Have you heard much about China’s air pollution problem? Industrial pollution, coal-fired power plants and sands from the Gobi Desert have combined to make certain Chinese cities some of the most polluted places on Earth. According to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, pollution levels topping 700 on the Environmental Protection Agency’s air pollution chart were recorded more than once this past summer. If the number 700 means very little to you, consider this fact to put it into context: On a particularly smoggy day in the middle of the summer, air pollution in Los Angeles might hit a level of 200. During a bad summer, L.A. might have a dozen or so days at that level.
Beijing, by contrast, was hovering around 500 for a period of several weeks; more than once, they topped 700. The air pollution is so bad that most average citizens walk around with a mask covering their faces. Food vendors don’t sell their treats outside because the air can literally poison the food. All in all, while some people in the United States still want to debate the impact of human enterprise on the environment, in China no one, not even the ethically dubious Chinese government, is arguing that man-made pollution is creating a world of hurt.
Enter Green Technology
China made headlines recently in the world of green automobiles when two different Chinese companies bid on controlling shares of Fisker, an American electric car company that’s facing financial difficulties. One of the two Chinese companies is a state-owned car company. China’s government, it’s reported, is busily investigating and investing in various types of green technology to start to solve its pollution problem.
In short, “green tech” is the industry that, like the Chinese government, is attempting to solve the world’s energy and pollution problems by producing innovative technology that uses renewable sources of energy or at least reduces the use of non-renewables. Fisker, the maker of luxury-style plug-in hybrid cars, is one example of a green tech company. Others include the troubled Tesla, which is another electric car company; the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, a company in Abu Dhabi constructing an entire city run completely with solar energy; and Able Energy Company, an American provider of solar energy.
In addition to these for-profit companies, there are a number of government-sponsored research initiatives exploring more efficient ways to use energy and new potential renewable sources of energy. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy sponsors a “Better Buildings Challenge” to encourage corporations and construction companies to cut down on energy used by buildings. Although it may not be as exciting as an electric car, constructing “greener” buildings is quite important; currently, buildings consume about 40 percent of the world’s fossil fuels.
What Green Tech Means to Your Future
No matter who’s doing the measuring, the number of so-called “green jobs” is definitely rising. According to one report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), jobs in green tech are growing at a faster rate than traditional jobs. Not only are green jobs growing faster than regular jobs, states with large numbers of people employed in green technology industries also seem to have fared better during recent economic downturns than states without much green industry. New York, Texas and California are examples of three states with relatively high numbers of green workers which all fared relatively well when the economy tanked a few years ago.
The types of jobs considered to be green jobs cover a broad range of positions that require varying degrees of education. Jobs that are directly related to green technology include solar panel technicians and installers, electricians working for renewable energy companies, environmental engineers, waste disposal managers and urban planners. Jobs that are peripherally related to green technology include science teachers, interior designers, architects, industrial designers, sustainability officers (C-level positions), biologists, chemists, foresters and conservationists.
As you can see from this extensive list, what is considered to be a “green job” largely depends upon what type of work the particular job entails. For example, urban planners may not be a part of the green tech industry in general, but urban planners working for city governments with a “green agenda” may very well find themselves taking energy conservation, recycling and eco-friendly waste disposal into their plans.
Conclusion: Think About the Skills the Green Economy Will Need
The skills that will be invaluable to the green economy in the future include some of the same skills that are already invaluable. Electricians, for instance, already possess valuable skills with or without green technology. Electricians who educate themselves about the complicated circuitry involved in installing solar panels, however, will find that their skills are in even more demand. Likewise, chemists can always get a job for a major corporation; chemists who specialize in creating environmentally friendly compounds won’t find it difficult to get a job in a green tech company.
As you contemplate entering the workforce for the first time or changing careers mid-stream, it helps to be future-oriented. Think about the types of skills you might be able to acquire that will be useful now but even more useful as the green economy grows.