How Climate Change Is Affecting Construction Jobs
As more investments are put into sustainable and renewable energy, new jobs are being created in a variety of industries, especially in the construction field. Currently, the construction industry is adapting, creating new jobs in renewable energy, and building new and sustainable infrastructure.
Governments and communities are also drafting legislation to help fight the impacts of climate change.
Jump to the full infographic version or read on to learn how this translates to new construction jobs that are being created in response to climate change.
Severe Weather Means Infrastructure Must Evolve
Just like new requirements require buildings to be built more sustainably, climate change is also making it necessary to update and improve existing infrastructure to withstand the severe impacts of a warming climate.
One of the most significant and most damaging effects of climate change is an increase in the strength and frequency of severe climate events. In the past several decades, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has recorded a marked uptick in heat waves, heavy downpours, wildfires, tropical storms and hurricanes and tornadoes in the United States.
Severe weather events like these cause damage to existing infrastructures that weren’t built with climate change in mind. As a result, communities are proactively updating their infrastructure to protect against the natural disasters that are growing more and more likely to occur.
Here are some of the main weather events that are affecting infrastructure:
California is no stranger to fire, but in the past thirty years, the frequency and strength of the state’s wildfires have grown exponentially. In 2018, the California wildfires caused over $24 billion worth of damage, primarily from housing and infrastructure damage.
In order to prevent more destruction, California is investing in fire prevention through grants and other plans. Fire break construction and reforestation (to prevent massive amounts of dry and flammable land) are jobs the state is investing in to prevent more destruction.
The temperature has gotten so high that roads and roofs are melting all across the globe. Just this year, excessive heat caused 53,000 people to lose power in New York. In order to deal with this issue, communities are making updates to the power grid and installing more durable roofing materials, creating a demand for more skilled workers in these areas.
Hurricanes are becoming much more destructive and severe due to climate change. For instance, CoreLogic reports that damage from the 2019 hurricane storm surge will cost $1.8 trillion worth of damage.
As a result, communities are investing in repairing and building new infrastructure to withstand severe storms. These investments include hiring more construction workers to rebuild and develop areas devastated by these storms.
As the sea levels rise, coastal storms and high tides have intensified the effects of coastal erosion. This trend will have massive consequences on the coastline, costing an estimated $500 million worth of damage.
Beach replenishment, a process in which sand is dredged from the ocean floor and used to replace the sand lost to erosion, is one way counties are fighting back against coastal erosion. Engineers, designers, and construction workers will be in high demand to plan and execute beach replenishment.
Climate change is also affecting power plants that rely on surface water for cooling. As the weather continues to warm, drought-related impacts will affect energy production for many power plants.
Updating and installing new cooling systems in these power plants will not only assist in drought prevention, but it will generate a need to hire workers to update and maintain these new systems. Likewise, building renewable energy plants will help drought resilience and increase the demand for more skilled workers.
Many states are already investing in infrastructure reconstruction and adaptation. As a result, the demand for construction and related labor will continue to grow. A study by the Council of Economic Advisors found that every $1 billion spent on highway transportation generated 13,000 jobs.
A study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute has shown that investing in upgrading and building electrical grids will boost job growth in those sectors. For example, if $50 billion are invested in transportation and water systems, 930,000 jobs are expected to be created.
Increased Demand for Renewable Energy Means More Jobs
In addition to infrastructure updates, many municipalities are also beginning to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy like wind, solar, nuclear, and other sustainable power methods. Each new renewable energy initiative brings more opportunities for construction and related labor.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has reported that the renewable job sector employed 700,000 more people in 2018 than 2017, growing to about 11 million people. Major climate initiatives have helped facilitate this job growth.
The USEER reported that the solar industry provided 334,992 jobs directly related to solar power in manufacturing and installation in 2018, and solar jobs grew by an average of 11 percent annually between 2013 and 2018.
In 2018, wind power jobs increased by 4 percent from the previous year. Thirty-three percent of those jobs were in the construction field, the highest of any other area.
In 2018, the US hydropower industry employed 66,448 people. Hydropower construction jobs accounted for 16 percent of the total amount of employed positions.
In 2018, close to 75 percent of nuclear energy generation jobs were in the utility industry. Of these, 2,195 jobs were in construction. Almost all construction firms noted that the demand was so high that it was difficult to find and hire enough skilled workers to meet the company’s needs.
Coal to Clean Transition
Building solar and wind energy plants will soon be cheaper than continuing to run coal plants. By 2030, it will be cheaper to build new renewable energy plants than to continue operating most (96 percent) of all current coal-powered plants. In Illinois alone, transitioning to clean energy can create over 28,000 jobs per year, with three-quarters of those jobs in high-wage construction and maintenance.
The need to develop cleaner forms of energy is aligned with the U.S. public’s perception of fossil fuels. As of 2019, a majority of adults supported reducing fossil fuel consumption and taking a more aggressive approach of phasing it out in favor of renewables.
U.S. Sustainability Initiatives Require Skilled Labor
There are already a number of these infrastructure and clean energy projects in progress that require skilled labor. As more of these projects begin, more skilled workers will be needed—especially in construction.
Here are a few clean energy projects from the U.S.:
Disney’s Solar Farm
Disney intends to cut its emissions in half by 2020. Their first step is to open a 270-acre, 50-megawatt solar farm in Florida, creating over 300 jobs.
The Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities is building HouseZero, a data-driven living laboratory with a unique infrastructure that promotes sustainability and efficiency. It aims to use zero energy for heating or cooling, have 100 percent natural ventilation and daylight autonomy, and emit zero carbon emissions.
The Texas Coastal Barrier
After the extremely damaging storms Hurricanes Ike and Harvey, Texas is focusing on damage prevention by looking to the Dutch for help in constructing a coastal barrier, the United States’ most expensive and ambitious structure of this type to date.
The Los Angeles Urban Cooling Collaborative
The Los Angeles Urban Cooling Collaborative (LAUCC) is a national partnership of different communities, nonprofits, and government agencies to reduce the effects of urban heat.
Planting trees, retrofitting roofs to be more sustainable, and adapting the current infrastructure will require more construction workers and skilled laborers to help against the urban heat island effect.
Chicago Climate Action Plan
In 2008, the city of Chicago launched one of the most ambitious climate change plans in the nation. The Chicago Climate Action Plan consulted scientists and advisory committees to help the city develop strategies that will help the city reduce emissions and adapt to a changing world, many of which include the creation of new climate efficient structures.
Congress is drafting new legislation designed to fight climate change on a federal level. For example, the Green New Deal is a climate and energy initiative that seeks to transform how America produces and uses energy. This and similar legislation, if passed, would invest funding in infrastructure and renewable energy. In doing so, it would create jobs in renewable industries, increase support for farmers, and boost manufacturing.
How Climate Change Is Already Affecting the Construction Industry
Though many of these investments and infrastructure updates are likely to take place in the future, the construction industry has already seen the beginnings of job growth as a result of climate change. In 2018, over 36,000 construction jobs were added, according to the BLS; likewise, there has been a spending increase in public and private construction projects. Public construction spending increased by 4.9 percent, and private construction spending increased by 0.2 percent.
The unfortunate realities of climate change have created an increased interest in green construction methods, as well. For example, switching over to modular bamboo for materials is environmentally friendly and is a great building material. Translucent wood is another material with many benefits, including natural indoor lighting, and use in solar power cells.
Sustainable Building to Combat Climate Change
According to the International Energy Agency, buildings account for nearly 40 percent of all energy-related CO2 emissions. To combat the ongoing climate crisis, architects and contractors are designing new buildings to be much more sustainable and eco-friendly.
The USGBC reports that green building trends are steadily increasing each year. Green construction contributed to more than 2.3 million jobs in 2015. According to a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for architects utilizing sustainable methods are expected to grow by 8 percent in 10 years.
Legislation, like the Green New Deal, if passed, is projected to create 320 new occupations spread throughout three industries: production, energy efficiency, and environmental management. Currently, 113 occupations in these industries account for 1.3 million workers.
Tackling climate change helps sustain the economy and provide more opportunities for work. And not everything has to be done by big companies alone: private projects can help the fight against climate change, such as creating a sustainable garden. With the right tools, anyone can help.
U.S Climate Resilience Toolkit—Coastal Erosion | Fourth National Climate Assessment—Coastal Effects | Joint Economic Committee Democrats—Failing to Address Climate Change Threatens the Economy | Más Europa—7th Framework Program