The Jobs of the Future
We all hear so often about the low-carbon “jobs of the future,” but until we’ve seen them with our own eyes, they can be hard to imagine. Last week, I traveled to Denmark with a bipartisan delegation of five Republicans and six Democrats from the State House of Representatives to see just how a rural economy can create jobs while also reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
Denmark hasn’t always been a leader in clean energy jobs. Until recently, Denmark’s number one export was pig meat and their manufacturing industries were heavily reliant on coal, natural gas, and petroleum. A deliberate effort to break the addiction to fossil fuels has resulted in a greener, more profitable agricultural industry and new exports such as medicines and wind energy technologies. Our community can learn a lot from what Denmark has done to create a strong, diversified economy built on jobs that are both environmentally-responsible and high-paying.
Kalundborg, a town almost exactly the size of Lynden, has a remarkable industrial project employing over 5,000 people. It’s designed around the concept of Industrial Symbiosis, an association between industrial facilities and companies in which the waste or byproducts of one become the raw materials for another. Each company creates value for its neighbors via an intricate network that transforms one company’s waste steam, gas, water, gypsum, fly ash, or sludge, into valuable inputs for another company. I saw the waste products from a Novo Nordisk insulin production plant used to generate biogas, a renewable replacement for natural gas. Being able to save money on inputs or lower disposal costs has attracted innovative companies to Kalundborg and corporate cultures that value a circular economy.
Samsø Island, once a meeting place for Vikings, is now home to an economy
driven by farming and tourism. In 1997, the island was dependent on oil and
coal imported from the mainland. Today, Samsø produces more energy than it
uses. Farmers have installed wind turbines on their land and lease out space
for additional turbines that are owned by the community. Partial community
ownership has meant people are proud of the turbines and broad ownership means
people think they are somehow less noisy and more aesthetically pleasing.
Farmers also produce biogas from manure, straw, and other agricultural wastes,
which is burned to create heat for the island. Meanwhile, solar panels power
electric vehicles and heat homes.
In rural Jutland, researchers from Århus University are working on new pathways to generate biogas from manure and waste, turn products that require minimal water and fertilizer such as grass into superior cow and pig feed, synthesize biocrude from waste, and create fertilizers with the precise ratios of N, P and K for local crops and soil conditions. Processing manure generates value as well as avoids the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and removes excess ammonia, which makes the neighbors happy because it reduces the smell. Because transporting agricultural waste long distances is expensive, these jobs are guaranteed to stay in rural communities and deliver dividends to local farmers, rural residents, and local entrepreneurs.
In a week of global climate strikes and engagement at Whatcom County Council meetings, it is clear Whatcom is at a crossroads. What will our economy look like in 15 years? 30? I’m committed to working toward a local economy that is cleaner and more vibrant, while still valuing rural livelihoods, family-wage jobs, and domestic agricultural production. If Denmark can do it, so can Whatcom County!
And I’m hardly the first Whatcom resident to dream this way. Local engineers, technicians and farmers are already building this economy with biodigesters and biotech projects like the ones Ferndale-based company Regenis is pioneering. I’ve seen their products in action – like the high-tech manure management system they built in partnership with the state government at Coldstream Farms in the Southfork.
What more can we do together? Denmark reminded me how much we can accomplish by working rural with urban, liberal with conservative, and public with private to transition to a clean energy economy. Now that I’m home, I look forward to working with leaders across Whatcom County to build a more sustainable, circular economy. Nobody knows exactly what the future holds, but I got a peek at one possible version in Denmark, and I’m pleased to report that it looks like a future I’d feel good about passing on to our kids.
State Representative for the 42nd Legislative District, which includes Ferndale
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