Jobs and Economic Conversion

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Jump to: ~ Green STEM Jobs ~ Research Agenda ~ Transferrable Skills ~ Job Mapping ~ Fossil Fuel Jobs

Funding a green transition is going to take a massive investment amounting to trillions of dollars of taxpayer money. A lot of that money is already sitting on the government’s books, ready to be spent on nuclear weapons. We need that money for addressing climate change – and we need skills and brainpower too.

A green transition can employ millions of people. Many will be “green collar” jobs in manufacturing, construction, forestry, operations and maintenance, etc. And many will be professional-level jobs, like scientists, engineers, researchers, designers, technicians, and managers.

Many of these positions could be filled by the very people currently employed in the nuclear weapons industry. While they’re busy inventing and building more efficient means of mass extinction, we need their skills, talents and expertise now to invent and build our way out of a climate catastrophe.

What jobs will be required for a green transition?

In 2022, DOE reported that there were 471,725 people employed in US wind and solar firms.[1] According to the US Department of Labor,[2] wind turbine service technicians are at the top of the list for fastest growing occupations between 2022 and 2032.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), jobs in renewable energy have already reached 12 million globally. They predict that as many as 25 million new jobs could be created within a decade if the world took the swift path to sustainability.[3] And this would rise to a total of 43 million renewable jobs by 2050.[4]

These new jobs would be created in solar PV manufacturing, installation and maintenance, wind turbine construction and installation, power grid construction and maintenance, green hydrogen production and distribution, mining minerals and manufacturing batteries, etc.

Although skills training and retraining programs are needed across the entire renewable energy sector, 60% of these new jobs require little or no additional training. It is the jobs requiring STEM skills that is our focus below.[5]

The need for STEM skills

We already know how to generate electricity from the sun and wind. We know how to build high-speed rail systems. We know how to make buildings more energy efficient. Many of the technologies needed to solve climate change have been invented, but not all.[6]

We need Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) experts to improve the efficiency and capacity of energy storage, energy transport, solar panels, wind turbines, hydropower, geothermal power, wave and tidal power. We need STEM experts to find more environmentally-friendly and worker-friendly ways to extract minerals needed for green technologies, and to find more efficient ways to recycle and reuse these materials to create a more self-sustaining circular economy (see chapter 6).

The STEM shortage in the US

However, the US already faces a serious shortfall in STEM talent. One recent study[7] suggests that by 2025, there will be over 2 million unfilled STEM jobs in the US. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates STEM jobs will grow more than four times faster than non-STEM jobs over the next decade.[8] China and India are meanwhile producing the most STEM graduates.[9]

In the US, where do most of the current STEM graduates go? In 2017, 3 out of the 10 companies with the most STEM job openings were nuclear weapons companies: Lockheed Martin with 21,917, Northrop Grumman with 8,872, Leidos with 8,468.[10] In many areas of the US right now, the only jobs available to blue-collar workers as well as to newly qualified scientists and engineers are in the booming business of building nuclear submarines and ballistic missiles.[11]

We need these people to help solve the problems of climate change. And we need many more of them to build and implement the new renewable energy systems that are going to be needed as we transition away from fossil fuels.  

Research agenda for a green transition

Research and innovation can help drive down the costs of implementing a green transition. They’re urgently needed to solve many of the technical problems that still beset the move away from fossil fuels.

Renewable electricity

While the basics of solar and wind power are now well-established, we need research to improve their capacity, efficiency, and connections to utility-scale storage options.

We need more efficient small-scale micro wind turbines to increase distributed power for buildings, especially in built-up areas. We need to develop off-shore wind technologies, including floating turbines. We need better ways to connect off-shore turbines to the on-shore grid.

We need to develop other sources of clean and renewable power, including harnessing the power of waves and tides, as well as installing turbines in flowing water that do not require dams or other potentially damaging infrastructure.


Electric cars are already with us, but we need more research to improve battery storage capacity, develop better cobalt-free batteries, and means for recycling them. We need to develop suitable electric alternatives for heavier duty trucks traveling longer distances, and for other more specialized vehicles, like tractors, fire engines, ambulances, bulldozers, excavators, dump-trucks, etc.

We need to advance hydrogen fuel cells as another alternative to battery-powered vehicles, especially for longer distances and heavier loads, like for trucks and buses.

And we urgently need research into electric-driven and battery-powered air travel. While hydrogen may turn out to be the fuel of choice for future air travel, improvements in battery efficiency and density could be a deciding factor. Other issues have to do with improving the aerodynamics of planes, including ways to fold or otherwise handle the much longer wingspans electric planes may require.

Heat for buildings 

We need more research on geothermal heat pumps, and using underground temperatures for both heating and cooling buildings. We need research on better ways to convert existing gas-fired furnaces and boilers to run on electric power, and energy-efficiency measures for existing buildings. We need research on effective, efficient and non-flammable gases that can be used for refrigeration and for heat pumps that don’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.


We especially need research on converting fossil fuel-intensive industrial processes to electric alternatives, including for producing steel, cement, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, plastics and many other products.


We already know what is needed to reduce carbon emissions in agriculture, although we could still use further research and innovation. We need to return to farming and cattle rearing methods that do not rely so heavily on nitrogen fertilizers, wet manure storage, overly intensive crop production, and cattle concentration. And we need to research better ways to farm regeneratively and incorporate agroforestry principles, to protect and restore wetlands, and to replenish our forests.

What skills are being wasted on nuclear weapons?

Apart from the military personnel who are connected directly or indirectly with the deployment of nuclear weapons, there are approximately 27,000 civilian employees and contractors working directly with nuclear weapons at two nuclear submarine bases, two air force bases and three ballistic missile bases.[12]

There are a further 42,000 people working at the eight sites across the country where nuclear weapons are developed, tested, assembled and dismantled.[13] These are Sandia Labs and Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, Lawrence Livermore Lab in California, Savannah River Site in South Carolina, Pantex Plant in Texas, Kansas City Plant in Missouri, Nevada Test Site in Nevada and the Y-12 complex in Tennessee. 

And finally, there are approximately 70,000 people working for the 20 or so private companies[14] who make the warheads, missiles and components for US nuclear weapons and oversee most of the labs and complexes listed above. Most of these companies make other products and services, so it is difficult to determine how many are engaged specifically in nuclear weapons work.

Figure 15.1 Jobs in the Nuclear Weapons Industry[15]

Making use of existing and transferable skills

But by far the most common job qualification for nuclear weapons-related work is some kind of engineering degree and/or experience. Some of these jobs require nuclear engineering in particular, but many do not. As described above, many of these are science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs, and despite the national shortage of graduates to fill STEM positions in general, there appears to be no shortage when it comes to military, and especially nuclear weapons, positions.[16]

Even those specifically qualified as nuclear engineers have transferrable skills that could be put to use in ways that do not involve the development or production of nuclear weapons. Nuclear engineers are needed to design and carry out the safe dismantling of nuclear weapons and the means of verifying this process in different countries. And even without building more nuclear power plants, the same skills are needed for the dismantling of the existing plants and disposal of all the radioactive waste.

Some of the jobs being advertised in the nuclear weapons field include:

  • Entry-Level Nuclear Weapon Surety Network Implementation Engineer (B.A. in Computer Engineering, Systems Engineering, or Electrical Engineering)
  • Nuclear Weapons Subject Matter Expert (B.S. degree and 10+ years experience in Nuclear Weapons and Computer Engineering)
  • Senior Nuclear Weapons Technical Writer (B.A. degree in a scientific, engineering or technical field with a minor in English, Technical Writing, or similar)
  • Nuclear Scientist/Nuclear Weapons Analyst (M.S. in Nuclear Engineering, Physics or a related discipline, plus at least five years of relevant experience, or three years experience with Ph.D.)
  • Associate Program Leader for Nuclear Weapon Enterprise (Ph.D. in Science or Engineering or equivalent combination of education and related experience; expert knowledge of simulation and optimization computational methodologies)
  • Nuclear Weapons Logistics Management Specialist (B.A. degree in “relevant discipline,” 12-15 years of prior relevant experience, or Masters with 10-13 years experience.)

Mapping nuclear weapon jobs to a green economy

These people are also urgently needed for jobs that have nothing to do with nuclear engineering. The world needs people who have the necessary skills in research, engineering, design, and many other technical areas to be able to meet the climate targets in the timescale required, and to make the transition to a green economy affordable.

As noted above, many of these skills are in short supply outside of the nuclear weapons industry and other military-related positions.

Job requirements for design and development positions in the nuclear weapons complex overlap extensively with the requirements for positions in green energy. 

Both require advanced degrees and industrial experience in the fields of engineering, nuclear engineering, computer science, systems architecture, mathematics, physics or chemistry.  The skills required overlap in information technology and computer science, modeling and simulation, risk analysis and systems assessment.[17]

A 2014 study in the UK[18] looked at the workforce requirements, job descriptions, transferable skills and locations of 170,000 people currently employed in the UK making weapons and their delivery systems. It mapped these against the 300,000 or more jobs that would be needed to build and maintain enough offshore wind farms and marine energy projects to put the UK on the path to net-zero carbon emissions.

The results were astounding. The study found a direct correlation between many of the existing skills used to build nuclear submarines, for example, and those that would be needed to build wave and tidal energy projects. Even more surprisingly, there was a direct correlation between the locations where these jobs would be based.

The study found, for example, that marine engineers and naval architects currently building a new generation of nuclear ballistic missile submarines for the UK at the Naval Shipyard in Burrow-on-Furness could switch over to designing and building the Morecambe Bay Tidal Barrage without even having to move house.

Similar studies in the US have looked at the massive potential for jobs in different parts of the country that could result from the tapping of offshore wind, dammed up rivers and solar energy.[19] These have not yet been mapped to the equivalent jobs or infrastructure currently absorbed by the military– industrial complex, but this report offers a preview of what more comprehensive mapping might reveal. There already seem to be similar correlations to those in the UK.

Table 15.1 Sample of job opportunities for engineering graduates[20]

Fossil fuel jobs

Many of the workers who would be directly impacted by the transition off of fossil fuels could easily transfer to jobs in the green economy. The ILO/IRENA study cited earlier expects as many as 7 million fossil fuel workers worldwide to lose their jobs during the transition to a green economy.[21] Other studies point to a smaller number of job losses due to workers reaching natural retirement age or choosing other employment.[22] Nevertheless, to ensure a fair and equitable transition, workers losing their jobs in fossil fuel and related industries will need compensation and/or retraining for other work.

Workers in coal and gas-fired power plants, for example, can be employed in managing utility scale wind and solar farms. Workers in the car industry can be employed building EVs instead of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Gas station workers can be employed running EV charging stations/rest areas. Plumbers, electricians, pipefitters, line workers, etc. can all be re-deployed from jobs in fossil fuel infrastructure, home heating, etc. to their electrical equivalents.

What about the US workers involved directly in fossil fuel extraction – coal mining, oil and gas drilling, and fracking? About 150,000 US-Americans work in the coal industry, and about 850,000 work in the oil and gas industry, for a total of roughly 1 million (out of a total US workforce of around 165 million).[23]

Estimates of new green jobs vary, because it depends on the scale and pace of both public and private investment in a green transition. The original Green New Deal proposals in 2019 estimated that it would create as many as 20 million new jobs in the US.[24] Other analyses have suggested more moderate growth of new jobs, but they’re still north of 10 million.[25]

Figure 15.2 Map of Green Jobs[26]

[1] Department of Energy. (2023). U.S. Energy and Employment Report. In

[2] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, September 6). Fastest Growing Occupations : Occupational Outlook Handbook: : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

[3] This includes a loss of 7 million jobs from the fossil fuel industry – see section below.

[4] IRENA, Renewable Energy and Jobs, Annual Review, 2021 (p.61):—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_823807.pdf

[5] IRENA, Renewable Energy and Jobs, Annual Review, 2021 (p.66):—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_823807.pdf

[6] See Jacobson, Mark, No Miracles Needed.

[7] Deloitte. (2018). 2018 Deloitte skills gap and future of work in manufacturing study.

[8] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2019, September 4). Employment in STEM occupations. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

[9] 2018: Undergraduate and Doctoral numbers

China: UG 1,821,950 PhD 39,768 Sum 1,861,718

India:  UG 2,298,809 PhD 26,890 Sum 2,325,699

US:       UG 811,195    PhD 41,071 Sum 852,266

See Trapani, J., & Hale, K. (2022, February 22). Higher Education in Science and Engineering. National Science Foundation.

[10] Kauflin, J. (2017, July 18). The Companies With The Most STEM Job Openings Right Now. Forbes.

[11] See above. Data compiled by Forbes magazine.

[12] See Figure 15.1 below.

[13] Data obtained from websites of the different nuclear weapon facilities and local newspaper reports.

[14] See Chapter 16 for a list of the main companies involved.

[15] Map by Nancy Horn. Data from multiple sources.

[16] “The Air Force [has] a robust supply of personnel with STEM degrees to meet its recruiting goals for STEM positions, with a few exceptions,” says the National Research Council (2010). Examination of the U.S. Air Force’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce Needs in the Future and Its Strategy to Meet Those Needs. The National Academies Press.

[17] Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. (2019). Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Survey. U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

[18] Prichard, I. (2014). Arms to Renewables: Work for the Future. Campaign Against Arms Trade.

[19] See, for example, Pollin, et al. (2014), op.cit. and also International Trade Union Confederation. (n.d.). Growing green and decent jobs,11011,

Mahan, S., Pearlman, I., & Suavity, J. (2010, September 28). Untapped wealth: Offshore wind can deliver cleaner, more affordable energy and more jobs than offshore oil. Oceana.

[20] Data collected from job advertisements.

[21] IRENA, Renewable Energy and Jobs, Annual Review, 2021 (p.61):—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_823807.pdf

[22] Pollin et al, America’s Zero Carbon Action Plan, Zero Carbon Consortium, 2020 (p.77ff).

[23] Pollin et al, America’s Zero Carbon Action Plan, Zero Carbon Consortium, 2020 (p.80).

[24] See Bezdek, R. H. (2020). The Jobs Impact of the USA New Green Deal. American Journal of Industrial and Business Management, 10(6), Article 6.

and The Green New Deal. (n.d.). Bernie Sanders Official Website.

[25] Elizabeth Warren’s climate plan, for instance, she claims would create 10.8 million new jobs. and the original Build Back Better bill was supposed to create an additional 11.5 million jobs over 5 years.

[26] Map by Nancy Horn. Data from Mark Jacobson and numerous other sources.