One Year of a Coal CEO's Salary Could Transition U.S. Coal Miners to Work in Solar Industry
With the renewable energy sector growing leaps and bounds in the U.S., many critics—ahem, Donald Trump—argue that a transition to clean power would lead to the displacement of workers in the fossil fuel industry.
Coal and coal mining is a major threat to our environmentFlickr
Admittedly, these naysayers are not exactly wrong. Coal workers are genuinely worried as mines close and high-profile coal companies declare bankruptcy. Coal jobs are indeed on the decline, with the total number of employees at U.S. coal mines dipping to 74,931 employees in 2014, a decrease of 6.8 percent from the year prior. The Obama Administration's carbon cutting policies that takes direct aim at coal plants, alongside a drop in natural gas prices are only fueling these concerns of job security.
But what if the coal industry could adapt?
In a new study published in the journal Energy Economics, researchers from Michigan Technological University and Oregon State University found that a "relatively minor investment in retraining" would allow most coal workers to switch professions to the booming and job creating solar energy sector.
"Our study found that this growth of solar-related employment could benefit coal workers, by easily absorbing the coal-industry layoffs over the next 15 years and offering full-time careers," Joshua Pearce, the study's co-author and associate professor of materials science and engineering at Michigan Technological University, wrote in Harvard Business Review.
#Solar Is Creating Jobs Nearly 20 Times Faster Than Overall U.S. Economy http://t.co/IL9phEOStS @solarfound @IKEAUSA @solarcity @SEIA— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1421334104.0
The investment would cost between $180 million to $1.8 billion to switch the vast majority of U.S. coal miners to solar jobs, based on best and worst case scenarios, the authors estimated. In the best case scenario, employees who have non-coal specific positions, such as secretary and electrician, could find jobs outside of the PV industry. In the worst case scenario, all employees in coal mining will be absorbed into the PV industry.
Surprisingly, the researchers found that a coal CEO's annual salary would be more than enough money to retrain every company employee to work in solar, as Green Tech Media explained from the study:
The study noted that the CEO of Consol Energy earned about $14 million in 2012, more than enough to retrain all of the company's employees for jobs in the PV industry. Arch Coal, which has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, paid its executives and directors more than $29 million in the year leading up to its bankruptcy filing, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Here's how the team came to the study's conclusion, as Pearce explained:
Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we looked at all current coal industry positions (from engineers to mining and power plant operators to administrative workers), the skill sets required for each (for example, specific degrees and amount of work experience), and their respective average salaries. For each type of coal position, we determined the closest equivalent solar position and salary. For example, an operations engineer in the coal industry could retrain to be a manufacturing technician in solar and expect about a 10 percent salary increase. Similarly, explosive workers, ordinance handlers, and blasters in the coal industry could use their sophisticated safety experience and obtain additional training to become commercial solar technicians and earn about 11 percent more on average.
Our results show that there is a wide variety of employment opportunities in the solar industry, and that the annual pay is attractive at all levels of education, with even the lowest skilled jobs paying a living wage (e.g., janitors in the coal industry could increase their salaries by 7 percent by becoming low-skilled mechanical assemblers in the solar industry). In general, we found that after retraining, technical workers would make more in the solar industry than previously in coal. However, managers and particularly executives would make less.
The paper found four ways to fund "coal to solar job" training:
- Coal workers fund their own retraining
- Coal companies pay for retraining of their own workers
- Individual states provide "coal to solar" transition programs
- The federal government funds retraining
The study noted that the second option would only cost 5 percent of coal company's revenue from a single year to provide "solar scholarships" to workers. Companies would also have the feel-good factor of taking care of their workers while diversifying their energy portfolios at the same time.
From a public and environmental health perspective, switching from a polluting energy source to clean, green solar would improve worker health and be better for the planet. As EcoWatch mentioned previously, coal-fired power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of the country's emissions and collectively constitute the nation's single-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution.
Naturally, this study paints a very optimistic view that a coal CEO or an entire industry would want to make such drastic changes. Green Tech Media pointed out that it would be an impressive feat to convince coal companies or government bodies to take up the study's suggestions—especially for industry-backed politicians who promote coal as a political platform.
#Trump Promises an 'Energy Revolution': Roll Back Env Regs, Bolster Coal Industry & 'Cancel' Paris Agreement https://t.co/PxObkkHKbq @NRDC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1470749762.0
Additionally, as Green Tech Media mentioned, workers who live in states such as West Virginia and Kentucky, which do not have robust solar markets, would be forced to move to a different, solar-friendly state. Training employees for some solar-specific jobs would also require a new degree and several years of study.
However, as Pearce noted, "The writing on the wall for the coal industry is clear."
"Price pressure from natural gas, wind and solar has been relentless," he wrote. "Increasingly stringent environmental regulations to curb pollution continue to raise the costs of coal, and public perception of the industry continues to fall. The growing threat of liability due to inherent greenhouse gas emissions that come from coal combustion may climb to the hundreds of trillions of dollars. Young coal workers, in particular, should consider retraining for a job in solar now."
On that note, Hillary Clinton, who has no plans to reverse's President Obama's climate mandates, has called for a $30 billion initiative to revive coal country partly through clean job transitions. And, in a speech Thursday in Michigan said, "Some country is going to be the clean energy superpower of the 21st century and create millions of jobs and businesses. It's probably going to be either China, Germany or America. I want it to be us!"
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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