From the United Nations climate summit in Paris this month, one thing is as clear as the need for clean air.
It’s that the energy production industries that dominated in the last two centuries with the build up of the industrial age are headed into an unwilling, unwanted sunset. The planet simply can’t afford the continued burning of coal and oil to power people’s endless energy needs.
Those two sources will shoulder a huge share of the planned cutback in greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. They already are. Many electric utilities are switching to green alternatives such as wind farms and solar generation fields.
In Paris, an agreement was forged among about 190 nations to reduce carbon emissions. The goal from the U.N. climate change agreement is to keep global temperatures from rising 1.8 degrees between now and 2100.
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It is to at least slow the melting of the polar ice caps and the rising sea levels threatening shorelines and island nations. Climate change negotiators also hope that their efforts will reduce the spreading droughts, deserts and more violent storms. All are costly, particularly for developing nations.
People, companies and countries also must shift more rapidly away from burning fossil fuels, which produce the damaging greenhouse gases, to renewable alternative energy sources. That includes wind farms, solar, hydro-electric power and geothermal energy.
In addition, those countries with rainforests, called the lungs of the planet, must stop clear cutting them so they can help absorb more carbon dioxide.
The casualties from the Paris agreement will be counted in the continued shutdown of coal mines and oil fields. Last week workers at the last operating deep coal mine in Great Britain ended their final shift. At its peak in the 1920s, Britain’s mining industry had more than a million workers with demand for coal to power factories, heat homes and provide fuel for trains.
Britain gets about a fifth of its electricity today from coal, but that is shifting to cleaner alternatives, The Associated Press reports. That shift will continue in Great Britain and in other countries.
Coal mining states in the U.S. also are feeling the effects of cutbacks and job losses. It’s not unlike what occurred in the 1980s when factories in the Rust Belt closed, industries moved overseas, workers were laid off and cities suffered.
Recovery has been difficult. With the energy sector of the economy, the shift will have to be in green energy sources, putting new generations with updated skills to work.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and other countries will have to worry about older workers. Like employees in the Rust Belt era, the pensions they may have hoped for in retirement are questionable, and the Social Security they’ll get when they finally reach the qualifying age will likely not be enough to live on.
In addition to taking care of nations’ future green energy needs, negotiators at the U.N. climate summit should also have set aside resources and a plan to take care of the retraining cost and re-employment needs of outmoded old-energy sector workers. They still have many productive years left in them.
Like energy inefficiency, it would be a terrible shame to let people’s productivity go to waste.