Michael Bloomberg: You can’t teach a coal miner to code

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There should be solutions and systems in place to help the people who have lost jobs because of closed coal plants and mines, said former New York Mayor and entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg said at the Bloomberg Energy Summit on Wednesday. He said that he gives “a lot of money to the Sierra Club,” to help close dirty coal plants as natural gas and clean energy projects come online, but he iterated that as a society we have to “have some compassion to do it gently.”

Subsidies to help displaced workers are one option, said Bloomberg, while re-training is another option. But, in a slight to the tech industry’s sometimes out-of-touch nature with workers outside of Silicon Valley, he said retraining needs to be realistic:

You’re not going to teach a coal miner to code. Mark Zuckerberg says you teach them [people] to code and everything will be great. I don’t know how to break it to you . . . but no.

The comment about Zuckerberg is just the latest indication of the backlash against the tech industry, which has developed a reputation for being filled with over-privileged, overpaid developers and execs that have little compassion for the struggles outside of the tech bubble. This reputation has culminated in protests against Google buses, and even against tech executives.

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Outside of the tech industry, there’s a significant energy shift happening across the U.S. Older coal plants are being closed, following the rise of cheap natural gas, as well as the EPA’s plans to regulate carbon emissions (coal is the dirtiest form of electricity generation). Between 2007 and 2012, coal’s contribution to the U.S. electricity supply went from 50 percent to 37 percent. In a unusual twist, some of the country’s coal mines are actually not being shut down along with the plants, but are sending coal to other quickly developing countries like India.

However, few new coal plants are being built. New coal power only made up 10 percent of the total newly added electricity generation in 2013. At the same time, new natural gas made up almost half of the new electricity capacity, solar made up about a third of new electricity, and wind delivered about 7 percent of new electricity.

But as coal plants and mines are closed, there will obviously be displaced workers in coal-heavy states that are already facing a suffering economy. This will have major implications on society, and we need to find solutions to help them, said Bloomberg.

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