The De-Carbonization of America: Regional Shifts and Rising Inequality in the Green Economy

Authors: Virginia Parks*, University of California at Irvine, Mijin Cha, Occidental College
Topics: Economic Geography, Energy, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: economic restructuring, energy sector, labor, wages, climate, equity
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Directors Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


One of the main tools in the fight against climate change is to shift our energy use from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Indeed, from a climate perspective, we must cease the use of fossil fuels altogether to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. This shift will negatively impact communities and workers that are economically dependent upon fossil fuel extraction and use. This paper analyzes the trends in solar energy development and fossil fuel contraction as part of large economic restructuring trends. Similar to other industrial restructuring, the shift from fossil fuel extraction and use to renewable energy risks leaving workers unemployed or forced to take lower-wage jobs with fewer benefits. Current solar job mapping shows the geographic dimension of the sectoral shift from fossil fuels to solar installation—solar jobs are not being created where fossil fuel jobs are being lost. Moreover, the solar jobs created do not pay the same wages as fossil fuel jobs and while union density in the fossil fuel industry is declining, the union density in the solar industry is much lower. These factors indicate that the sectoral shift from fossil fuels to renewables will follow the path of previous industrial restructuring and leave workers in a more precarious economic state post-restructuring. Given the large economic restructuring we face, mainly from new forms of automation, particular concern must be paid to the transition to a low carbon economy to protect workers and communities economically dependent on fossil fuel extraction and use.

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