new economy
Dirty coal is not something you miss when you find a new clean energy job

There are so many lucrative economic opportunities in the new economy that could supply jobs and growth for the regions and cities alike. Just ask the thinkers, inventors and doers. But not the feds.

There are so many lucrative economic opportunities in the new economy that could supply jobs and growth for the regions and cities alike. Just ask the thinkers, inventors and doers. But not the feds.

Jobs and growth might appear to be the rocky shore on which Labor’s electoral ship ran aground, but there is plenty of evidence that the old-style “let’s just dig up more stuff to keep the economy ticking over” thinking is as out of date as the dinosaurs that formed the Carmichael coal deposits.

The signs are clear that sustainability, new technology, new synergistic industries and re-framing waste as a natural resource we don’t have to dig up are all part of an emerging future economy.

Jobs 2.0

Speaking at the National Press Club this week, Chris Richardson, Deloitte Economics partner highlighted the role that “soft skills” such as being able to deal with people will play in the future economy.

He told the gathering that it is expected two thirds of jobs will involve “caring” in some way by 2030.

These caring jobs in sectors including teaching, childcare, aged care and customer service will also be roles that engage technology and collaboration to improve results.

As an example, he flags a likely need for those working in aged care to be assisting those they serve to continue to engage in productive employment – quite a shift from the old idea of moving into aged care to simply be cared for and not work, he explains.

An example of the importance of this new approach to aged care was the headlines around the world when Edith Cowan University asked the then 102-year old academic and ecologist Dr David Goodall to retire due to concerns around his safety.

Richardson says that the right kind of support workers would enable those like Dr Goodall to keep contributing to society.

And the rise of technology and robotics is not a looming employment apocalypse, according to Richardson. Instead it creates an opportunity for human skills and qualities to shine.

AI for a triple bottom-line win

PwC UK in a recent report also addressed the rise of artificial intelligence and what it could mean for both jobs and sustainability.

The How AI can enable a Sustainable Future report examined the impact of harnessing AI to support better environmental management in the agriculture, water, energy and transport sectors.

It found harnessing AI could create up to 38 million jobs globally across all four sectors by 2030 in addition to resulting in higher GDP, enhanced productivity and reduced carbon emissions in the order of a 4 per cent cut in global emissions by 2030.

In GDP terms, the report found uptake of AI across the four sectors could contribute up to US$5.2 trillion to the global economy in 2030, a 4.4 per cent increase relative to business as usual.

That’s a fairly healthy return on investment!

“Put simply, AI can enable our future systems to be more productive for the economy and for nature,” Celine Herweijer, global innovation & sustainability leader, PwC UK, says.

“The research shows the potential of emerging technology to directly support decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions in the near and long term.”

Dirty jobs versus clean ones in Queensland

A worker interviewed for an ABC Rural feature last week on the renewables jobs emerging in coal-reliant parts of Queensland highlighted an interesting perspective on coal mining jobs versus renewables jobs.

Shaun Fisher used to work in coal mining – now he is among 80 workers employed by a solar power company. He says he is not a greenie, but solar makes sense because the energy is there for the taking.

The new job also has some upsides in terms of his quality, and possibly quantity, of life.

“Have you ever been out to the coal mines? Anyone that works out there, you’re black, you’re black by the end of the day, you’re covered in it,” he tells ABC Rural.

Now, he says, “We’re clean at the end of the day. We’re not sucking that shit in. Live longer doing this kind of work.”

The new low carbon economy holds so many opportunities

The new economy and new industries can deliver safety for both people and planet, according to Dr Stephen Berry, renewable energy and decarbonisation manager at the University of South Australia’s Information Technology Engineering and Environment Divisional Office.

Berry manages UniSA’s research node for Low Carbon Living, part of the national CRC for Low Carbon Living.

There is so much needs to be re-thought when it comes to a future without fossil fuels, he told The Fifth Estate this week.

We will need systems thinking and new, synergistic industries.

Transport, for example, will need a massive shift.

We need to think about how we move goods and people around, and how we deliver the mobility people want, Berry says.

Lithium battery powered electric trucks for freight probably won’t work because of the weight of batteries that would be needed.

Solar-powered trucks and wing-powered trucks are also probably not feasible.

“We need to create a whole new industry [for transport],” Berry says.

Hydrogen can likely play a role.

Hydrogen fuel cells are an emerging industry that can be synergistic with wind and solar.

Currently, wind energy and solar energy are being “dumped” because of overproduction at times when demand is not enough to use the watts produced.

Co-locating hydrogen fuel operations with wind and solar would turn that waste energy into an input for hydrogen, Berry says. That hydrogen can in turn be used for several purposes including fuel cells and also converted into ammonia.

The logical place for these kinds of synergistic, co-located industries is in regional and rural areas, he says

And ammonia is a key for the production of fertilisers, so there is another by-product of oversupply of wind and solar that can become an input for agriculture.

The logical place for these kinds of synergistic, co-located industries is in regional and rural areas.

So future industries can not only create regional low-level jobs, but smart, high-tech, highly-paid jobs that can help reverse the traditional “brain drain” from the regions to the cities, Berry says.

“These are not just jobs like fruit-picking.”

Supporting infrastructure needed for the new transport fuel industries would also be vast. Existing retail, distribution and supply infrastructure to delivers petrol and diesel into transport vehicles will need to be replicated for the smart, sustainable transport solutions.

That’s a lot of jobs, investment and businesses to be created. There’s also jobs and profits to be made building the fuel cells and the truck systems that will use them.

Berry says there are already quite a few companies in Australia working in the hydrogen space.

“We have some really exciting hydrogen economy research happening around the country.”

Key is for us to realise the potential synergies in so many areas.

Dams for energy

Another example is the potential to put solar farms on dams. This would reduced algal growth and reduce evaporation.

“What we have to do is plot a path for how we in Australia can gain maximum benefits for multiple industries, as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels,” Berry says.

We need to apply “systems thinking” instead of the conventional approach of focusing on one industry at a time.

In any case mining’s big concern right now is “how to get rid of people” from the process

“It is not about the old-style jobs.”

In any case mining’s big concern right now is “how to get rid of people” from the process because they’re the “most expensive and dangerous bit” of any mining operation.

How about mining non extractive valuables like waste?

Staying away from extractive industries and mining waste instead, however, can be a whole new proposition.

For instance, there is a “tsunami” on the way of lithium-ion batteries that have reached end-of-life. They are in everything, from electric toothbrushes to homes and electric vehicles.

It’s “mining in a new way” as we move from low-value recycling approaches to high-value ones.

And it will be easier, Berry says.

Digging up resources is a hassle, but waste is available right in our cities, where we need it.

The future economy is pretty much “coming, ready or not”

In global terms the movement is on the way. This week the International Energy Agency decided to incorporate the Paris Agreement “stretch goal” advocated by organisations including of no more than 1.5 degrees of global warming for its upcoming annual World Energy Outlook.

Climate Change News reports the IEA has been under serious pressure from business leaders, scientists and campaigners for not considering the 1.5 degree target for its modelling.

Finland also recently announced a target of net zero by 2035. The big news is that the government aims to achieve it without carbon offsets.

In Chile, they’re shutting down eight of 28 coal-fired power-plants and gearing up for the country’s first Certified sovereign Green Bond issuance, according to the Climate Bond Initiative.

And in the UK, managed days on end of being 100 per cent powered by renewables in May, while Canada aims to ban a whole range of single-use plastics by 2021.

There’s good news and opportunity everywhere – except perhaps in the halls of the big house on the hill in Canberra. Clearly, the thinkers, inventors and doers are our nation’s greatest asset right now.

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  1. interesting points. i am not sure about the renewables v. coal jobs in regions. this is because most coal – say 90% plus – is exported and not used for Australian energy. are the renewables used for Australian energy? if only so they have the potential to replace say 10% of coal production. equivalent renewable/coal job numbers would then depend on vastly different labour intensities, with implications for wages. any help with this? views? thanks.

  2. Many interesting ideas but at some point we need to recognize that many current jobs are what David Graeber calls ‘bullshit jobs’. They are neither meaningful nor useful. We create jobs because that is the only way we can justify giving people the money needed to access their basic needs. The debate about a universal basic income aims to decouple work from access to these basic needs. Yet the production of food, building of houses, provision of energy and water all require work. We should be looking at ways of decoupling money from access to basic needs. How do we create places where we work collaboratively, in harmony with our local environment, using the most efficient technology to provide these basic, natural needs for all as efficiently as possible… so people have the time and space to do what they are passionate about. That’s the new economy I’d like to see.