Away from oil companies towards renewables.  The real numbers of the “climate quitters” movement

Away from oil companies towards renewables. The real numbers of the “climate quitters” movement

Some time ago, in 2018, the forecast was 24 million new jobs by 2030. This was written in a report by the International Labor Organization, now a division of the United Nations but born in 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles within the Society of the Nations. He was talking about job growth in sectors involved in climate change. Prospects are therefore rosy, after all only the European Union intends to invest one million billion (trillion) euros to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050. However, according to a 2022 Linkedin survey, it seems there are not enough people compared to the requests: job offers in sustainability have increased by 8% per year since 2015, while candidates with adequate skills by only 6%.


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But now it seems that things are changing. Many would be leaving their jobs, especially those involved in oil companies, to devote themselves to companies related to the protection of the planet, the circular economy, sustainability, renewable energy sources. According to some, starting from Bloomberg Green, it would be a “big quit” or “great resignation” moved not only by the desire to have a better quality of life but also to be involved in a sector that intends to do something for slow down greenhouse gas emissions. They have been called “climate quitters”.

“I would be careful with certain definitions,” he puts his hands forward Francesco Armillei, PhD student in Economics at Bocconi University and partner of the Tortuga think-tank who has often dealt with the phenomenon of the big farewell in Italy. “In general, beyond the first months of the pandemic, the big farewell to us was a very rapid but not unprecedented phenomenon. After the 2008 crisis, for example, growth returned, something like this happened by virtue of a market of the most dynamic work. They are therefore historically less unique numbers than what was thought a year or two ago. However, there has been an interesting increase in relocations, especially in fields other than those of origin. And one of the components may have been reconsidering life priorities. But that’s not enough to explain the whole phenomenon.”

The investigation

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In September, the International Energy Agency (IEA) certified that there are now more people engaged in the “clean tech” sector, everything related to sustainable innovation, than those working for oil companies. Some of them have had their homes destroyed by a tornado in the United States and have found themselves in the condition of climate refugees. Realizing that the rise in temperatures could no longer be ignored, they decided to change jobs. Then there are cases like Dimitri Lafleur, who left his geoscientist role at Shell in Australia, went back to studying and now works for the Australasian Center for Corporate Responsibility, where he evaluates whether companies are aligned with climate goals. Similar the story of Jan Bohnerth: in Germany he was in ExxonMobil, he left to move to Sweden, study sustainable development and then join a communication company that supports “clean tech”. ExxonMobil is also the subject of a study published on Science where it is argued that he knew what we were getting into with fossil fuels as far back as the 1970s.

It is difficult to establish exactly the individual motivations behind the phenomenon of the “big goodbye” in general and in particular with respect to climate change. The health emergency has prompted many to reconsider their existence and its balance, but looking at the data, any simplification seems risky. Someone speaks of a “great recombination” underlining that in some cases they are people who have left a job to find another one in a fairly traditional dynamic. Yet even in this case the figures relating to this passage from one armchair to another do not justify the extent of the change.

A 2022 survey of 10,000 energy professionals conducted in 2022 by the Global Energy Talent Index found that 21% of the renewables workforce came from another field in the past year and a half, and nearly a third of those have left oil and gas industry. The same survey also found that 82% of respondents who still operate in the oil sector are considering switching to another energy sector in the next three years, and half of these welcome a possible use in the field of renewables.

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“In Italy I have not yet conducted specific research on the matter”, concludes Armillei. “It’s certainly happening here too, but I won’t go any further.” However big or small the phenomenon of climate quitters in Italy is, there is nothing anomalous on closer inspection. As we have said, sustainability is a sector that attracts many investments and consequently also people. What should perhaps get more attention is whether we have enough people with the right skills. Stories collected by Bloomberg Green they almost always speak of people who have had the strength not only to resign but also to study to find a new position in the green economy.

Italian universities are moving. Between degree courses, doctorates and research grants, universities are multiplying that put the environment at the center by combining different disciplines. In June we counted 224 across the country. A good sign, as long as we continue on this path.

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