Looking at a future full of wildfires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornados, derechos, and “hundred year” freezes once every ten years or less, a generation of workers are turning their attention to address the climate crisis.
In ways large and small, climate jobs are becoming more desirable and the workforce is more willing to adapt to a changing climate.
A recent study from Pew Research showed that in North America about 75% of Canadians and Americans said they were willing to make changes to reduce the effects of climate change. And the general view from the U.S. is that the country is failing to adequately address the climate emergency.
That’s why Gen-Z is stepping up, according to reporting in The Guardian.
“Once you learn how damaged the world’s ecosystems are, it’s not really something you can unsee,” says Rachel Larrivee, 23, a sustainability consultant based in Boston, told the publication. “To me, there’s no point in pursuing a career — or life for that matter — in any other area.”
The shift to confront climate challenges is happening as the demand for jobs in sustainable energy grows stronger each year.
Bureau of Labor statistics indicate that wind power and solar power installation and maintenance jobs will be among the fastest growing careers over the next decade.
And new technology companies are coming to market with solutions for everything from potential climate-related coffee shortages (ahem, Compound Foods and Atomo) to new ways to make meats and cheeses (our portfolio companies Atlast Food Co. and Nobell Foods come to mind).
There are even startups to help job hunters sort through the slew of new tech companies and opportunities for climate related jobs. They’re businesses like ClimateScape, ClimateBase, and The GreenJobs Board.
Colleges and universities are getting into the act, with schools like The University of Southern California in Los Angeles, launching theSustainability Across the Curriculum program earlier this year to teach the college’s 20,000 undergraduate students how their majors intersect with sustainability and the environment, as The Guardian reported.
Over 60 percent of USC students were “very interested” in sustainability on-campus, while 27 percent of students described themselves as interested in campus sustainability, according to this 2020 USC survey.
There are businesses here too that are hoping to capitalize on alternative education to cultivate climate career paths.
Terra.do is one company that’s working on helping people get educated and get employed in the world of climate tech. The early-stage startup wants to be the hub for climate education for the tech and investment world, with a stated goal of getting 100 million climate-conscious people substantially working on climate change solutions relevant to them by 2030.
It’s a great goal, considering that the transition to clean energy represents a $23 trillion opportunity by 2030, and a whole mess of folks are going to need to be trained on how to spend that money wisely.
While Terra.do is focused primarily on the white-collar work that needs to be done, another startup, Julius, is focused on helping companies onboard and train the next generation of workers focused on building back physical infrastructure and managing it better.
“There’s this massive changing world of work and there’re these huge environmental needs.There’s been a lot of attention paid to the technology side of things and not the people side of things,” said Julius co-founder Matthew Evans. “We don’t think the climate goals are achievable without the right thinking about the workforce and who is going to really effectuate this.”
Julius was founded to help employers navigate the green transition, Evans said. Given the labor shortage there’s increasing pressure on employers to market themselves to prospective job-seekers and folks are looking for options that can be more fulfilling, according to the Julius founder.
“Connecting learning to careers is something that universities and community colleges struggle with. The number one thing that people are looking for beyond compensation is that they’re investing in their future. This need for career advancement and a sense of what my future could be is a fundamental need and desire for folks.”
Politicians are also hoping to channel the demand for green jobs and interest in climate careers into the proposed Civilian Climate Corps.
Advocates like Tonya Gayle, the executive director of a New York-based nonprofit that preps young residents in public housing for careers in solar installation and wind farm development, said that the program could be worthwhile — if it’s linked to community initiatives.
“The people in the communities know what’s best in terms of solutions,” Ms. Gayle told The New York Times. “National service in a civilian climate corps is a powerful thing.”
Meanwhile, some Congressional members think that the best way to finance and funnel new employees into clean jobs is to use existing training programs and mechanisms.
But Congressional proponents of the bill disagree.
“Tens of thousands of young people are going to be working to future-proof our country,” Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts told the Times. He hoped the Civilian Climate Corps “will become part of the personality of the country in terms of how a whole new generation views climate change.”
Environmental scientists and lawyers can expect to make median salaries of $73,000 and $122,000 per year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cited by The Guardian. And at 8% growth rates, environmental science and other related specialist fields are seeing higher levels of demand than other career paths.
Folks working on urban farms can make roughly $71,160 and “modern farmers” at the vertical farms that are now being built by startups like Plenty and Bowery Farming make roughy $14–$15 per hour, according to Glassdoor.
“I decided to pursue this industry because I think I’m in the first generation who knows the extent to which climate change poses an existential threat to life on Earth, and also the last generation who may be able to do anything about it,” Larrivee, told The Guardian.