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Cracking the Code to Stronger Communities and Climate Solutions

By Stuart Wood
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Upton Sinclair once wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” And for many Americans working in extraction industries throughout the country, it can be difficult to imagine changing one’s lifestyle in the face of what can seem an abstract, long-term problem—climate change.

For several years now there has been tremendous growth of jobs created in the renewable industry. These include technicians servicing the wind turbines going up throughout the nation, solar industry sales persons, installers, service techs, and developers. The growth of these industries is so robust that one of every fifty jobs created today is in renewables, which now employ more Americans than the fossil fuel industry.

However, not all regions are benefiting equally from this new economy, and families in many neighborhoods and communities that once relied on fossil fuel extraction jobs to pay their bills are now faced with a disappearing way of life. These individuals, who are often left behind by the changing economy and by the investments in renewables, don’t always have access to jobs and opportunities in the green sector.

The challenge is to help empower extraction workers with well-paying jobs they can take pride in that don’t rely on fossil fuels. And the small city of Pikeville, KY may have just cracked that code.

In a program developed by the owners of Jigsaw—an engineering firm—former coal miners are now being presented with the opportunity to receive professional work training and employment. This is being facilitated with the creation of Bit Source, a software company that hopes to provide permanent, well-paying jobs to former coal miners in Pikeville.

To accomplish this, the company is training miners to code. And the program is showing strong signs of progress. The startup has already successfully trained and employed nine former coal miners.

But the startup didn’t act alone. One of their keys to success has been a concerted effort to work with the city’s workforce development agency. The agency helped to develop the job call to recruit applicants, bringing in over 900 applications for just 11 open positions. These positions garnered further support from the U.S. Department of Labor in the form of a wage subsidy—allowing Bit Source to hire more employees at better pay.

While the program is still in its infancy, it is providing a strong proof of concept—that communities can transition their economies away from extraction industries, build a stronger standard of living for residents, and create stable, well-paying jobs of the future. Similar private-public partnerships can be facilitated in communities who depend on jobs within the industry. With businesses searching for driven, hard-working employees, communities eager to host and retain well paying tech jobs, and local, state and federal government resources going towards jump-starting such programs—a transition away from fossil fuels is made increasingly possible.

As neighborhoods, communities and cities slowly transition to renewables, it is important to not leave large segments of the population behind. By offering miners and refinery workers, surveyors, and employees throughout the fossil fuel sectors with better opportunities, it is possible to create allies in the pursuit of climate solutions.

Learn how to make a similar transition in your community by joining with climate leaders at Path to Positive Communities. And be sure to take advantage of our recent webinar and communications guide for talking about climate with residents in your city.


Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor of political science and environmental politics. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University. Email him at stuart@ecoamerica.org.