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How to get a job in the climate economy

For years, the title didn’t really exist. Now, jobs to adapt or mitigate climate change are in every corner of the economy.

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  • Michael J. Coren
By Michael J. Coren

Climate and emerging industries editor

Published

Hi Quartz members,

There’s a hot job market out there for a certain kind of worker: climate change professional.

For years, the title didn’t really exist. Careers addressing the causes and effects of climate change were the quixotic pursuit of academics and conservationists. Today, they’ve got new names—engineers, policy analysts, marketers, even farmers—and they’re in every corner of the global economy. Hundreds of schools, professional associations, consulting firms, and recruiters are all pursuing new talent to help the world reach net-zero emissions.

One such climate change professional is Tim Latimer. A few years ago, Latimer was a petroleum engineer drilling for crude in the West Texas oil patch. When underground temperatures fouled the fracking wells, he helped fix them. All that changed after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, bringing catastrophic flooding, which was worsened by climate change. “I realized [climate change] wasn’t a tomorrow problem, it was a today problem,” he says. “The more I learned about climate change, the more I didn’t want my whole career to be about getting oil out of the ground.” Today, Latimer is the founder of Fervo Energy, a startup pioneering new drilling and sensing technology to tap into massive carbon-free geothermal energy stores. He sees “no limit” to the clean energy potential. “There has never been a better time than right now to be a climate entrepreneur,” says Latimer.

Thousands of people like Latimer want to change their careers to help the climate, but haven’t done it yet. Here’s how you can find your job in a net-zero world.

What climate job is right for you

Kevin Doyle, the executive director of career development at Yale School of the Environment,  argues there are as many ways to become a climate professional as there are people. His advice on finding a job in climate? Figure out what you’re passionate about and how to use your skills to that end, and don’t worry too much about the credentials. “There is going to come a time when climate change careers exist in a job title and degree program, but that time is not yet now,” says Doyle. “Those don’t help you find your way in the world of [climate] work as it is actually structured.”

Instead, he urges people to answer these four questions:

  1. What climate change issues do you most want to work on? Most fall into two main buckets: Adaptation (sea levels, drought, wildfires) or mitigation (clean energy, efficiency, transportation, agriculture, reforestation).
  2. What skills and methods do you want to use? This might include scientific research, engineering, financing, marketing, policy design, regulatory and legal enforcement, advocacy, or land use planning.
  3. Do you have a preferred sector? Balance differences in salary, culture, and training required for jobs in the public sector (local, state, national), private industry, academia, and non-profit organizations.
  4. Do you have a region or city where you’d like to focus your work? 

For example, someone might say: “I want to work on coastal climate adaptation using climate finance and policies in state governments in the New England area.” Even if you can’t answer all four questions, even having some sense of your answers will give you a target you can aim at. From there, you can contact people who are working on the things you want to work on and who can point you to the right projects, and off you go.

Where to find a climate job

In the near future, there will be no shortage of climate jobs. The challenge will be finding the one that’s right for you. Luckily, there are plenty of organizations forming to help you on your way.

Finding the right project

  • Project Drawdown has become the one-stop-shop for startups and technical folks looking for the right climate challenges to solve. Drawdown has created technical blueprints for essential net-zero (and negative emissions) technologies and strategies from peatland forest protection to dynamic glass. You can browse them here.

Finding a job

  • Climatescape. A directory of thousands of companies, investors, NGOs, and other organizations working on climate solutions.
  • Climatebase. One of the largest climate-related job boards on the internet.

Find community

The climate jobs of the future

Tackling climate change will require a transformation rivaling the Industrial Revolution, says John Kerry, the head climate diplomat for the US. That will mean fundamentally rethinking how our economy operates, including how we design buildings (we’ll need carbon-neutral concrete), build cars (battery-electric propulsion and “green” steel would help), and move people and goods (sustainable aviation fuel and electric trucking).

One big challenge will be to keep people living well while also protecting the environment. In her Doughnut Model, economist Kate Raworth visualized a path towards sustainable development. An infinitely growing GDP, argues the Oxford University economist, is not necessarily a sign of economic health. The next century of economic growth must meet humanity’s two greatest challenges—represented here as poverty in the dark green inner circle and environmental degradation such as climate change in the dark green outer circle—while raising standards of living.

Image copyright: Kate Raworth, Oxford University
Diagram of the doughnut economics concept

To achieve true sustainable development, we’ll need a new set of ideas, and workers. “If our current economic structure got us into this crisis, can those economic structures get us out of it, or do we need to build something new?” says Yale’s Doyle. “[That’s] one area I’m not seeing as much hiring in, but lots and lots of thinking about.”

Have a great weekend,

—Michael Coren, climate and emerging industries editor (working on climate change since 2002)

One 📉📈 thing

As a profession, coal mining in the US peaked in 1923, when 862,536 workers extracted the fossil fuel. Today, the industry employs just 45,000 miners—and the number keeps dropping.

By contrast, more than 163,000 Americans already work as solar and wind technicians, two of the three fastest-growing professions in the US.

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