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The Working Class of America; Job Loss in a Time of Sustainable Energy Revolution

One of the most controversial arguments in the switch to sustainable sources of energy and power is the job loss for workers within the fossil fuel and coal industries—what about their jobs? I believe this concern is completely justified and should be addressed in order to avoid leaving hard-working Americans in the dust as we plow toward climate revolution. It’s time to acknowledge the difficulties in making the necessary shift to clean energy sources.

According to The Environmental Defense Fund, “Over 100,000 coal jobs have been lost since the mid-1980s,” (EDF). COVID-19 only propelled the job displacement, along with wind energy prices having fallen 70%, and solar photovoltaics falling 89% on average (EDF). Coal plants are being pushed out in the favor of the environment and the consumer. Not only that, but The Environmental Defense Fund also states that “in 2019, U.S. renewable energy consumption surpassed coal for the first time in over 130 years.”

Credit is due to organizations such as the beyond coal campaign, and the twin organization across the Atlantic, Europe Beyond Coal. Credit is also due to the millions of young people around the world who have been advocating for climate justice to an incredible degree. As of 2020, 315 out of the 530 active coal plants in the United States have been permanently shut down, due to the work by the Beyond Coal Campaign (All We Can Save). This dramatic shift in our energy consumption is not only happening due to economic benefit. Advocacy has gotten us this far, and it will continue to be the driving force in this switch to renewable energy.

Yet workers around America are losing their jobs at coal plants and mines—losing an income, and for many health insurance and benefits. Not only does this impact the workers and their families, but “it creates a ripple effect beyond workers to entire communities, including families, teachers, local business owners, health care facilities and more,” (EDF).

The best way to address this issue is through policymakers. The same ones organizing the shifts to clean energy need to keep a humanitarian mindset when thinking about the displaced workers impacted through the shutdown of every coal plant and every mine. Currently, “EDF and Resources for the Future are partnering on a research series that can give policymakers the insights they need to ensure fairness for fossil fuel workers and communities,” (EDF). Other organizations, such as the BlueGreen Alliance, are creating in-depth plans to bolster future American jobs in clean energy through public opinion research and involving the coal-reliant communities that are suffering most. The goal is to “invest in training for the jobs of today and tomorrow; repairing, modernizing, and upgrading our infrastructure” as a whole (BlueGreen Alliance).

The working class of America has powered us this far, and it’s time to help create space through new jobs and opportunities for these people who are crucial to the success of our economy. The clean energy initiatives can’t operate without people on the front line. It’s also incredibly important to remember the power of local elections—while voting at the federal level is also important, your local policymakers are the ones determining the future careers in this case of the people in your community.

We are in this fight to create meaningful change, and addressing extreme economic transitions such as this one is important in recognizing how each of us are coming to the table with our own backgrounds, struggles, and scale of loss for the sustainable changes to come. This is the time for unification, and it starts by understanding a story.

Works Cited

All We Can Save. Edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine K. Wilkinson, New York, Penguin Random House LLC, 2020.

BlueGreen Alliance. “Working Class People on Jobs and the Environment.” BlueGreen Alliance, Accessed 10 Mar. 2023.

EDF. “How the Clean Energy Transition Affects Workers and Communities.” Environmental Defense Fund, 11 Aug. 2020, Accessed 10 Mar. 2023.

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