30 green jobs that can help fight climate change
April 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a now-global holiday that began as an environmental protest in 1970. On the first Earth Day, inspired by the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 and other disasters caused by growing pollution in the U.S., 20 million Americans gathered in streets and parks to call for more environmental regulation. In 2020, as digital Earth Day actions span the globe, environmental activists' demands have grown to include jobs, education, and environmental justice.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) in February 2019 introduced a resolution called the Green New Deal. The plan was designed as a response to the looming threat of climate change, much as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal responded to the Great Depression: Both resolved to make sweeping reforms and ensure mass job creation. The Green New Deal is the first policy proposal to address climate change with this gravity and scale.
In the resolution's preamble, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Markey state: “the Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen.” A Green New Deal, then, could revitalize America's current middle class while providing new opportunities for communities that were left out of previous economic progress. More specifically, this legislation includes investments in new sustainability projects on state and local levels, as well as resources and training in environmental and environment-related fields.
A majority of Americans support green policies such as a commitment to renewable energy and EPA regulation of carbon dioxide, according to a 2018 report by the progressive think tank Data for Progress: 55% of those polled support a green job guarantee. The Green New Deal was defeated in the Senate in March 2019 but support for its policies nevertheless continues publicly and politically. Democratic presidential candidates including Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pledged billions to climate plans; these policymakers agree that addressing the threats caused by climate change and preparing America for a more sustainable future will only come with a significant mobilization of workers, as well as a changing focus in our education system.
What jobs would be created by the Green New Deal, or another policy like it? It may surprise you to learn that you don't need a degree in environmental science to fight climate change. Much of the work that must be done to make our country more sustainable will be accomplished by farmers, construction workers, and electricians—and much of that work is starting at the local level already.
Inspired by a list of green jobs in Data for Progress' report, Stacker explains which occupations are on the front line against climate emergency. Read on to learn about everything from energy auditing to tree planting, and how you can get involved.
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Administrative support is a crucial, albeit often thankless, role in any industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that almost 4 million Americans in 2016 were employed as secretaries and administrative assistants in fields as diverse as schools, hospitals, and government offices. As climate change and sustainability become higher priorities in both the private and public sectors in the coming years, the roles of many administrative workers may change from traditional clerical duties to include more work with large-scale environmental data, communication, and grassroots organizing.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a brownfield as a property, once used for commercial or industrial purposes, which cannot easily be expanded, developed, or reused due to pollutants or other hazardous substances. There are over 450,000 such properties in the U.S., ranging from large former factory sites to smaller abandoned gas stations. The EPA's Brownfields Program, started in 1995, aims to help property owners and other stakeholders safely assess, clean, and redevelop their brownfields in a sustainable manner. This program has fostered the revitalization of more than 7,000 properties since its inception and has supported almost 150,000 administrative roles and manual labor jobs.
One way to reduce American reliance on fossil fuels is by building electrification. Workers are brought in to construct new buildings and convert old ones to be entirely reliant on electric sources, such as electric air source heat pumps and heat pump water heaters, which conserve energy and may increasingly be powered by renewable sources. Several local governments across the country, including Marin County and Palo Alto in California, have updated their building ordinances to require electric power for new buildings. Such electrification requires electrical engineers, architects, and construction workers alike to gain expertise in sustainable heating technology.
Building rehabilitation, remediation, and hardening
Building rehabilitation, remediation, and hardening involve the preservation of old buildings to bring them up to modern health and sustainability standards. This may include removing dangerous substances that were used in previous construction efforts, such as asbestos, chlordane, lead, and polychlorinated biphenyls (or PCBs), organic compounds which cause a wide range of health problems in animals and humans. Similarly to building electrification, this job may require people with different levels of education or specialized expertise, from environmental specialists (who need at least a bachelor's degree) to construction laborers.
For humanity to turn things around and protect the planet from the impending dangers of climate change, we must first collectively get on the same page about what those dangers entail. To that end, science communicators have a key role in helping members of the public, from lawmakers to ordinary voters, understand how their communities are impacted by climate change and what they can do to help. Science communicators may start with a background in science, communication, or a combination of the two, and may work as journalists, for government agencies, or in other multimedia roles.
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Similarly to science communicators, community educators help fight climate change by providing people with the necessary knowledge and skills to get active in their own backyards. Community educators may work with schools, government agencies, activist groups, and other local institutions to lead workshops and other types of training events. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job opportunities for this occupation, which usually require a bachelor's degree, will grow by 18% from 2016 to 2026—much faster than the average.
Disaster preparedness training
One inescapable impact of climate change is its effect on extreme weather: A March 2019 study by Carbon Brief suggests that 68% of all extreme weather events investigated to date, including heatwaves, droughts, and hurricanes, have been made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change. The field of emergency preparation must then grow in kind, to help the government and other public safety workers respond to emergencies as quickly and effectively as possible. And disaster preparedness doesn't just apply to weather, either—climate change is also tied to more long-lasting natural disasters, such as disease epidemics which can spread much more rapidly in our increasingly globalized world.
[Pictured: Firefighters train ahead of wildfire season.]
Electric vehicle and biofuel integration
Electric cars and hybrids are becoming increasingly affordable: While Tesla's first electric car, the Roadster, cost over $100,000 at its release in 2008, consumers may now purchase a Hyundai, Chevrolet, or Volkswagen model for a third of that price. Electric cars reduce pollution, save their owners money, and may now be charged at home or on the road. The automobile industry is also shifting to develop and rely on biofuels, or fuels made out of sustainable plant and animal materials, which cut down our reliance on oil.
[Pictured: National Renewable Energy Laboratory engineers work in electric vehicle supply equipment.]
Energy auditing, similar to its financial counterpart, involves the official inspection and assessment of the energy that specific homes or other buildings are using. Professional energy auditors may conduct such an inspection by examining each room of a building, using equipment such as blower doors (to measure how airtight different rooms are) and infrared cameras (to detect hot and cold areas around doors, windows, and walls). The U.S. Department of Energy recommends that homeowners conduct an energy audit before making energy-saving home improvements, such as installing solar panels or changing heating systems.
[Pictured: FirstEnergy Launches Grid Modernization Program in Pennsylvania.]
Energy storage technology
The U.S. electricity grid has the overall capacity to store about 23 gigawatts of energy: approximately the capacity of 38 typical coal plants, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. This storage, which primarily relies on nuclear power, is currently serving us well: At night, when demand for electricity is low, the energy from nuclear power plants is built up and stored for high-demand hours the next day.
However, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power produce energy at more variable rates; as a result, if our energy reliance shifts further toward these methods (as the Green New Deal and other proposals suggest), expert engineers will need to increase our storage capacity. New energy storage methods currently under development include thermal storage, compressed air, and large-scale batteries.
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