Whether you’re a young sprite determined to change the world, a middle-aged millennial looking for a new career, or in the later stages of your work life and looking for a new adventure, you might consider a career in climate change! Imagine that, getting paid to slow or adapt to a calamitous, poorly understood, slow-moving crisis! Sounds good, right? Keeping a roof over your head and toiling away at what could be a fulfilling and worthwhile mission? I mean, yeah, maybe. It’s certainly easier said than done. But it is possible, if you’d like to consider it.
I have recently finished a climate change career search myself. Between my limited career experience and my recently concluded job hunt in the climate change field, I can tell you roughly the paths a climate career can take in ’22, where I’ve seen my colleagues go, and where things might be heading. This is not the musings of a seasoned expert, mind you, but of someone who has had boots on the ground for the last year or so and has exhaustively studied and considered his career options. With that in mind, off we go:
Government: The golden goose! Although the purity of that gold depends on which level of government you land in. Federal is the dream for most people (not easy to get in) where you can have a solid salary, a pension, a reasonable work pace (usually), and be part of impactful research and legislation. If you’re going back to school for climate, that can open the door to an internship with the government, and possibly a full-time job afterwards. The option is well worth exploring.
Of course, management changes every few years and your new boss may have very different priorities once they take over, making the work environment more hostile or perhaps thinning out the ranks a bit. Your existence is at the whim of the people. and whims change. On the other end of the spectrum, municipal governments are hiring climate change people left and right, don’t have the same benefits, but are doing a lot of the groundwork to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Whichever level, government is seen as one of the nobler paths for climate-minded folk and can certainly be quite impactful.
Non-Profit: Ah, the freedom, fancy, and collaborative environment of non-profit! Lots of begging for funding or applying for grants. A third of your staff’s contract renewals hanging by a thread if that contribution doesn’t come through. No one goes into non-profit for the money. There is no money. There can be lots of pressure, a frantic pace, and tremendous uncertainty, but the fact that money is not the point means that something else can be the point, and that can allow driven people to whole-heartedly pursue lofty and ambitious goals. Inspiring people work in non-profits, and they’re often led by formidable activists and community members. Don’t expect all the inspiring people to stick around, though. For-profit companies can offer them real, actual money to switch to their side, and can usually get non-profit folk at what they consider to be a discount. Working in non-profits is more about the journey than the destination, but the journey can be remarkable.
Consulting: Why push for change in the world when you can make generous piles of money renting out your brain and fingers by the hour to companies willing to pay handsomely to find out what you figured out through a mixture of google scholar and climatedata.ca? Alright, there’s more to it than that, but the very weird thing about climate data is that it’s just a really looooong set of weather data, which is publicly available from pretty much any country. Oh, and the projections for the next hundred years are also entirely available and completely free. The scholarship behind these projections is also not hard to find. Even so, many industries are realizing they need to consider climate change in their operations, which means assessing climate trends and risks for the next hundred years to ensure their assets are safe in a changing world. And you know what? Good for them. I applaud anyone willing to be proactive about our changing climate. And consultants can help businesses and governments think long-term, possibly on the scale of centuries. In exchange for a big pile of money. And the consultants get to take some of it home! Be warned, the days can be long and the pace may be frantic. Consulting is hard. But consulting is also one of the few readily-accessible paths to prosperity in the climate carreer world.
‘The Climate Person’ at a Company: If you’re not too proud to kick down doors or beg (and sometimes both) you could always become the climate change guru at a private company that doesn’t want to hire consultants every time they want someone to check climatedata.ca. I see more and more of this coming down the pipe on LinkedIn, and as regulations get tighter and our changing climate becomes more urgent, businesses may need climate people on staff the same way they need bookkeepers, health and safety people, policy analysts, and human resources. It could be nice to be the expert in something on staff, but it can be a bit isolating. a ‘climate person’ I talked to at one company said people generally considered him a ‘whiny pain-in-the-ass’ for making them stop and think about climate change every time they tried to do something. Which could be demoralizing. Unless you just are a whiny pain-in-the-ass. In which case, have fun! Even so, I foresee this becoming more mainstream over the next few years. Climate change is going to become a more mainstream consideration the more hazardous it becomes. Especially in industries like finance and insurance that stand to lose a lot if they’re not prepared for a changing climate.
Utilities: Someone must have told me utilities are hiring climate change people sometime. I wrote it in my list of options and circled it twice. But for the life of me, I don’t remember why or what they said. But apparently it’s an option. And I can believe it, as electrical grids need to undertake massive shifts to decarbonize over the next couple of decades. So if that appeals to you, a world of opportunity awaits. Just don’t ask me anything else about it.
Climate Journalism, Media, and Art: I know nothing about how to get into journalism, media, or art. But if you happen to know any secrets, feel free to tell me. The great thing about a blog is you can always update your articles. That’s something I’d love to explore, but know nothing about.
Fossil Fuel Industries: While widely considered to be akin to falling to the dark side, fossil fuel companies have been known to hire climate change people for their own internal studies, for scenario planning, and to handle communications. While many climate purists would view such a career move with distain, I was quite open to the possibility. Fossil fuel companies won’t be able to use fossil fuels forever (they’ve got 28 years on the clock to use what they can by my count) and fossil fuels need to get serious about alternative energy/energy efficiency to have a long-term future. So why not climb aboard and point them in the right direction? The companies that provide the world’s coal, oil, and natural gas are going to transition to non-emitting fuels this century if we’re to prevent devastating levels of climate change. So if you want to work with an oil or energy company to chart a new path, I don’t see that as selling out or turning evil. Alternative energy is going to be a huge part of the transformation to a decarbonized economy. I think even fossil fuel companies are starting to realize that now.
So there you have it. I certainly may have missed an option, but those are the main paths I see open to people in my position who have a Master of Climate Change Degree. But the future of work is very weird. With AI making leaps and bounds in writing and communication, location becoming entirely arbitrary for people lucky enough to be in the information sector, and demographic shifts making businesses in the position of needing to recruit new workers, work is getting stranger all the time.
But if you’d like to work in climate change, we’ve got options. And it’s pretty cool to put your days towards managing and preparing for an uncertain new world in some small way.