Green my job
November 10, 2012 7:31 AM   Subscribe

I have been fully radicalized by climate change. Help me find a new job preparing for and/or helping us avoid it. Some requirements and nice-to-haves inside.

I've recently been struggling with my job (I do "best practices" research for a large firm, helping marketing departments do their job better). It's fun, intellectually challenging, and I enjoy the work for the most part - but I don't have that proverbial fire in my belly. I do not feel that there is a larger purpose in what I do, and I'm coming to realize that that's important for me.

In the past few months I've been totally radicalized by climate change, and am flabbergasted that our collective energies aren't being focused here. And so I'd like to find a job helping mitigate or avoid the consequences of what's going to happen in a few decades. Can you help? Here are some facts about me that might be helpful:
    I live in Washington, DC, and while something here or on the US East Coast would be nice, I'm happy to move anywhere in the world.
    Skills-wise: I have a bachelor's in history, have spent time in public relations, and have worked about three years in the job mentioned above. That job is often compared to a mini-MBA by those in it, and I can speak management lingo with the best of them.
    I also have the equivalent of a minor in mathematics, and am planning on masters-level study in that area (starting fall 2013)
    I don't want to be an activist. I am skeptical of the benefit of activism, don't enjoy it, feel my skills are best used elsewhere, and to be frank, I'm at the point in my life where I need to make money.
    I love travelling, international travel especially, and a job where I could do a fair amount of that would be ideal.
I literally have almost no clue about what's out there. Is there a company or field doing things in line with my skills that I should look into? Thank you!!
posted by downing street memo to Work & Money (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Great question. I've been skeptical of activism myself, but lately changing my thoughts on that—we desperately need policy change and behavior change, and the greater population needs to be mobilized. While there are many, many kinds of jobs that support the fight for climate stabilization, it seems to me like you have the unique skills to "market" better policy/behavior to people. Maybe harder marketing skills are exactly what the activism world needs.

Companies like Purpose are doing interesting work marketing social change on a variety of topics, and I think they have a project coming up on solar energy. Working directly for a renewable energy company could be another good option, since getting people to adopt these technologies is an excellent way to fight climate change.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:43 AM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might look into getter a masters in Geosciences. Geologists are in demand.

I'm a Geology major, going into a Geosciences Masters program. I'm not doing it for the money, but I've heard a lot about that. I'm somewhat of an environmentalist, but rather than tackle the policy part (because there are so many people already doing that!), I want to do it from the science end. I care about the planet, and what we are doing to it, and how we can mitigate what we've done and are doing. As a Geoscientist, there are a lot of environmentally-friendly companies out there that will need someone to back up their facts.

As far as money, Geologists generally get paid pretty well, with the high end being oil companies in the private sector, and the low end being government jobs. But even the low end is pretty decent.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:48 AM on November 10, 2012

Can you clarify what you mean by "activist"? It seems to me that what you're talking about is activism, so I wonder if we're using different definitions of the word.
posted by lunasol at 8:00 AM on November 10, 2012

Something in science communication or journalism? The scientific community is increasingly aware that they really need to improve their public communication skills, in part because they're up against some very skilled, well-funded propaganda (see Merchants of Doubt). I've seen a lot of opportunities for people able to communicate climate science to the public without distorting it. RealClimate often touches on these issues (and the huge comment threads contain much impassioned debate about the best way to deal with them). Here's an example of the kind of thing you can end up doing.
posted by pont at 8:07 AM on November 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Lunasol - understanding that climate change is inherently political, I'd prefer my job not to be principally concerned with the political process. So, I'm thinking something more along the lines of business or engineering - financing alternative energy, helping businesses or countries mitigate the existing pr coming effects of climate change, etc. Realize that's vague, but I'd prefer something more tangible I guess.
posted by downing street memo at 8:08 AM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since you're located right here in DC, that gives you a great starting point, as quite a few of the large organizations working directly on climate change have major presences in the area. Here's a few off the top of my head:

* World Resources Institute
* The Pew Trusts' Environment Group
* Climate Action Network
* US Global Change Research Program
* Climate Institute

I'd look to add some post-graduate study in big data to complement your education, and that should position you nicely as someone who not only has analysis and strategy skills, but who is also a highly-effective communicator.

On preview, pont's post reminds me that the AAAS and NSF are headquartered downtown, and they may be of interest to you as well.
posted by evoque at 8:26 AM on November 10, 2012

evoque's post reminds me that the American Geophysical Union are also headquartered in Washington, DC.
posted by pont at 8:31 AM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Depending on how you feel about nuclear (and a lot of environmentalists have come out in favour, including George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and James Lovelock), you could have a great career in the industry.
posted by hazyjane at 10:32 AM on November 10, 2012

With all due respect, if you're conflating jobs that are "principally concerned with the political process" with being an "activist," and if you're considering all of that to be ineffective and low-paying, you have ... some preconceptions and some gaps in understanding that could inhibit you unnecessarily. You might try to keep an open mind and examine the question objectively as you do your strategic planning. And wherever you end up, your industry of choice may well need changes in government regulations and incentive structures to really succeed (e.g., see here for solar), so you'll want to be able to partner respectfully with those doing that work. (Some organizations are quite effective at reaching their chosen objectives, for one thing.)

Moving on to your main question, it sounds like what you need to do is some strategic planning using your math and MBA consulting skills to systematically analyze this question and gradually narrow it down. Right now, the question is too vast to answer -- how to work on climate mitigation or adaptation in any field. For instance, you might analyze for yourself what are the biggest sources of climate emissions -- residential energy use (heating and cooling most of all), commercial energy use, transportation, industry, agriculture -- and what are the biggest untapped strategies for reducing those emissions. What are the barriers to those changes occurring? Or you might ask yourself, what are the biggest adaptation needs? How can you best use your skills and inclinations to make that change? In reading and researching these questions, you may well come to learn which organizations are doing the most cutting edge work. I could tell you what I believe, but you sound like someone who would like to think it through for yourself, which I respect. Best of luck.
posted by salvia at 10:58 AM on November 10, 2012

Please do your research. Please read up on the science behind all this. I say this as somebody who has taken climatology, who is a geologist working in the environmental remediation field. There's a ton going on here, in terms of science, economics, law, geopolitics...You've got the tangles in the middle east. You've got the Marcellus Shale gas gold rush (I've seen a little bit of that firsthand). If you're going to convince people to get in on this, start reading. Start reading everything you can find about the current state of the energy industries, both fossil fuels and alternative, everything you can find about climatology, and dig into basic oceanography and hydrogeology.

If I were trying to get people to green their businesses - and I have somewhat related conversations with people on a regular basis - I would try to convince them solely on the basis of long-term economics (economies of scale, limitless supply when renewable, declining cost curve as opposed to any kind of fuel that requires mining). People are not ready to grapple with the science end of this. The news coverage of anything related to climate science is hilariously vapid. One side effect of my college education was a total inability to take the mainstream media at all seriously when it comes to coverage of science (PhD Comics has quite a few good strips about this). People expect science to come down to yes or no answers to questions, and it just isn't like that. Especially climate science; I assume you've taken statistics so you know what I'm getting at.

Sadly, the news doesn't tend to get any further than "More CO2 means warmer temperatures!"

If you're serious about this, you need to get way beyond that. And, no offense, but I've yet to meet anybody who didn't study geosciences or environmental science in college or grad school whose understanding was beyond the news-level explanations.

If you want to sell these ideas to other people or be in on solutions, you need to be way beyond the news-level explanations.
posted by Strudel at 11:15 AM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're probably looking for something a level up from this, but the Institute for Market Transformation (an NPO that works on "market failures that inhibit investment in energy efficiency and green buildings") posted a Project Associate job in DC on They're also hiring a COO. That's just 1 of 18 jobs from a cursory search of's Jobs in Washington Metro Area with keywords "marketing environment advocacy".
posted by katya.lysander at 12:59 PM on November 10, 2012

I would like to recommend that you look into naphtha gas and methane gas development and avoid at all costs starting another think-tank or getting involved in one. Given my experience with a member of my own family who has gone that route, I can promise you now that working for a political solution now is inevitably going to end in tears (but might make you rich, or won't). I considered all of these paths before finally striking out on my own and starting a real non-profit focused on developing self-sufficiency for one town. Climate Change has driven me to tears. It's been six months since I started my project and I have raised a huge amount of support among the "old, white men" who many said could not be budged. Frankly, you will earn more kudos reaching into the grass roots than you will sitting in an office building in DC (or Stockholm) waiting for someone to read anything that you've written. I wish you luck and would love to learn more about your journey.
posted by parmanparman at 6:13 PM on November 10, 2012

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