Friday, November 2, 2012

Careers for a Hot Planet

This blog entry is not as data-driven as some others, because I did not have access to my usual databases when I wrote it. I was in another state, using a borrowed computer, because super-storm Sandy had knocked out the power at my home. (I live in New Jersey.) The storm also made me think about global warming and its implications for career choice.

There is no way to prove that Sandy--or any specific weather event--has been the result of global climate change. However, there has been a recent uptick in destructive weather events. And the build-up of greenhouse gases is also expected to cause crop failures, rising sea levels, and acidification of the oceans. This will affect our lives in many ways, including changes in demand for certain workers.

One career that will see increased demand is lineworkers. I am especially aware of this career because one of these workers recently married into my family. Last week, once the weather forecasters became aware of Sandy's likely path and destructive power, lineworkers from states as far-flung as Indiana and Georgia were dispatched to New Jersey and other hard-hit locations. Future storms will bring down power lines and telecommunications lines, and these workers will be summoned to patch up the grid again and again. In addition, they will be needed to run power lines to new locations as solar-power farms and other new electricity sources are set up, and to string fiber-optic and conventional cable to neighborhoods that presently are not connected. Electrical power-line installers and repairers are projected to grow by 13 percent between 2010 and 2020. Growth of 14 percent is projected for telecommunications line installers and repairers. These are good careers for those who like working outdoors and who have no fear of heights.

Many scientific and technological jobs will be created to solve the problems that global climate change brings on. For example, one result of climate change will be disruption of the synchrony between agricultural pests and the predators that historically have kept the pests in check. Agricultural scientists and technicians will be needed to develop and implement new ways to control pests. Conservation and environmental scientists will be needed to measure the impact of climate change on ecosystems and wildlife populations.

Changes in climate will result in human migrations. These disruptions will create demand for occupations as diverse as movers, real estate sales agents, urban and regional planners, community service managers, and social workers.

Of course, there will be--and is already--growth in the jobs whose purpose is to reduce the production of the greenhouse gases that are the root cause of global climate change. Solar panel installers, electric vehicle technicians, wind turbine mechanics, and biofuels production managers are some of these occupations. The Department of Labor is starting to develop information about these emerging green occupations, but reliable figures about average earnings and job-growth projections are not yet available.

Election Day is upon us, and I was disappointed to observe that global climate change was entirely overlooked in the presidential and vice-presidential debates. But science and politics are not always comfortable companions. The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has one member who believes that Earth is only 9,000 years old. (Ironically, my congressman, Rush Holt, does not serve on this committee even though he has taught college physics and has been the Assistant Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.) It does not seem likely that government will take the measures that will be needed to stop global climate change--if it is not already too late.  Private industry certainly will not step up to the challenge.

So it looks as if careers for a hot planet will be the hot jobs of the future.

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