Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Geology of Opportunity

Last year, the New York Times published an article on the geography of opportunity. It discussed how upward mobility varied across many of the USA’s cities, and was particularly poor in urban centers in the South and rust belt.

 The article spent a fair amount of time discussing factors that gave cities like Seattle twice the upward mobility of cities like Atlanta. They discussed schools, and two parent families, and community engagement, and other social issues. They did not talk about rocks. Which his a shame, because rocks go a long way towards explaining the places with five to ten times the upward mobility of Atlanta. Consider the map from the article, reproduced below with geological annotation (Figure 1)

Figure 1: USA opportunity map with selected geology labeled. 

 The most striking thing about this map geologically is the prevalence of blue (or bluer in generally red areas) in parts of the country where fossil fuels are being extracted. If you’re poor, and you want your kids to be well off, your best bet is to live in an area with mines or wells. Many of these regions have upward mobility twice as high as the supposedly progressive cities like San Francisco and Seattle.

 Of course, fossil fuels are not all kisses and unicorns. But any attempt to phase them out has to consider te social impications of this technique. The reddest parts of the map are the slave belt and the rust belt; places where changing economic and social conditions rendered uneducated labor obsolete.

 Obviously energy has to come from somewhere, and renewables generally employ more people per kilowatt than fossil fuels do. But many of those jobs are not necessarily well paid, and many of the high level renewable jobs require advanced degrees which are difficult for the poorest people to obtain. We all know how gold rushes and oil booms work; the key social question is how to provide unskilled opportunity with wind and solar.


Anonymous said...

Yep, and NE Nevada is kinda blue too. Being one of the richest gold-mining helps that part of the world as well!

C W Magee said...

Yeah, I couldn't remember where the Ag/Au mines were. Note that east-central Idaho minerals region also has some blue areas, but SE Arizona copper quarter is red. So I was a bit hesitant in mentioning the hard rock regions.