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A green future of work

This is the time for increasingly investing in the education and training of solar and wind power engineers, PV installers, ecologists, marine biologists and green design professionals to name a few.

Published: 14th June 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th June 2020 04:05 PM   |  A+A-

Power-generating windmill turbines are pictured in Suzlon wind farm at Sanodar village, in this September 8, 2009 (File photo/Reuters)

While editing a bunch of stories for an Asia-Pacific solarpunk anthology, I came across this character of a moody young woman on probation, assigned to tend the rooftop garden of a Singapore high-rise. Not really enamoured by plants or water filtration systems, she reluctantly joins, getting inevitably drawn into a conflict with her supervisor.

Yet her work is important as roof gardens supply vegetables and also counter the heat islanding effect, resulting in energy savings and reduced emissions.

In the climate-ravaged, disease-infested and catastrophe-prone planet that we inhabit, the question of availability of appropriate employment will increasingly trouble policy makers and job-seekers alike.

As countries slowly adopt strategies to counter worsening climate change parallel to developments in technologies like AI, blockchain, 3D printing and augmented/virtual reality elsewhere, the world of work is expected to undergo significant stress and disruptions.

Among other things, the wider adoption of energy-hungry technologies like AI or the blockchain-based Bitcoin whose annual carbon-footprint equals that of Las Vegas, and their impact on jobs, will be modulated by the availability or absence of robust alternative energy sources. 

Resources are finite and assuming no game-changing innovations happen in cheap and clean alternative energy like artificial photosynthesis, which could guarantee ‘limitless growth’, the best option for economies would be to downshift to sustainable pathways.

This would involve the use of renewables like solar, wind and sea wave power besides reducing resource usage through adoption of circular economy concepts like reuse, remake and recycle. While such measures will eat away jobs in certain industries, ‘green jobs’ will proliferate.      

According to the ‘World Employment and Social Outlook: Greening with Jobs’ report (2018), efforts to limit global warming to the Paris Agreement ceiling of a 2-degree centigrade rise will create enough green jobs to more than offset the loss of about six million jobs elsewhere. It also points out that 24 million new jobs could be created worldwide if the right policies to promote a greener economy are put in place. 

But where will these new opportunities arise and what sectors will be affected by such policies? Obviously oil will shed jobs while several others like renewable energy, green transport, solid waste management will absorb increasingly larger workforces. The International Labour Organisation estimates that by 2030, three million new jobs could be created in the renewables sector in India by a shift to a green economy. It is this prospect of a sustainable future topped with increased employment opportunities that should help to build wide-ranging support for earth-friendly policies.

Undoubtedly, policies are key. Without proper policy support, these projections will fall flat on their faces. In this country the establishment of the Skill Council for Green Jobs among other measures is a step in the right direction. Still a lot more needs to be done post-haste without backtracking in related fields. With runaway climate change and the widening wounds of a pandemic, the window of manoeuvrability is closing quickly.

The Covid-19 shock in April itself resulted in job losses for 27 million youth in India. This virus has brought humanity to a fork in the path, a decisive moment, which offers the opportunity to steer away from unsustainable development. Now that links between certain diseases, climate change and unsustainable production and consumption have been exposed and while we in India get battered with overlapping climate-related catastrophes like cyclones and locust attacks, this is an opportune moment for a radical policy shift towards a green economy. The clock is ticking away.     

This is the time for increasingly investing in the education and training of solar and wind power engineers, PV installers, ecologists, marine biologists and green design professionals to name a few. This is the hour to further incentivise green transport and rooftop farming, time to fully adopt solid-waste management techniques while ceaselessly promoting production and consumption that is softer on the planet. 

‘It is very important that green business in the MSME sector be facilitated with incentives, risk coverage, technology, infrastructure and regulatory framework,’ says Saikat Samanta, CEO of a Delhi-based solar power consultancy. ‘My conscience is easier,’ he adds when I ask him how he feels about his green job. His words connect me back to that reluctant woman in the rooftop garden of Singapore. Does she have a change of heart? That’s for the book to reveal but if a brave green world has to rise from the gathering ashes of climate disaster then the future of work must align with the vision of a sustainable planet.Email: rajat@rajatchaudhuri.net

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