It is time for the energy jobs of the past to remain in the past

Courtesy of Unsplash | Renewable energy is the fastest-growing energy source in America since 2000.

04/07/2021

Troy Smajda | Staff Columnist

Driving on Route 22 from my home in Johnstown (a town with a long history of blue-collar work) to Pittsburgh (a town with an even longer history of blue collar work) I can’t help but notice some of the billboards telling drivers that nonrenewable energy jobs need to be saved.

This issue has been heavily discussed in America, with petroleum and natural gas still making up around 30% of the energy we consume as Americans, but it has been especially discussed throughout my home state of Pennsylvania with its numerous nonrenewable energy jobs, and especially with the dawn of real, sustainable renewable energy coming very soon.

And on my drive I can’t help but ponder this issue and wonder why these jobs are so heavily fought for, especially with their entire nature being predicated on harming the Earth. So I felt the need to explain my views on why these anachronistic jobs should stay in the past as we, as a planet, move on to renewable energy sources.

First of all, if there is an entirely new facet of an industry forming that helps the Earth, and the old way of doing things in the industry was painfully harmful to the Earth, then I just can’t see how the salaries of a few people today outweigh the long-term health of the Earth for millennia to come.

Next, if the energy industry is going in a new direction that is completely uncharted territory, doesn’t that mean there will be more than enough opportunity for jobs in this new direction?

A cursory example: if the coal mining industry is replaced with windmills, doesn’t someone have to finance, plan, build, oversee, and operate the windmills? I’m pretty sure they don’t grow on trees, so I’m assuming there will be jobs needed for windmill construction, implementation, and operation. Maybe, just maybe, the coal miners could work those newly created jobs that don’t harm the Earth.

I’ve heard the argument to this point that you can’t just turn coal miners into windmill technicians; that this issue is not that easy. To me, this is like pretentiously saying to a whole subset of the population “you can’t teach these old dogs new tricks,” which I, on the other hand, think is a bit presumptive about coal miners’ and blue collar workers’ ability to adapt and learn new trades. I optimistically can’t see why these workers, with perseverance and innovation, couldn’t learn some new skills.

At the end of the day, we’re all playing this game of capitalism, and I guess it is because I see firsthand all these other industries dying off and nobody up in arms about them, that it makes me confused as to why this outdated industry predicated on a finite amount of resources needs to be fought for when its source is running out.

It just seems like we’re collectively making this more complicated than it has to be, like we’re tearing the Band-Aid of nonrenewable energy off slowly to the detriment of the Earth and future generations, instead of just reckoning with it and ripping it off quickly and prudently.

Another road you can take from Johnstown to Pittsburgh is Route 30, and along that route is the Westmoreland Mall where my father works doing leasing for the company that owns that mall and many others. And it is because I see firsthand the retail industry he’s devoted his entire life to rapidly dying away as Amazon pillages it under the guise of “progress” that I can’t seem to understand why nonrenewable energy jobs (that actually do stand in the way of real human progress) are so adamantly fought for.

The death of Blockbuster Video never called for civil discourse and angry billboards; it was inevitable. The death of the movie theater industry is simply a meme now, a sigh of relief from all those not involved; it couldn’t have been avoided given the circumstances, right? Heck, the “Dirty O” in Oakland closed and nobody batted an eye. Industries change all the time. Improvement, out with the old and in with the new, is the entire foundation of capitalism. I just can’t see why the old industry of nonrenewable energy shouldn’t be replaced with the renewable.