Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Killer Jobs

Do industries that kill more people than they employ have a right to exist?

That's the title of a recent piece on the Big Think. It got my attention with these two stats: Every coal-mining job in the U.S. ends one American life every year. For tobacco jobs, it is four times worse.

"If we know that life trumps employment because you have to be alive to work," lead researcher Joshua Pearce of Michigan Technological University said, "then for a company or industry to exist it must employ more people than it kills in a year. What this paper has done is set the minimum bar for industry existence."

Pearce's research methodology is pretty simple: number of jobs in an industry vs. clearly identifiable deaths associated with its output. So for coal, the numbers are premature deaths caused by coal-fired air pollution from Department of Health and Human Services data. The tobacco numbers are direct and second-hand smoke deaths, also from DHS.

And despite how often we hear about jobs in coal mining, the industry only employed fewer than 52,000 people; tobacco (which is just about never discussed in national media these days as an important job area) employs almost 125,000.

Pearce's paper appears to be more of a case study than a full application of the concept. Clearly, the next step is to look at other fossil fuels industries. Whether it's climate change or the direct effect of vehicle emissions, I'm willing to bet the oil and gas industry will not be a net positive in this analysis.

The full article is available to read online here.

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