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Tech Security COLUMN-Energy shifts, job losses and political responses: John Kemp – Reuters Africa


Tech Security COLUMN-Energy shifts, job losses and political responses: John Kemp – Reuters Africa

(John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own)* Chartbook:, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Like other technology shifts, energy transitions provoke strong responses because they involve changes in lives and livelihoods, that go far beyond narrow technical questions about the source and delivery of energy.Transitions disrupt employment and incomes, imposing…

Tech Security COLUMN-Energy shifts, job losses and political responses: John Kemp – Reuters Africa

Tech Security

( John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own)

* Chartbook: 3kia05 i

LONDON, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Like other innovation shifts, energy shifts provoke strong responses since they include modifications in lives and livelihoods, that go far beyond narrow technical concerns about the source and shipment of energy.

Transitions disrupt employment and incomes, enforcing considerable and focused costs on specific homes, industries and communities. They create big losers as well as winners.

And because energy supply is among the largest employers and most basic of all industries, supplying input for each other sector of the economy, shifts are among the most disruptive of all innovation modifications.

Even if a transition is a Pareto enhancement from the viewpoint of society as a whole, where the winners could theoretically compensate the losers, considerable compensating transfers seldom happen in practice.

More frequently, the losers from a change in energy system or other technology are expected to find brand-new work, changing market and sometimes area, with limited financial help.

So transitions are generally talked about in fairly technical terms: comparative costs, dependability, supply security, visual impact, air pollution and carbon emissions.

But they arouse strong political, psychological and ethical enthusiasms since behind every technical conversation lies a much deeper, often concealed, argument about reallocation of earnings and chances.

Shifts are never ever just about cost, benefit and security; they are always about individual lives and communities too. They are inherently political as well as technical.


Many energy and technology transitions play out gradually, over durations varying from a number of years to half a century. But that is still fairly fast compared to an average working life time.

In the sophisticated economies, the average working life time is a little over 40 years for both males and females (” Ageing and employment policies”, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Advancement, 2020).

In the United States, somebody who started working in a world controlled by horse-drawn transportation and railroads in the 1890 s would have retired in a world dominated by cars and trucks in the 1930 s.

Someone who started working in the 1890 s without electrical energy in the house, telephone service, water and sewerage, radio and refrigeration would have retired when these things prevailed, at least in city areas.

In Britain, somebody who started operating in a world dominated by coal in the 1940 s would have retired in a world controlled by oil in the 1980 s.

In China, the financial change over the 40 years from the early 1980 s to the early 2020 s has been a lot more profound in every dimension.

Looking forward, somebody who started operate in the 2010 s in a world dominated by oil, coal and gas could retire in a world controlled by renewables in the 2050 s.


Over the last 2 centuries, changes in energy systems and other innovations have removed 10s of countless jobs, first in agriculture, then mining, and more just recently producing.

While the modifications have increased efficiency and incomes overall, they have inflicted considerable distress on individuals, business and neighborhoods.

Whole professions have actually vanished: weavers, stokers, lamplighters, elevator operators, movie theater musicians, typists and laundresses.

Other significant professions have actually “launched” enormous volumes of labour as they increased output per hour and ended up being more productive: farming, coal mining, railways, shipping, stevedoring, and steelmaking.

In the long run, energy system and technology changes have actually increased economy-wide efficiency and made everybody much better off. But the long run can exceed the remainder of any one individual’s lifetime.

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In the brief and medium term, energy and innovation changes have often made big groups of once-comfortable workers worse off (” The innovation trap: capital, labor and power in the age of automation”, Frey, 2019).


In theory, employees displaced from a market where work is declining, either as a result of falling intake of the product or a boost in labour-saving automation, can look for employment somewhere else.

In practice, employees are typically tied to specific occupations and much more to geographical areas, and reveal a significant unwillingness to change careers or migrate looking for brand-new work.

Occupational mobility is most often to new jobs in carefully linked or surrounding industries– which is not much aid when employment in a whole complex of associated markets goes into decrease.

Employees reveal even less mobility geographically. Social ties to communities make long-distance irreversible migration in search of work comparatively unusual for employees above the age of 30 or 40.

In Britain, determination to relocate to a new area for work peaked in the 25-29 age group and declined thereafter, according to a UK federal government report released in 1966 (” Regional development”, Fisk and Jones, 1972).

The exact same locational stickiness is still obvious today in the United States. In 2018/19, some 3.5%of 25-29 year-olds transferred to a various state, compared to simply 1.5%of 35-39 year olds and 0.9%of 45-49 years of age.

In the United States, which was as soon as characterised by reasonably high levels of geographical movement compared with Europe, inter-state and inter-regional movements have decreased over the last 50 years.

Less than 1.5%of citizens of any ages moved state in 2018/19 below more than 3?ch year throughout the 1950 s and 1960 s ( 3kia05 i).

Occupational and geographical immobility matters due to the fact that heavy markets, including energy markets, are frequently concentrated in a little number of communities, where they supply a large share of overall employment.

Decrease of an industry and its employment is therefore typically synonymous with a wear and tear of the regional economy and a boost in deprivation.


The individuals most at threat from energy shifts and other shifts in technology are those aged over 35 and especially those over 45 and 55 years old.

Some 15-35 years after they initially entered a market after graduating from school or university, slowly collecting technical modifications are really likely to be remaking the industry and its employment.

However by that phase in their working life time, those individuals will have invested considerably in industry-specific skills and experience that might not readily transfer at the same income to another industry.

And their geographical mobility also declines progressively above the age of 35, intensifying the problem of changing from a location controlled by decreasing industries to one characterised by broadening sectors.

Like other technology modifications, the risks related to energy shifts are borne disproportionately by older, more experienced employees at mid-career or a little beyond.

Younger workers are most likely to switch market. Older employees are most likely to take early retirement or attempt to stick on for a few more years.

The vulnerability of particular groups of employees, frequently focused in specific neighborhoods and regions, is what has actually constantly made energy transitions politically sensitive.

But political level of sensitivity has actually rarely sufficed to stop an energy or innovation shift, though it may slow the procedure by a few years, purchasing a bit of additional time for an area of the workforce.

Associated column:

– Global energy transition is currently well in progress (Reuters, Sept. 11) (Editing by Susan Fenton)

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