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More than half of workers in the global oil and gas sector say they are interested in pursuing employment in the renewable energy industry—a promising development that comes as experts say the pace of the worldwide transition to clean power must speed up to stave off the worst consequences of the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis.
That’s according to a report published Tuesday by the recruitment firm Brunel and Oilandgasjobsearch.com, which includes a survey showing that 56% of fossil fuel workers want to pursue employment in the renewable energy sector, up from 39% last year.
Despite receiving trillions of dollars in subsidies each year, as well as additional bailout money during the Covid-19 pandemic, oil and gas companies responded to the coronavirus-driven decline in demand and prices by firing tens of thousands of workers, rather than furloughing them while production decreased.
Now that demand and prices are on the upswing, many of those same companies are reportedly finding it difficult to rehire the employees they need to increase supply.
According to the survey, 82% of recruiters said that for every 10 job openings, one has remained unfilled for more than three months. Due to a shortage of qualified candidates, 10% of fossil fuel industry employers have had to pay retirees to take open positions.
In response to those figures, Mijin Cha, an assistant professor of Urban and Environmental Policy at Occidental College, encouraged people to “never, ever feel sorry for oil and gas companies.”
Despite climate scientists’ repeated warnings about the need to keep coal, oil, and gas underground to have a fighting chance of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC above preindustrial levels by the end of the century, fossil fuel corporations are currently planning to expand extraction in wealthy and impoverished nations alike.
Those plans could be hindered if enough oil and gas workers leave the field. “With more workers gravitating towards the renewables sector,” said Tuesday’s report, “it’s likely that the industry will continue to see an exit from those in traditional sectors.”
While the Big Oil lobby argues that decarbonization will leave millions of workers unemployed, advocates for a just transition have always emphasized that the shift to a post-carbon economy should be treated as an opportunity to create good-paying jobs that simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and economic inequality.
A study published earlier this year found that shifting from fossil fuels to renewables would add eight million jobs worldwide, boosting overall employment in the energy sector by more than 40% by 2050. Another recent study confirmed that green public spending yields far more jobs than unsustainable investments.
According to the International Energy Agency, “To reach net-zero emissions by 2050, annual clean energy investment worldwide will need to more than triple by 2030 to around $4 trillion.”
Doing so would “create millions of new jobs,” said the IEA, and there’s plenty of work to be done. Quadrupling global solar power by 2030, for instance, “is equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day” for the rest of this decade.