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Solar Is Creating Jobs Nearly 20 Times Faster Than Overall U.S. Economy

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Solar Is Creating Jobs Nearly 20 Times Faster Than Overall U.S. Economy

All those senators currently debating in Washington D.C., calling the Keystone XL pipeline approval bill an urgent "jobs creation bill," are looking for jobs in all the wrong places.

Solar installation alone added more jobs in 2014 than both the oil and natural gas sectors—jobs that can't be outsourced. Photo credit: The Solar Project

They should be perusing the National Solar Jobs Census 2014, the fifth annual such report compiled by the nonprofit Solar Foundation. What they'd find there puts the pipeline project to shame. Despite attacks on clean, renewable energy around the country, creating uncertainty in the sector,  job creation grew dramatically. It outperformed the slowly improving U.S. economy, creating jobs at nearly 20 times the rate of the overall economy.

Last year, jobs in solar increased by 21.8 percent, adding up to 31,000 new jobs in 2014 and bringing the total number of solar-related jobs in the U.S. to 173,800. That's an increase of 86 percent since 2010. The vast majority—approximately 157,500— work 100 percent on solar activities.

“The solar industry has once again proven to be a powerful engine of economic growth and job creation,” said The Solar Foundation's president and executive director Andrea Luecke. “Our Census findings show that one out of every 78 new jobs created in the U.S. over the past 12 months was created by the solar industry—nearly 1.3 percent of all jobs. It also shows for the fifth consecutive year, the solar industry is attracting highly skilled, well-paid professionals. That growth is putting people back to work and strengthening our nation’s economy.”

And despite attacks in states like Ohio, which froze its renewable energy standards last June and is talking about permanently eliminating them, The Solar Foundation projects that growth will continue. Its employer survey, which collected data from more than 7,600 U.S. businesses, found that the next year solar is likely to see a similar increase of almost 21 percent, bringing the total number of workers in the industry to 210,060.

“Demand for clean renewable power is growing," said Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. “Solar exists at the critical intersection between energy, the economy and the environment. As the nation’s fastest growing energy source, solar is adding thousands of new jobs each year. Its growth will almost surely continue to be robust in coming years.”

The survey also found that installation remains the largest source of domestic solar employment growth, more than doubling since 2010 and that those workers are more and more diverse, with more African-Americans, Hispanics, women and veterans than in the 2013 report. Solar installation jobs have already blown past employment in the shrinking coal industry, which is now down to only 93,185 jobs. And while the oil and gas pipeline construction and extraction added 19,217 jobs in 2014, the solar installation sector created almost 50 percent more jobs.

Those jobs are that can't be outsourced, won't disappear in two years like the Keystone XL construction jobs and don't come with negative health impacts or harmful impacts on the environment.

“The tremendous growth in the solar industry last year is further evidence that we can clean our air and cut climate pollution while also growing the economy,” said former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "The more data we have about the renewable energy industry, the better positioned policymakers and investors will be to make informed decisions. The Solar Jobs Census has the potential to help make that possible."

And with jobs in the wind sector increasing  rapidly as well, supporting fossil fuel industries at the expense of renewables seems like bad economic as well as bad environmental policy.

“Americans want greater clean energy deployment, and conventional electricity generation is among the largest sources of air and water pollution in the U.S.," said Lyndon Rive, CEO of Solar City, the largest solar employer in the U.S. “As the Census underscores, solar is providing a tremendous boost to our economy while meeting public demand for choice, competition and cleaner, more affordable energy.”

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A Michigan bald eagle proved that nature can still triumph over machines when it attacked and drowned a nearly $1,000 government drone.

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By Tara Lohan

Warming temperatures on land and in the water are already forcing many species to seek out more hospitable environments. Atlantic mackerel are swimming farther north; mountain-dwelling pikas are moving upslope; some migratory birds are altering the timing of their flights.

Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.

"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."

Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.

It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.

Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.

Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.

One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.

The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.

They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.

"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."

That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.

And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.

"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."

Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.

"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.

The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.

"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."


Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.

An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

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A quality engineer examines new solar panels in a factory. alvarez / Getty Images

Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.

For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.