Working to fight climate change
November 11, 2016 7:01 AM   Subscribe

I have been increasingly worried about climate change, and the election has pushed the needle to 10. I'm planning to volunteer with a local environmental organization, but if I were to pursue career options in the field, what might those be?

The most obvious choice to me seems to be: work for an environmental advocacy organization in some capacity. Or would it make more sense to look for renewable energy companies in my area and try to get my foot in the door as a receptionist? Since both of these types of organizations are pretty sparse in my area, are there any remote opportunities in this field? I guess I'm just looking for brainstorming options about what jobs might be available to your average person without an engineering or law degree, that would help move this thing forward.

Of course, there are some drawbacks and limitations: I don't have a science background (and don't have the money or aptitude to go back to school for it, not to mention the clock is ticking). I also don't have any skills that might be peripherally helpful, such as programming or accounting. I am very awkward interpersonally and concerned that this makes me not the best candidate for face-to-face advocacy.

My strengths: I'm an excellent writer and competent researcher. I'm a workhorse when it comes to issues I'm passionate about. I'm good at customer service when there's a clear script.

Also possibly relevant: I live in a Midwestern red state. I'm a mid-life professional, and my field unfortunately offers no possibility for contortions into something climate-related. (Since I know that suggestion might come up--believe me, I've looked at the options there.)
posted by Sockrates to Work & Money (5 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
- Read and study whatever you can about behavioral economics. This is the field that is figuring out how to actually get people to do stuff. This is how to persuade people to change their behavior or get them to sustain behaviors, to be honest, to be tolerant, to make good decisions. I'm really not overstating the case: this is the field where people are looking for real answers.

- Whatever field you work in, you can apply those principles and, crucially, find and support those who are already trying to do this.

- Meet people, learn how to really listen to them, and work toward getting involved in a local committee or decision-making body. For example, our local water utility has a citizen advisor group that lets people start seeing how things actually work in running a community, they are involved with near-term and long-term planning, and they are excellent at communicating with the community at large. If you lived here, I'd send you to some meetings to see how things are done right, then eventually you might get involved with some kind of town or county planning board or writing about those processes.

- Doing the planning is about equally important with communicating what is happening and, crucially, _why_ it is happening. If people don't know why, then stuff starts to feel coercive.

- Every field is climate related. If you are informed and skilled, you can have a huge impact if you choose any field that uses resources or that influences how decisions about resources are made.
posted by amtho at 7:52 AM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

80000 hours is a web site meant to help people choose a career to have the greatest impact on the social problems they care most about.
posted by ManInSuit at 8:02 AM on November 11, 2016

I apologize, this may be a terribly unsatisfying answer. But it seems worth at least thinking about:

As a mid-life professional with research and writing skills, do you think your income on current path path is pretty good? Better than what you'd get on the new career path? Then you could stay on your current path and donate the difference, which would ideally support the work of the alternate-universe versions of you that work directly on climate change.

On the other hand, people sometimes settle into jobs where their skills are underused and undervalued and don't realize it, and maybe you're in that situation. And it's easier to be productive when you care about your work. Also, one problem with donating a lot to a cause you don't personally work on is that you may not know enough to target your donations well.

If there's no rush to leave your current job, then trying out things as a volunteer sounds like a good compromise for now.
posted by floppyroofing at 11:06 AM on November 11, 2016

Saw an interesting presentation yesterday between a climate scientist and a city planner about their partnership on sustainability issues in our town (Ann Arbor) addressing building infrastructure and planning for increased flooding. There is a lot of good work happening at the city level that is very pragmatically focused on dealing with the consequences of climate. Check out the Michigan Journal of Sustainability.
posted by leslies at 11:54 AM on November 11, 2016

I work in climate change advocacy, on the digital team of an environmental non-profit that is almost completely focused on climate. If you are a good researcher and writer, then there are probably opportunities for you in an organization, though it's hard to give you concrete advice without knowing exactly where you are. Unfortunately, most of these jobs are in the places you'd expect (DC, SF, NYC) but certainly not all.

I think your first move should be to find a local group working on climate issues and start volunteering with them. Is there a chapter of Sierra Club or near you? If not, you can literally just google "[my city]+ climate advocacy" and probably find something, even in a red state. Anyway, when you start volunteering, let them know you're willing to do whatever but interested in exploring a career change.

If you'd like to get more specific, feel free to memail me.
posted by lunasol at 7:55 PM on November 11, 2016

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