Photo by Matt Palmer

You may soon need to understand climate change to get a job

We’re feeling and seeing the effects of climate change more and more every year. A megadrought and rabid wildfires are ravaging the West even as I type. Decarbonizing our economy can prevent the worst possible effects of climate change, but it’s clear we’re late and some amount of it is already baked in. So, like all those creatures fleeing the flames out West or like our aquatic species who’ve been re-routing their migrations, we too are going to have to adapt.

Because of that simple fact, some experts say having an understanding of climate change is going to become increasingly important for people who are trying to find work in many different industries. You could even argue understanding climate change is now something that can make you a lot more employable.

Jesse Keenan is an associate professor and social scientist at Tulane University’s School of Architecture who’s been studying climate issues for years. He teaches courses that focus on climate adaptation, sustainable infrastructure and more. He tells The News Station his students aren’t having any trouble getting good jobs.

“For years I’ve been teaching this core curriculum at Harvard and MIT, and all of my students were employed. They were employed and had multiple job offers. They had the skills that they needed, and they had multiple offers to go into this line of work.”

Jesse Keenan

To Keenan, studying climate change in school is beneficial for anyone because it affects so many industries. Studying it allows you to learn data analytics, risk management and more desirable skills. Even if you don’t end up in a position where your work is directly tied to climate science, understanding climate science and having these skills are increasingly valuable.

“You’re learning how to make decisions under uncertainty. You’re learning how to utilize big data to see things that may otherwise be latent,” Keenan says. “You’re understanding dynamic global change in markets and changing consumer preferences and behaviors.”

Engineers, people in finance, people in tech and even dentists are now often expected to have knowledge of the effects of climate change. He notes that engineers need to know how something they build, such as a bridge, will be affected by things like sea level rise and extreme weather events. Someone in finance might need to understand how a changing planet will affect different markets. Keenan says climate change is already impacting the food people eat in certain regions of the world, which is affecting their teeth, so many students in dentistry are studying that.

Blue collar workers are feeling it as well. Places like Seattle and Portland, Ore., haven’t traditionally needed air conditioning to get through their summers, but temperatures are rising, and these places are experiencing unprecedented heat waves. This summer’s recent heat wave killed roughly 800 people.

“They’re going to need a lot more air conditioning,” Keenan says. “People up North are going to need a lot more air conditioning. That means they’re going to need more air conditioning technicians and specialists.”

Major corporations are increasingly hiring climate experts to help them make big decisions, and large consulting firms are starting to make a lot of money off of creating climate change-related strategies for companies from a wide range of industries. Bain & Company, for example, says it will now help corporations “develop and execute a climate change strategy that turns sustainability into a competitive advantage.”

For America to produce the number of climate change-educated workers we’re going to need, Keenan says the National Science Foundation needs to help universities develop climate programs. As things stand, professors whose work touches the issue of climate change are often spread out over many different departments.

“What schools really need is an opportunity to kind of take stock of their existing expertise and how they can pull these different climate experts from across the university into one program.”

Jesse Keenan

“Historically, we’ve done stuff like that in the United States, and we’ve done that integrated curriculum development through funding from the National Science Foundation,” Keenan says.

It may seem like only climate scientists and climate reporters would have to understand climate change to have successful careers, but because of how climate change affects so many different things in so many different ways, it’s becoming something everyone needs to understand. As the threats we’re facing become more pronounced, understanding what’s happening to the planet will become even more crucial. Someone who’s surrounded by chaos and doesn’t understand its origin or where things are heading isn’t someone you’re going to want to rely on.

Thor Benson is an independent journalist who has contributed to The News Station, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone and many other publications. Find him on Twitter at @thor_benson.

Thor Benson is an independent journalist who has contributed to The News Station, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone and many other publications. Find him on Twitter at @thor_benson.

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