As global warming and Earth’s environment become an evermore-pressing matter, one must ask what will become of fossil fuels like coal, and all of the individuals the mineral employs. Long considered the most dominant source of power on the planet, coal is finally being overtaken. Over the past thirty years, the coal industry has seen a major decline in employment as it has taken major hits from advancements in renewable energy and global emissions awareness.
From the graph above, one can see how the coal industry’s labor force has been reduced by more than double its size since 1985. In the past five years alone, the coal industry suffered losses of around 50,000 jobs. The United States is currently in a state of energy upheaval, and fossil fuel providers are in the environmentalist’s crosshairs. With President Obama’s vow to properly address climate change, a plan was finally released last year to reduce emissions. Regulations as well as activist efforts to close coal plants have proven detrimental to the industry. Reports stated that the coal industry would fare the worst with the rise of renewable energy and climate change awareness.
With solar and wind energy growing ever cheaper with innovation, carbon-emitting fossil fuels are slowly becoming obsolete. There is considerable evidence pointing towards the presence of global warming, and more and more companies are installing clean technologies and power sources. Presumably, these companies are getting onboard because climate change has progressively become a more serious issue, and renewable energy sources are growing more affordable.
From 2008-2012, employment within the U.S. energy workforce changed dramatically. Coal suffered losses of 49,534 jobs, while natural gas increased by 94,702 jobs and wind/solar by 79,016. Both clean energy industries’ workforces grew by almost double the amount of the workforce that the coal industry lost. While coal industry employment is decreasing, two new sources of energy are more than making up for the loss of jobs suffered in the energy sector.
The transition from coal to cleaner energy sources will not happen overnight. Nonetheless, the movement is inevitable. While there is the possibility that technologies may be developed to capture and clean carbon emissions in coal plants as they are released, it does not seem very plausible. Commercial use of this technology has been deemed too costly. Nonetheless, coal will still provide energy and power to third-world and developing countries across the globe for decades to come. In developed countries with advanced economies, fossil fuels appear to be on the way out.
What we have here is a unique twist on a classic economic theory, the tragedy of the commons. The tragedy of the commons is a situation where a shared-resource system gets depleted through the collective action of different users acting in their own self-interest. The coal industry is a prime example of this. Coal companies have gradually and unknowingly (until it was too late) ruined their own industry through oversaturation as well as the discovery of harmful carbon emissions. While many people employed by coal companies will eventually lose their jobs, the reduction and eventual eradication of carbon emissions will serve humanity well. There will undoubtedly be a tumultuous transition, but the social marginal benefit of clean energy for our planet is immense and irrefutable.