Where values and opportunities converge
The headline seized my attention: “Millennials are killing the oil industry.” Kate Aronoff, writing for The Nation, described a recent report by Ernst & Young (EY): “Fifty-seven percent of teens now see the fossil fuel industry as bad for society, and 62% of those aged 16 to 19 say working for oil and gas companies is unappealing,” she writes. “Millennials dislike the oil industry the most of any potential employer, with only 2% of college graduates in the United States listing the oil and gas industry as their first-choice job placement.” A 2016 report by McKinsey& Company, also cited by Aronoff, draws similar conclusions: “Millennials don’t just want personal career growth; they expect to make a positive contribution to society. However, 14% ofmillennials say they would not want to work in the oil and gas industry because of its negative image—the highest percentage of any industry.”
Both studies frame the problem for their oil and gas clients in terms of perception, not substance. For example, McKinsey draws upon research about Millennials’ communications skills and affinity for teamwork—environmentally-knowledgeable young people don’t want to work for an industry that pollutes their air and water and exacerbates climate change.
A 2017 study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) called “Now Hiring: The Growth of America’s Clean Energy & Sustainability Jobs” lays out abundant alternatives. EDF documented four million direct jobs across the sustainability spectrum, in renewable energy, energy efficiency, transportation, corporate management and the public sector. In a range of energy categories—solar, wind, bioenergy, geothermal and small hydropower—they found that renewable energy jobs overall have enjoyed steady growth with a combined aggregated growth rate (CAGR) of 6% over the past five years. Over the same period, oil and gas and coal experienced an overall decline of -4.25% CAGR. Jobs in solar energy are growing at 12 times the rate for the rest of the U.S. economy. The University of Massachusetts found that investments in renewable energy create three times more jobs than the same amount invested in fossil fuels.
Energy-efficiency jobs include building retrofits, industrial efficiency, systems analysis, product design, manufacturing, installation and maintenance—including energy-efficient lighting and advanced heating and cooling equipment—all of which can improve the health and comfort of building occupants while saving on operational costs and reducing GHG emissions. Jobs in the advanced vehicles sector include designers, engineers, assembly workers and repair technicians. Public and private sector fields include systems analysis, policy development, project design, water use, waste reduction and environmental education.
As a baby boomer who often thinks she must have been trapped behind the door when her cohort’s most notorious traits were being handed out, I’m skeptical about sweeping demographic generalizations. But this time I hope they are true, because there are so many opportunities for young people who care about the planet.