I just spent months researching what jobs best fight climate change. Here’s my conclusion.
I used to choose jobs the way a vulture looks for snacks. I’d float around, spot some easy prey, and then dive in, even if I knew it wouldn’t taste very good. Well, I’m on the market again (here’s why), and it’s a new ballgame. I know what I want and I’m passionate about it, to put it lightly. I’m going to fight climate change. I’d sooner die than do anything else. This might not be hyperbole.
But what kind of work should I look for?
After some fervid research and thinking, I’ve got an answer. I won’t provide my whole argument since it calls for a comparison of my choice’s strengths and weaknesses with dozens of other options. I’d have to write a book to convey it. A boring book.
But I’ll offer some reasons for my choice. Please provide counter-arguments in the comments if you’ve got them. I’d rather find out I’m daft now than later.
Without further ado, here’s my choice:
Energy Efficiency, with a special emphasis on communications. tada.
Two questions here:
Question #1 – Why Energy Efficiency?
It’s one of the cheapest ways to cut emissions. For example, each dollar spent on Compact Fluorescent Bulbs saves 50 times more CO2 than each dollar spent on solar panels. Other measures are similarly effective. This is an old point so I won’t dwell on it. See here for more analysis than you can shake a stick at.
It’s the fastest way to cut emissions. We’ve got the technology we need and many of us have already done it. I cut my energy use in half in a few months, almost painlessly. Side Note: this is why I’m for carbon taxes. Most of us don’t know how much slack there is in our energy habits. Obscene slack.
It’s like doing a hundred jobs at once. The more efficiently we use energy, the easier it makes everything else. If we halved our collective energy use, for example, imagine how much easier it would be to move to renewable energy. I know of no other field which has this quality. This is a critical point.
It’s change everyone can love. Many of us won’t cut emissions just to fight climate change, but will to save money. Efficiency measures generally pay for themselves and turn a profit faster than any other intervention. Compare that to renewable energy which often doesn’t turn a profit at all. Also, the financial incentive for efficiency is often strongest for the worst polluters, since they often waste the most energy.
It’s as important to climate adaptation as it is to mitigation. Though it’s not widely discussed, we may already be over a tipping point past which severe climate change is unavoidable. If so, adaptation (AKA Hanging On For Dear Life) will be our priority. I want work that will be useful in that case. Energy efficiency work fits the bill, again, because it’s like doing a hundred jobs at once.
The case for efficiency will grow, climate change or no. High energy prices are coming, which will put a premium on efficiency. Some who point out that we’re near peak oil worry that energy prices will rise too quickly for societies to adapt. I suspect not (remember the slack), but I want work which protects me against the possibility if I’m wrong (I’m often wrong). Energy efficiency work may do so.
It’s not too political. Or at least it’s less political than alternative energy. Energy efficiency saves money and addresses waste, so it has some easy selling points.
It will allow me to directly, measurably cut emissions. Because I (or my employer) will be dealing with measurable things like utility bills, I’ll go home at night knowing that I helped cut emissions. If I choose work with no measurable effect on emissions (like educator or public policy analyst or carnie), I won’t know if I’m doing any good. Think Al Gore: he has a huge footprint, partly because he flies everywhere to talk about climate change. How does he know he’s effective? He doesn’t. If his pleas lead to change, then he can count himself as a success, but until then he’s just a guy going around emitting all over the place with no return. Too much uncertainty for me. I’m not saying Al Gore should quit giving talks– it’s critical, and in fact I’ll do Gorish things on the side (see below). But it’s not enough by itself.
Question #2 – Why Communications?
It’s the efficiency industry’s Achilles Heel. As mentioned, the industry provides great, profitable products, but few take advantage. That’s a communications problem. I want to help fix it.
Moonlighting (Not that Moonlighting). In my research, I asked myself: which jobs would allow me to have an effect beyond my core role? What work will allow me to moonlight in other roles? For example, I think that raising awareness is key, so maybe I should be Al Gore Junior. But is it easier to work in energy efficiency and moonlight as Al Gore than it is to be Al Gore and moonlight in energy efficiency? It is. It’s hard to be an energy efficiency salesman on nights and weekends, but I can be an awareness-raiser any time. Also, if I’m in communications I can slip some awareness-raising into my day job as well. I see it as my duty to fellow citizens and future generations to use less energy, and I think I can inspire that feeling others.
It suits me. I love being with others, I love persuading, I love presenting, and I’m good at it. I’m awesome. Mostly.
So I have a general direction and now it’s time to get specific. Next I’ll research individual companies, markets, people and positions to figure out where I fit. I’ll share it here as it unfolds.
Disclaimer for future employers who happen by: I reserve the right to disregard all this and do something else if I decide it’s a better way to fight climate change
Also handsome readers: I’m happy to present my analysis via webinar or in person. If you need to get a group excited about energy efficiency, it might do the trick.
–From the Sea
[Update]: Here’s a beautiful example of efficiency doing it’s thing. That’s what I’m talking about.