After having a wake-up moment about the realities of climate change, it finally seemed as if a world of infinite career possibilities had collapsed down to a few. However, the relief was deceptive because achieving a livable future means changing literally everything, so the options still remained vast. Nevertheless, some kind of framework is needed and what follows is my current thinking.
Deciding to focus on climate change after working in tech for 5 years has done the most to constrain the options open to me. If I had this conviction when I was starting college, the number of paths available would have been utterly staggering. At this point I have certain capabilities which are fixed in the short-term. In the long-term anything can change, but the climate crisis demands urgency. So choosing to do something that requires many years of training is less impactful than something that requires low ramp-up time. And when I say impact, my goal is to help prevent or reduce the largest possible amount of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years. The capabilities I have are the inputs and the desired output is lowering emissions. I’m trying to find the right function to convert one into the other.
I see capabilities as the sum of my interests, skills, connections, savings, and privileges. Everything other than my interests can be grouped together and called resources. And what I mean by interest is affinity for a given opportunity such that the risk of burnout is low. It’s separate from resources because having lots of interest can amplify everything and probably plays the largest role in sustaining myself moving forwards. Whatever path I choose, I want to fully utilize my resources. The privilege to even entertain this exercise is exceptionally rare. So a requirement of what I pursue is to make the most of what I have. Shying away from this responsibility would be a failure of the process. As an example, farming a small plot of land in a sustainable way for the rest of my life doesn’t meet the obligation of my privilege despite being a viable way to reduce emissions. Simplifying my capabilities this way does gloss over some nuance, but helps to construct a more understandable way to evaluate options.
Returning to the function that takes inputs and yields outputs, it consists of two pieces. The first is the specific job and the second is the specific area of climate change. Examples of the former include policy researcher, political campaign analyst, or journalist while examples of the latter include wind energy, afforestation, or net-zero buildings. The work that lies ahead of me is evaluating different jobs and areas of climate change on the axes of how interested I am, how applicable my resources are, and how many tons of emissions can be prevented. For areas of climate change, thus far I’ve been relying on Project Drawdown’s work to learn about the available options. As for jobs, that’s where my understanding is lacking. I don’t have a complete picture in my head and plan on tackling that blind spot first. There is no objective way to make these assessments, however the existence of criteria creates structure to explore what’s possible.
There are three concerns I have with my approach. One is the fixed nature of my interests and resources in the short term. I may find many jobs and areas that greatly interest me, but require 4-5 years of building expertise. Given how crucial the next 10 years are for bending the emissions curve, choosing something where I rebuild resources needs to be carefully considered. The second concern is human nature. Location, relationships, ego, money, etc. will all play a role in my choice no matter how disciplined I am. I’ll need to stay vigilant throughout this process by maintaining an honest assessment of how those factors are affecting me. The final concern is dedicating enough time to this research phase while avoiding “analysis paralysis”. There’s a balance between rational and instinctual decision making and I hope to find the middle. My awareness of these concerns provides a measure of comfort as I begin in earnest.
Many improvements and corrections will happen as I push forwards. As of now my hunch is that staying within tech or moving into data analytics for political campaigns makes the most sense. I want to challenge that hunch as much as possible to prevent the inertia of life from having full sway, ever aware that the subconscious mind has its own way of self-rationalizing decisions. Here’s to one more attempt at making sense of how a person can find their role in fighting climate change.