Coal Industry Hands Out Pink Slips While Green Collar Jobs Take Off

Washington, D.C.-A transition to renewable energy sources promises significant global job gains at a time when the coal industry has been hemorrhaging jobs for years, according to the latest Vital Signs Update released by the Worldwatch Institute.

The coal, oil, and natural gas industries require steadily fewer jobs as high-cost production equipment takes the place of human capital. Many hundreds of thousands of coal mining jobs have been shed in China, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and South Africa during the last two decades, sometimes in the face of expanding production. In the United States alone, coal industry employment has fallen by half in the last 20 years, despite a one-third increase in production.

"Renewables are poised to tackle our energy crisis and create millions of new jobs worldwide," according to Worldwatch Senior Researcher Michael Renner. "Meanwhile, fossil fuel jobs are increasingly becoming fossils themselves, as coal mining communities and others worry about their livelihoods."

Strong government support has allowed Germany, Spain, and Denmark to emerge as leaders in renewable energy development-and green jobs. The German government reports that the country was home to an estimated 259,000 direct and indirect jobs in the renewables sector in 2006. This figure is expected to reach 400,000-500,000 by 2020, and 710,000 by 2030. In the United States, the renewables sector employed close to 200,000 people directly and 246,000 indirectly in 2006, due mostly to leadership at the state level. China is rapidly catching up in manufacturing of solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind turbines and is already the dominant global force in solar hot water development.

An estimated 2.3 million people worldwide currently work either directly in renewables or indirectly in supplier industries. The solar thermal industry employs at least 624,000 people, the wind power industry 300,000, and the solar PV industry 170,000. More than 1 million people work in the biomass and biofuels sector, while small-scale hydropower employs 39,000 individuals and geothermal employs 25,000.

These figures are expected to swell substantially as private investment and government support for alternative energy sources grow. The most optimistic analyses project that global wind power employment will increase to as much as 2.1 million in 2030 and 2.8 million in 2050. Similar projections estimate that worldwide solar PV production alone could create as many as 6.3 million jobs by 2030.

"Government officials now have yet another reason to put the full weight of their support behind renewables," said Renner. "In addition to protecting our planet and phasing out an increasingly limited resource, policies that support renewable energy also support job creation."