Climate Change and Jobs

If you’re at all thinking of a career in the chemical industry, or if you already have a job as an industrial chemist (or if you’re a policy wonk like me), then I recommend you download a free copy of a new report from the Peterson Institute for International Economics and the World Resources Institute ( Titled, “Leveling The Carbon Playing Field: International Competition and U.S. Climate Policy Design,” the report examines the possibles effect of various proposed legislation on energy intensive industries such as the chemical, refining, and paper industries, all major employers of chemists and chemical engineers.

One of the first things that struck me about this report is that the five most carbon-intensive industries other than petroleum refining, which includes cement, steel, aluminum, paper, and chemicals, account for only 5.6 percent of direct U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Yet these five industries would be hit disproportionately by either a carbon tax of $10/ton (the most common figure bandied about) or a mandatory cap-and-trade system. More importantly as far as employment goes, each of these industries would be put at a competitive disadvantage on the world market unless and until a global carbon reduction mechanism was put in place.

Fortunately, policymakers are aware of the potential impact of U.S. climate policy on these industries. The various pieces of legislation making their way through subcommittee hearings all include options for addressing the competitive impact of either a carbon tax or carbon trading scheme. These options include:

· Reducing the cost of compliance for U.S. industries that will be hardest hit;

· Imposing border taxes or other adjustments that would impose equalizing costs on competitive importers; and

· Encouraging other countries to impose similar costs on their industries

Unfortunately, what works for one industry may not work for others, say the authors of this report. And neither of the first two options is likely to work over the long haul unless the nations of the world can agree upon and enact an international framework for controlling emissions.

Back in March, leaders of the U.S. chemical industry testified before Congress that energy and raw material costs will skyrocket if mandatory limits are placed on greenhouse gas emissions. But that doesn’t mean that the industry is stonewalling efforts to craft such limits. Indeed, companies such as Dow Chemical, DuPont, BP America, and ConocoPhillips are members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition that has accepted the fact that regulation will occur.

What concerns the chemical industry the most is that legislation not prompt a wholesale switch to natural gas by the nation’s electric utility companies, which the industry believes – as do most economists – would send natural gas prices soaring even higher than they are today. And given that natural gas is a major feedstock for the chemical industry, any dramatic increase in natural gas prices would pummel the U.S. chemical industry.

While there are too many instances of industries crying wolf when it comes to climate regulations, I have to agree with the chemical industry on this one. Why? Natural gas prices have tripled since the late 1990s and according to estimates from the American Chemistry Council, more than 100,000 industry workers have lost jobs as their employers relocated to countries with cheaper natural gas.

The playing field has to be level. The future of jobs in the U.S. chemical industry depends on it.

This article was written by Joe Alper, a freelance science writer and technology analyst in Louisville, CO, who writes frequently for the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry.


BE A PART: ACS Careers Job Fair

Are you interested in speaking with employers to discuss employment opportunities? Perhaps you would like to brush up on your interviewing skills, find out how to write a winning resume, or get valuable information on various career management and development topics. The ACS Career Fair can provide all of these things and more!

The ACS Career Fair at the 236th National Meeting in Philadelphia will offer employment services in Hall D of the Convention Center, Sunday, August 17 through Tuesday, August 19 from 8 AM to 5:30 PM, and on Wednesday, August 20 from 8 AM to 12 PM. Job seekers and employers will be provided a venue to meet and discuss job opportunities.

The ACS Career Fair is open to ACS members and national and student affiliates. All job seekers must sign up online to participate from June 23-August 20, 2008 at

If you are not an ACS Member we strongly encourage you to join.

One Response to Climate Change and Jobs

  1. “each of these industries would be put at a competitive disadvantage ” That always seems to be the case for well paying jobs. They are endangered due to supposed cost savings.

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