In Las Vegas, where luxury hotels blast cool air out onto the sidewalk, construction workers in the desert heat have sometimes had to fight for the right to water breaks. In the landscaping industry, which employs more than 900,000 workers, average pay is just $28,560 per year, one of the lowest of any occupation tracked by the U.S. Labor Department.
And those are official statistics based on full-time employment. Outdoor workers’ actual earnings are likely much lower.
The Economic Policy Institute recently pointed out that most California farmworkers have unpredictable, seasonal work hours. In 2015, that state’s agricultural workers earned an average of just $17,500 per year, EPI estimates.
The health risks of outdoor work will only worsen, of course, with climate change. And one contributor to that change, ironically, is the air-conditioning boom in the developing world.
The rapid increase in air conditioner sales is narrowing the gaps between cool air haves and have-nots in countries like China, India, and Brazil — just as it did in the United States. But this boom will also generate massive greenhouse gas emissions that will make the planet even hotter.
Today’s air conditioning gaps are a symptom of much bigger problems with complex solutions.
On the labor side, we need to ensure living wages and safe working conditions for all workers. At the same time, we need to get serious about addressing climate change in a way that puts the greatest responsibility on those who have contributed the most to this global challenge.
Originally published in OtherWords.