... and this is where we get to what we should be talking about... I suspect you cringed at a few of those examples.
16/ Because at the individual level, productivity growth is a good thing if it means you only have to work half as many hours to make twice as much money. It doesn't feel so good when I get laid off so that you can do my job and yours for the same pay.
17/ We can - and should - embrace and encourage productivity for macroeconomic reasons, but we also can - and should - recognize that there is individual pain in that transition to an aggregate improvement in the average standard of living.
18/ Or to put it in Steinbeck-ian terms, we can appreciate the way that automation of agriculture made our food cheaper and still acknowledge that the second half of Ma Joad's life was a lot tougher than the first half.
19/ Politically, far too many have been tempted to look at the increase in green vs. brown jobs and tell people all will be OK - we just need to focus on retraining. But that's dishonest, and patronizing.
20/ Dishonest for all the reasons noted above. Patronizing because there are real lives in the balance. Telling young people to learn about solar is one thing. Telling a 55 y.o. rail operator to go back to community college to learn thin film deposition is something else.
21/ The good news here is that any energy system that efficiently allocates capital is going to transition to clean energy. Less opex on fuel + less opex on labor = higher profit margins. Capital investment will follow.
22/ The further good news is that the subsequent transition will grow our economy, for all the reasons that rising labor productivity has always grown our economy.
23/ And taken together, that means more wealth per capita. Our moral challenge is how to ensure that those economic gains are equitably distributed through our society. How do we ensure that those who helped provide us with yesterday's energy aren't thrown aside tomorrow?
24/ That's a good problem to have. But it is still a problem. And we won't start seriously working on it until we acknowledge it's existence.
25/ So embrace clean energy, even if only for selfish economic reasons. Embrace the (temporarily) surge in construction jobs. But do not make the lazy assumption that there will be no labor dislocation, nor that rising productivity benefits all equally.
26/ We have an amazing opportunity in front of us. But we have to be responsible with how we talk about it, and ethical about we allocate the fruits of our coming success. Now get to work! /fin
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