Career advice in climate change

From a loyal MR reader:

Advice question for you and MR readers, riffing on one of your Conversations themes, if you would indulge me.

What advice would you give to someone wishing to build a career in climate change mitigation as a non-scientist? 

Two advice scenarios: 1) the person is 16; 2) the person is mid-career. Assume no constraints with respect to skill development or self-directed study. That is, what should these people teach themselves? To whom should they reach out to for mentorship?

Your suggestions?


That deceased economist who specialized in estimating discount rates? But he was a hermit. I say this career choice is not low hanging fruit, but to take a stab, perhaps running for a "Green Party" candidacy, or supporting such a politician, is the way to go. Ultimately climate mitigation is as much a political decision as a scientific one.

How about getting rich people like you to give them money in exchange for bits in computers representing ownership in the factories built using your money to build really really big robotic factories, and paying engineers to redesign products so the robots can actually build the products.

Say by redesigning vehicles to be much simpler with fewer parts requiring hands to install, like the wiring in cars.

I started in the computer industry in the middle of the era of robots running wires, robots that replaced women running the wires. I saw wires replaced by circuit boards holding connectors connecting circuit boards, so humans just inserted parts, ran boards through wave soldering, and eventually plugged the boards into connectors. Then the circuit board wiring was replaced by making wires on chips to put more of the circuit on just one board. Then almost all the wiring was put on the chip with the entire computer wiring done by people now done in robot clean rooms, with only a circuit board handling the power and IO that was once a full cabinet of hand assembled parts.

In a hundred years making vehicles, the wiring has been done by hand even as the amount of wire has increased from a few feet to several miles of wire.

Tesla is starting to eliminate most of the wires in vehicles to eliminate the need for people to run the wires. Basically the same way as in computers. Manufacture a circuit board for all the parts of the car to plug into. A big circuit board for each big part of the car. A few jumper wires, like USB on steroids to connect them all.

Or build the factory to take raw material in and ship out power and drive train with lithium, cobalt, aluminum, copper, etc mixed, forced, stamped, assembled by robots into the final product, overseen by humans who figure out how to improve the design to increase the robot production with less human intervention.

Or be one of the engineers/technicians designing/building/running/maintaining/improving hundreds of not mega, not giga, but terafactories.

Or get into building the robotic factory to take vehicles built by robots apart to produce raw materials to feed into robotic factories building vehicles. Today, 80% of the mass in new US vehicles comes from old vehicles, using lots of workers. It's cheaper to pay workers to take cars apart than to pay miners to get the same mass of metal in ore from the earth.

He's not that rich, hun. It's the internet, you know?

Ray was first and got it in one. If we don't get a magic cure, it will be mitigation and adaptation.

Beach front homes in Canada. Arizona style water controls for California.

The only reason California was even close to a water emergency is that the agriculture industry gets essentially unlimited water for free.

Families were conserving water while the valley was flood irrigating to farm rice.

Beachfront homes already exist in Canada....

Although as a symbol of liberal mismanagement and socializing costs while privatizing benefits, California’s approach to water is pretty much perfect. Give away something for free to a certain class, ration for 95% of citizens.

Are the farmers in CA liberal? They win the state government game because they control huge areas of land, each with a representative in the legislature, while most Californians are huddled around a few cities whose representation is easily gerrymandered. A political map of CA, like America and most of its states, is colored red with specks of blue.

California has a hodgepodge of water laws and rights established .. well starting under Spanish rule.

Nothing says neophyte, or ideologue, like the pretense that water use across the state is one thing.

This is true, but little changes like allowing the farmers to sell their water rights in an open market would really help these 'shortages'. So +1 for the neophyte, or ideologue.

Climate change is a Chinese hoax. Fake news! #maga2020

'wishing to build a career in climate change mitigation as a non-scientist'

What a silly goal - but if you can fake it, the Mercatus Center is always looking for a few good people who will sell whatever policy the donors desire.

It helps if you're attractive, debonair, a good conversationalist, socially presentable, have wherewithal, are reasonably intelligent, are smooth, like a good lobbyist.

...BTW, why did you get fired from there?

From the Mercatus Center? I have never had anything to do with them.

And I was never fired from any of the jobs I worked at Mason - either as a state employee, an employee of a private company at GMU, or as an employee paid by the GMU Foundation.

Asked to resign?

Get a room.

Welcome to the Thunderdome!


Just what we need - another Greta Thunberg to screw things up.

That said, there is nothing wrong with improving alternatives to fossil fuels. Engineering (as a verb) solutions would be the most useful contribution, but if that's not possible engineering support would be helpful.

Some people would say sales or marketing, but those people sell and market products whether they are good or bad. We have many bad products being sold right now and we don't need more of that.

Quality assurance requires some training, depending on the product and the testing level. It's a good paying middle class career - I know many that do it. They hate their jobs, but the jobs pay their mortgages in Silicon Valley, which is amazing in itself.

Ideally, select a career that would also be worthwhile regardless of the degree of climate change.

I’d think about actual efficiency - not how to mandate micro cars and bad dishwashers, but for example how to build better electric motors, or room temperature superconductors. Or cheap modular nuclear reactors. Semiconductor rather than magnetron microwaves, for example, would save considerable power and have been “next year” for a while.

An actually better, cheaper solution will essentially implement itself.

If you don’t have or can’t get the chops to actually address the do more with less energy problem, the next best thing would be to reduce/remove the regulatory barriers that prevent or slow adoption; for example barriers to nuclear power.

I’d read about the guy responsible for the green revolution, I.e. better rice yields, as an aspirational benchmark. IIRC, one guy increased yields enough to feed hundreds of millions.

Can't do nuclear in the US.

Bill Gates' Terrapower has been prohibited from selling its near zero nuclear waste breeder nuclear power reactors because all nuclear power technology is only for making and waging nuclear war. According to Trump and his advisors.

"The Trump administration, led by the Energy Department, announced in October that it was implementing measures to “prevent China’s illegal diversion of U.S. civil nuclear technology for military or other unauthorized purposes.”

Those measures have made it nearly impossible for TerraPower’s project to go forward, according to multiple people familiar with the development.
TerraPower had pursued plans to build a pilot reactor in China because that country has two things America doesn’t — growing electricity demand and a long-term strategic energy plan — a top TerraPower executive told me last year."

Trump/Perry are clearly killing nuclear power in the US:
"The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) has granted $15 million to fund selectees for multiple domestic advanced nuclear technology projects.

© Shutterstock
Three projects in three states will receive varying amounts for their efforts, noting the projects are cost-shared and enable industry-led teams, including participants from federal agencies, public and private laboratories, institutions of higher education and other domestic entities, to advance the state of the nation’s commercial nuclear capability.

“Several companies are working on technologies to make the next generation of nuclear reactors highly competitive, and private-public partnerships will be key to successfully developing innovative domestic nuclear technologies,” Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said. “The Trump Administration is committed to reviving and revitalizing the U.S. nuclear industry.”The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) has granted $15 million to fund selectees for multiple domestic advanced nuclear technology projects.

© Shutterstock
Three projects in three states will receive varying amounts for their efforts, noting the projects are cost-shared and enable industry-led teams, including participants from federal agencies, public and private laboratories, institutions of higher education and other domestic entities, to advance the state of the nation’s commercial nuclear capability.

“Several companies are working on technologies to make the next generation of nuclear reactors highly competitive, and private-public partnerships will be key to successfully developing innovative domestic nuclear technologies,” Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said. “The Trump Administration is committed to reviving and revitalizing the U.S. nuclear industry.”"

Obama administration policy "The President’s FY 2016 Budget includes more than $900 million for the Department of Energy (DOE) to support the U.S. civilian nuclear energy sector by leading federal research, development, and demonstration efforts in nuclear energy technologies, ranging from power generation, safety, hybrid energy systems, and security technologies, among other things. DOE also supports the deployment of these technologies with $12.5 billion in remaining loan guarantee authority for advanced nuclear projects through Title 17. DOE’s investments in nuclear energy help secure the three strategic objectives that are foundational to our nation’s energy system: energy security, economic competitiveness, and environmental responsibility."

Vs Trump administration:
"The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently released its Fiscal Year 2020 Congressional Budget request of $31.7 billion­­.

That includes $824 million for nuclear energy research and development. The Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) is working to revitalize the nuclear energy sector by addressing three main priorities:

Expand the lifespan of the nation’s existing fleet;
Develop a new pipeline of advanced nuclear reactors;
Strengthen the nation’s fuel cycle infrastructure.
Here are five things you should know about NE’s budget request.

1. Nuclear continues to be a priority

The Trump Administration is continuing its comprehensive review of the nation’s nuclear energy policy in an effort to revive, revitalize, and expand the nation’s nuclear sector.

As part of that process, President Donald Trump signed two nuclear bills into law to help streamline the regulatory process and eliminate some of the financial and technological barriers standing in the way of nuclear innovation.

Nuclear currently provides about 20% of the country’s power and more than half of its carbon-free electricity—the most of any clean energy source. It supports roughly half a million American jobs and brings critical resiliency and reliability attributes to the electric grid.

2. The budget request is up nearly 8% from the FY19 request

NE’s total request of $824 million is up nearly 8% over the FY19 request ($757 million). According to the FY20 request, these funds will support nuclear energy research and development (R&D) efforts."

And a big priority is to prioritize burying as waste 90% of government subsidized enriched uranium in Yucca mountain as waste instead of making breeder reactors that produce very small amounts of waste a priority.

The cost of just doing the regulatory work to bury good nuclear fuel as waste is as much or more than proving a new breeder that can burn (after processing) all the existing "waste" fuel. Trump objects because that would end all uranium mining globally, not just the US.

This is bad advice. STEM is a bad career choice because outside of a few majors, the jobs, the pay, and the stability just isn't there. An engineer has to compete globally with other engineers like say in China, South Korea, and Germany, so it quickly becomes a race to the bottom. If you want a rewarding career, do something in our overpriced sectors like finance or health (overpriced means more money!). They are also protected from competition.

My take is that STEM is a meaningless concept at this point. You’re lumping in bullshit, which is always the risk when aggregating. Arnold Kling taught me this in 2006.

AK, you keep pumping out facts. Cowen gives you 10% of the shoutouts you should get. But you know why, you refuse to stop touching the stove of cultural issues. I respect the honesty but cringe at the effects. Every single liberal I’ve ever engaged respectfully with the three language criteria has come away a more informed person.


We don’t need to do this. Group major by math score on SAT. That’s STEM. We can call it SPA. Smart people aggregate.

+1. The advice Engineer gives is way out of touch. The easiest way to make cheaper electric motors is to fire the staff, which is the number one source of cost for any business. Engineers think they are indispensable but once they hand over the IP they created on company time and equipment over to the company, they are toast. With noncompetes and NDAs, they can't retaliate nor take their know how elsewhere.

Room temperature superconductors? How is that career advice? That's the equivalent to saying winning the Nobel prize is a good career move. No shit but not exactly advice for what a 16 year old "non-scientist" should do.

Larry, you sound a bit bitter so I will provide an alternative view for any people who might be considering a career in engineering.

My experience, as an engineer of more than 30 years and with a large team of engineers working for me, is that if you do a good job, you will get paid well and get increasingly more senior roles. I know many engineers who have taken CEO roles in either companies that they have started or needed their skills, and I can assure you they are not hurting for money. Of course many engineers however either don't have leadership skills or don't want the responsibility and want to remain as individual contributors in a sub-specialty of their area. The risk with this approach is that your area could become outdated, or is no longer relevant. To avoid this risk you must continually update your skills and understand the business context that you are working in. But of course this advice is not unique to engineering.

On your specific point as to who owns the IP to a product, usually the employer is the one who does unless specific arrangements are made to the contrary. I am not sure why you think that is unfair.

The goal, re the climate change context, is not cheaper, it’s better, in particular more efficient. The room temp superconductor was thrown out as a “ think big” benchmark, but even a 1 or 2 percent improvement would be material.

There are also non-science, even non-technical roles, in achieving those kind of goals. One example would be HASI, which provides funding for efficiency improvements.

Good advice. The politics of climate change mitigation has been handled badly. Telling people they are akin to holocaust deniers if they don't buy in to everything proposed has not worked. What a surprise.

Learn about aquaculture, or green horticulture/agri-business. The future of sustainable food is incredible. Whether your focus is business, technology, energy, or even cooking this is a domain where you can both make the biggest difference to the planet, and perhaps leverage your skills for an extraordinary living and life.

IMO, this is the correct answer!

Climate science is interesting, but apparently not yet good enough to make useful statements about the state of the climate over a 20 year horizon. However, the current science is being used by politicians to mislead non climate scientists in order advance their political interests. (For comparison, imagine a group of politicians who insisted that all securities be priced according to CAPM and terrified non economists at the disaster that would befall if securities were priced according to the market.) So the advice is to improve the science, or consider where you want to be in the political discussion. Or go into finance.

Climate scientist Judith Curry wrote why she retired from Georgia Tech in 2017:

"It’s time for me to leave the ivory tower.

"A deciding factor was that I no longer know what to say to students and postdocs regarding how to navigate the CRAZINESS in the field of climate science. Research and other professional activities are professionally rewarded only if they are channeled in certain directions approved by a politicized academic establishment — funding, ease of getting your papers published, getting hired in prestigious positions, appointments to prestigious committees and boards, professional recognition, etc.

"How young scientists are to navigate all this is beyond me, and it often becomes a battle of scientific integrity versus career suicide (I have worked through these issues with a number of skeptical young scientists).

The entire post is here:


Judith Curry has an excellent blog that invites people of all perspectives. Highly recommended.

+1 Actually a good place to start would be to read her blog

I'd really encourage an understanding of it as an economic problem. The reality of costs/benefits being a major drive towards changes, the extent to which incentives can be employed by governments (and have an effect), the reality that economic growth need not be traded-off for positive effects on the environment (and given the correlates between a state's economic health and it's commitment to action on climate change - a better action to focus on growth).

Also a full understanding of the natural constraints regarding energy supply by solar and wind, and a view of energy per unit volume - it seems to me too many people are blasé that the sun goes down and that batteries take up space.

Start by studying what happened to millenarian cults when the expected date of the world-changing/ending transformation came and went and ... it didn't happen?

The cults continue to this day, climate change is at its strongest at the moment, but eventually the lack of evidence and the false predictions will make those who think reconsider their belief.

Climate change mitigation needs lots of PR before anything reasonable is going to happen. So focus on PR. Also it is a transferable skill if climate change mitigation doesn't pan out.

I've found that the key here is seeing how often you can use "sustainable" in one press release

That is very 2018. Buzzword now is climate apocalypse.

Sustainable didn't scare anyone

This is a topic I am very familiar with
I would recommend at least a BA or BS in Environmental Sciences. There are lots of consulting firms that do various studies on "green house emissions (GHG). Sorry to break it to you, but although one wouldn't be a scientist in an academic sense, a degree in "science" is still required. There are other areas that dont require some sort of science degree (e.g., economist or lobbiest) but these are rare

Yea, that's it. Even better, be like Bill Nye. He has a master's degree "in science"!

My entire professional career, 35+ years, and two advanced degrees, I still don't know what a "degree in science" is. I also would not hire someone with an "environmental science" degree unless that person also had some valid coursework that could help her/him get professional certification or an advanced degree in a real science.

I'm just saying that this is the bare minimum in terms of a degree that will give you entrance to this field. The question offered by Tyler is what alternatives are available to a non-scientist. It is in this spirit in which my comment is constructed

Radley Horton is a climate scientist at Columbia University and was interviewed on The News Hour last fall about extreme weather. I noticed he went against what the IPCC had written so looked up his background.

His B.A. is in Environmental Policy Studies so no science needed those four years. Then he received an M.A. and Ph.D. in Earth and Environmental Science from Columbia U. where he doesn't teach science courses but ones in the "sustainable development" department. They have changed their webpage and can't find any core science requirements, although last year you needed to take physics 101 and chemistry 101.

In other words, it's a degree in religious studies.

Here's links to Columbia's environmental science and earth science BS degrees:

Both require calculus, physics, chemistry. For the climate focus in both environmental sci and earth sci, there's atmospheric science, geochemistry, paleoclimate, paleobiology, and paleoceanography.

In other words, no, it is not religious studies. But don't let facts rain on your mood affiliation.

First, that is for an undergradate degree. Second, notice that not isn't clear if the calc intro physics and chemistry courses are required. Third, the physics course description says: " The course does not require the use of calculus. " That seems odd for university physics 101.

MIT's intro to Physics 1 (8.01, 8.011, 8.01L) does not require calculus. Most schools have a version of physics that don't need it.

But a Ph.D. in climate science from a top university should need it.

"MIT's intro to Physics 1 (8.01, 8.011, 8.01L) does not require calculus. Most schools have a version of physics that don't need it."

My Physics Professor in college referred to non-calculus based Physics as Physics for Dummies.

Which isn't entirely fair. After he made that comment to me, I spent some time comparing my text book with one that didn't have Calculus. Obviously, it was more of a case, of we don't expect you to be able to figure this out, but here's the equation for you to use. And the non-Calculus course didn't cover as much material either. So, clearly it wasn't for the smartest students. On the other hand, it was clearly a valid science class.

Sure physics without calculus is a valid science course, but we're talking about Ph.D. climate scientists, and it isn't obvious that physics and chemistry 101 are even required at Columbia. You just need 47 credit from their four areas.

Most so called 'climate scientists and experts' have no real science background. The real smart people go into physics, then as you go down in smarts you go into lesser sciences, the least smart go into climate change. I think the reason so many smart science people adhere to the climate change orthodoxy is that the don't look at the so called 'science' behind it. They are so honest in their own fields they wouldn't believe how dodgy most climate science is, if they do have doubts they rarely voice them as it can be damaging to their career. Most of those who do speak out are at the end of their careers and are safe to do so.

If it has science in the name then it’s science.

That’s what science means. Sustainability science is science. It uses either the scientific method or an intersectional approach that focuses on the interplay of power dynamics and the results on minority stakeholders.

That IS science. Engineering is not science. It has no real world applications outside of a narrow scope of design and function. We don’t need to hear from engineers, we need to hear from climate scientists and sustainability scientists. Engineers, we’ll contact you when we need a plant built. Until then, shut up. It’s no secret that engineering is a hotbed of conservatism, reactionary politics, and science denialism. It’s a bourgeoisie reactionary field. Not a justice aligned Science.

TL;DR evolution is real, climate change is real, heritability is a white nationalist meme, Flynn effect is real, race is not real, vaccines are not dangerous, IQ is a white nationalist meme, engineering is a hotbed of dangerous thinking, and if we triple our investment in K-12 education we could have a national boom of economic growth.

"It uses either the scientific method or ..."

The problem, as I'm sure you are well aware, is when you added the small word at the end there.

"...or an intersectional approach that focuses on the interplay of power dynamics and the results on minority stakeholders."

+1, that was hilarious parody. Awesome post!

...a hilarious parody.

start with something like ‘Atmosphere, Ocean and Climate Dynamics’
by John Marshall and R. Alan Plumb
its a good introduction to the mechanical dynamics of climate. it has the added advantage of having video presentations of the necessary experiments/demonstrations online.

a good understanding of narrative construction. People like Scott Alexander, John Nerst, especially the concept of decoupling. There is a lot of conflation in the world of climate narratives.

take a first 20 hrs approach to get the basics

step 2; the math of mean calculation. Its the Min's and max's that cause the damage not the mean. Solid actuarial accounting that you can find-in the re-insurance community is the best.

I like the idea of having the 16 year old study actuarial science in college, and maybe combine that with a science minor (env science, biology or physics).

I agree, had to wait until my 2nd year in uni before I was exposed to this way of thinking. It was in an Economic Geography class focusing on the Columbia River treaty, water flows, power generation, irrigation, flood control. really interesting stuff.


Learn how to Swim.


Learn how to put out forest fires.


Learn how to Swim.


Learn how to put out Forest Fires.

Sorry for the repeat. Wasn't doing it for emphasis.

If the 16 year old is able to get in to an elite university, Harvard, Duke, and Columbia all have very good public policy programs that allow environmental or climate change specialization. Some of the public universities have very good environmental public policy programs as well. The 16-year old should look at environmental public policy programs at Indiana U, USC, Georgia Tech, U Washington, U Michigan, or Berkeley. The mid-career person should look at a graduate degree at these same universities.

Interesting comment. I was not aware of the existence of these programs. Do you know what the career paths are of the graduates of these programs? I would assume lobbiest, think tanks, corporate PR, but I'm only guessing. Feel free to fill in the blanks

They can work at environmental consulting firms, federal, state and local environmental agencies, and NGOs. There are also a lot of opportunities in the private sector, not only at energy companies, but also in the financial sector. The Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) has suggested that financial firms measure and disclose their climate change risk and do climate transition risk and physical risk stress tests. Many banks and asset management firms are starting to hire people to do this.

Look for jobs/roles in government and nonprofits in adaptive management.

Honestly, It pains me to say this, but you should go to a top 10 school, then go work in investment banking for a few years, and then use those skills and connections to help run/manage a science driven firm that is high on science talent, and low on business sense and good management. Alternatively, go into a climate focused investments firm. In both cases you will be taking a substantial pay cut compared to what you could make, although perhaps not as much as you might think.

The truth is connections and power are your best avenue to influence change (as a non-scientist). Studying policy and going to work at a not-for-profit that does climate change advocacy is going to be much lower impact.

You'd be joining the scam too late in the day. Better to get in on the ground floor of a new one.


The fact that the question even exists shows how late in the cycle this is.

Although the "end is near" scam is perennial and Limits to Growth, the parent of climate change has had a 70 year run

Not sure if looking at job security or profitability. Anything with the MIC, as they will lead the charge for feel good interventions (good intent, just bad outcomes!) or more technological white elephant "solutions" for climate change.

Select a career which is in line with your strengths. Get as much compensation as you can. Then research charities and give with those that align with your beliefs.

Agree, however there's a lot of money in it for those who have the skills of a snake oil salesman.

Yep, cutting costs bby using fossil fuels creates the most jobs as every employee called to a meeting to announce cost cutting.

Everyone knows a business cutting costs is going hire twice as many workers and double wages and benefits.

According to Trump.

He's outraged that power producers are doubling costs by switch from coal to natural gas and wind. That GM is hiking costs drastically by closing the Lordestown factory.

And he's outraged so many coal companies have increased costs by going bankrupt since he became president on a promise to bring back coal to cut costs.

1. I'd look into removal of CO2 from the air. Enhanced weathering biochar. At some point we might get a CO2 tax and a payout for removal.
2. Raising up homes and buildings
3. Of course HVAC plus solar & nuclear power.

Politics. The most important problems today are how to get large groups of people and organizations to change their behavior.

+1. Community organizing if you don't want to be a "scientist."

Pull your head out of your butt. The USA has been cooling since 1900. You can’t argue with science.

There might be a "warming hole" in your brain given the paper doesn't support your assertion

I thought the 'deniers' were about disagreeing that humans are a major cause of climate change, or believing we should not enact costly 'solutions', etc. Are there actually sentient humans who still do not think the planet is in a warming period? Forget the 'why' of it, they don't even think it's getting warmer?

There are a lot of people who don't think it is an apocalypse or think that historic temperature data has been manipulated by advocates.

I don't think anyone thinks that the climate changes regularly or necessarily disputes we may be in a regular upward part of the cycle.

Tell that to 'Stirner says'

The relevant chart is behind a paywall, but you can see supporting excerpts and charts here:

Even climate hysterics agreed not so long ago that there had been no warming in the contiguous US average temperature:

"Phil Jones and NOAA agreed in 1989 :

February 04, 1989 Last week, scientists from the United States Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that a study of temperature readings for the contiguous 48 states over the last century showed there had been no significant change in average temperature over that period. Dr. (Phil) Jones said in a telephone interview today that his own results for the 48 states agreed with those findings.

New York Times

James Hansen agreed in 1999

Empirical evidence does not lend much support to the notion that climate is headed precipitately toward more extreme heat and drought. The drought of 1999 covered a smaller area than the 1988 drought, when the Mississippi almost dried up. And 1988 was a temporary inconvenience as compared with repeated droughts during the 1930s “Dust Bowl” that caused an exodus from the prairies, as chronicled in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath…..

in the U.S. there has been little temperature change in the past 50 years, the time of rapidly increasing greenhouse gases — in fact, there was a slight cooling throughout much of the country

NASA GISS: Science Briefs: Whither U.S. Climate?"

Dredging, dikes, that sort of stuff.

Check out what the effective altruists have to say on this, e.g. or

Contrary to "Various", scientific training may not be especially important. If your best mitigation strategy is cap-and-trade, then finding a workable proposal and convincing people to adopt it is more a matter of (progess studies or) public policy or law or marketing.

For the middle aged, it really depends on what their background is. For the young:

Marketing - there are plenty of products that will need to be introduced to consumers. Going from 1% to 90% adoption of them is a real challenge. As is changing behavior.

Project management - climate change will require massive coordination and mega projects. This takes a lot of skill. Relatedly, this is where a lot of folks in the traditional energy industry can contribute.

International Development -
How do you get new technologies adopted abroad?

It's good the person is not interested in science, for I've come across this:

Q: What do you call a situation in which a small group of researchers make bold predictions but won’t share their data, try to get contradictory articles blackballed from journals, lash out at critics with lawsuits, and see most of their predictions fall by the way side?

A: Settled science.

Having worked in energy and environmental policy for the last five years in various capacities, here are some thoughts about what I am glad I have done and what I wish I had done differently.

First, it should be observed that climate change is a hot topic right now. It is receiving a greater level of attention from the press and activist community than ever before, and this is not an unalloyed blessing for the field. My view is that it is an important issue, though only one of several important long-term challenges that civilization faces. Pursuing a career is a major endeavor, and one should engage in some intensive self-examination that it is really the right approach. If nothing else, as you develop an approach to responding to climate change, your response will fit into the context of other major societal challenges.

Especially for the 16 year old, I know you might not like to hear this, but people generally don't know much about the world at age 16. I certainly didn't. I will be turning 38 soon and only now am I starting to feel that I have constructive things to add on climate change.

My approach has been to work backwards. First, I would start by trying to understand the atmospheric physics, the sensitivity of temperature to CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and the projected impacts of different emission scenarios on economic growth, agricultural yields, biodiversity, severity of natural disasters, etc. Again, as a strong believer in context, I would try to compare these impacts to impacts from such things as economic policy, technology development, etc. as a gut check that climate change really is the critical issue you want to focus on.

Second, tally up the drivers of greenhouse gas emissions: energy, land use, industrial processes, natural processes, etc. Quantify the supply side (e.g. fossil fuel consumption) and the demand side (population, GDP, etc.)

Third, list out all the technical methods of intervention you can think of. For energy production, that includes controversial areas such a nuclear power, and lesser know areas such as fusion power, wave power, or electrofuels. Look at agricultural practices, carbon capture and sequestration/reuse, geoengineering, urban development patterns. For each one, find some rough figures on cost, risks, feasibility, etc.

Fourth, look at policy or social interventions. Identify the best research on the effectiveness, feasibility, and effects of carbon pricing, energy efficiency standards, technology R&D, public infrastructure (e.g. HVDC supergrid), family planning, and whatever else you can think of. To be perfectly clear, I do not support all of these things, but I advocate studying them in the interesting of being comprehensive. Look at social attitudes, such as consumerism, preference for free market economies, etc.. their nexus with climate, and what potential there might be for intervention.

In doing research, the hierarchy from best to worst sources is generally peer-reviewed science, government or quasi-government (e.g. the International Energy Agency), industry trade groups, and activist groups. Sadly, the quality of solutions put forward by activists is generally not good, and I would not trust anything they say unless you can confirm it from better sources. Don't be shy about doing your back of the envelope calculations. If you are wondering if hydrogen fuel cells vehicles are a good solution, for instance, look up some estimates of capital costs of hydrogen filling stations and guesstimate how much a national hydrogen rollout would cost and compare it to some other line items in the government's budget. What professionals do really isn't all that much more sophisticated most of the time.

Consider blogging or building a website as you go. This is a great way to get feedback from experts. You will also probably come up with a few figures and ideas that will be of interest to the community. It is also an excellent way to convey to future employers, donors, or investors that you know what you are doing.

In time, you will be able to step back from the broad approach into something more specific. Having gone through the overview process, you will be confident that the specific area(s) you focus on are the right one(s).

Now, as far as what career paths you should pursue, there are many options, and the direction you go will obviously depend on your skillset, interest, and what you identified as important in your research. I will make only the general comment that, in technology development and especially in policy development, what matters is having money. It may sound cynical, but it's true. In a think tank or academic position, it is the funders who set the agenda, and everyone else who carries it out. I felt stifled in a prior think tank role because I had no control over my research direction. Now that I have my own business and some money, I can do what I want, and it is an infinitely better position to be in.

Interesting comments, but they seem to be supported by a foundation that an understanding of atmospheric physics, gives one an ability to predict the future climate. Unfortunately, our understanding of the climate is not good enough to actually predict future states very well.

So in reality understanding atmospheric dynamics as it relates to predicting the climate only sounds impressive to those willing to pay you for what are essentially descriptive models. So the question for the OP is whether that will be satisfying. I would think it's like being the anchor for a business report, announcing complex phenomena with simplified assumptions that have no ability explain future states. "Lot's of profit-taking today, Bob!"

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that complex climate models are what drives the concern about global warming. Basic back of the envelope calculations tell you all you need to be concerned. The complex models tell us more details to help us plan, but simple 1-d slab models of the atmosphere are all you need to realize that doubling CO2 is going to cause big problems.

Please provide that 1-d model that is predictive of actual climate observations over, say 200-300 years?

*chirp chirp*

@Michael - you sound like the Roman architect Vitruvius giving advice on how to become an architect, basically, to be skilled in pretty much everything, which would take several lifetimes to master. I have a simpler test: to read the below article on measuring CO2 and give both the pros and cons of the approach:

Hint: Mauna Loa is an active CO2 emitting volcano and has to be adjusted for, and measuring CO2 is not easy it seems.

No one has mentioned the moving and storage industry. Allowing people to move out of low lying areas such as Martha's Vineyard will become important. Assisting such people would be the definition of doing well by doing good.

Funny you should say that, given that Obama just spent $15 million on beachfront property there.

Speaking of people needing to move -- real estate. All that new beachfront property in central PA.

Always doing your investigating is a good idea. Never take someone's word on something.

The solution will be technological. Everything we have is based on consuming fossil fuels, so everything needs reinvention.

If you want to do PR or education, start with educating the bright eyed idiots that none of this is going to be easy. For example, Canada has been working for decades to improve the energy efficiency of homes. The changes in the building codes over the years created very expensive problems, which required further adjustments. Over a period of three decades they finally got it pretty close to right. There are lots of examples like this in various spheres, and if done wrong the whole project is threatened, if done right the gains are marginal.

In other words to solve the problem is not a matter of politics or habits. It requires a re-engineering of every aspect of society, and can possibly fail and kill billions of people if done wrong. Acquaint yourself with the 20th century societal reforms that were attempted. Most failed utterly, a few were catastrophic, and a few were successful. Figure out why.

Not everything needs re-invention. Some of the older methods still work well.

Go to school to learn how to design or operate nuclear power plants.

Worked for Homer Simpson

Someone who is 16 might invest in a long-term effort to understand how the world works, with an emphasis on systems analysis thinking. Literature is helpful in understanding how and why people change or don't; as is econ embedded in pricing and costing; marketing; whatever science or maths one is drawn to, more for the thought process than the direct utility; live and work in other countries for at least a year at a stretch. You are prepping to be a fully-engaged citizen who can analyze and marshal evidence for and against your viewpoint.

Someone who is mid-career could invest in understanding risk in as many dimensions as possible: certainly the insurance industry will be a big player in whatever happens next. Bringing specific career background into that world would be useful from underwriting to industrial hygiene to product and process development/approval.

Based on the responses they appear to be mostly weak-sauce beta-males that have the intelligence of a eighth grader ...

Weak, white, pasty, flabby, beta male cucks. Possibly incel but thorough repulsive to women.

For mid career types, my snarky answer is to get a certificate in 'grant writing' or the like.

More generally, green companies are still companies, and thus, need all of the normal business roles (sales, HR, legal, etc). Apply to one of them... but be aware that it will (should) require a substantial pay cut. You'll now be paid in part in status and warm-fuzzes.

Become a ditch digger. Dig down as far as you can. Put a tinfoil hat on and sing Cumbaya fo the next twelve years.

Get elected to congress. Unfortunately, the usually means (a) a law degree and (b) a willingness to sell out.

It might be better to be really good at what you do in and rise to the C-suite in a company where you can influence what that company does.

Or, you might ask, "Is it too late? Has the hand been dealt, and we're not holding winning cards?"

Learn how to move beach houses.

We'll be handling that.

Since there will be no such thing as climate mitigation, the climate being so huge and complex, the best career for a young non-scientist would be geriatric administration, radiology or professional pocket billiards. Even scientists themselves will be unable to mitigate the climate.

We all have to do our part to save the planet. To offset the 500,000 miles I flew in my Gulfstream last year I went vegan in March, did no chopper November, AND flew commercial twice.

I’ve painted my helicopter with various endangered species. It will be hovering over Davos four hours a day to raise awareness next year.

sacrifice+sustainability=better planet.

Yemeni UAV builder, apparently...

I assume science as geology, hydrology, meteorology. Non-science as insurance actuary/underwriter, land planner, reinsurance.

To both the 16 year old and the mid-career guy, I recommend these two blogs to get acquainted with non-science jobs related to climate change (risk modellers) (news from the reinsurance industry)

People at my job place also work on the "circular economy". This is more about clothing design. A fancy name to minimize the use of resources, save money the planet ;)

+1 risk modellers and just basic stats. The climate scientists are really bad at stats.

I'd be quite depressed I think if I was a 16 year old who asked this question and got some of these answers! But the question is a good one. Leaving climate change only to scientists is not sufficient.

Joseph Romm, author of the very practical book 'Climate Change, what everyone needs to know' does address this as he's often asked the same question. (Recommended reading, no science background required!) Essentially he advises that you follow a career you probably would have done anyway, while learning as much about climate change as you can, and then look for the overlap between the two. For example medicine will see an increase in tropical diseases and dehydration issues. Other examples include a career in agriculture that may lead to carbon farming or looking at how make C3 plants more like C4 plants ( look it up!), or how to commercially grow enough of the right kind of seaweed that can be fed to cows to reduce methane (yep, really). A career in accounting, but carbon accounting. A career in city planning specialising in developing gas-free neighbourhoods, or even just helping cities switch to all LED lighting, which sounds like a no brainer but often needs complex negotiation skills when utilities own the street lights and have no incentives to have cities pay fewer bills (I talked to a major city where this took over 9 years!). Looking for ways to reduce emissions of some of the less media covered but high impact greenhouse gases e.g. refrigerants might be another option. Lastly, you can always just work for a carbon neutral company, even if the work you do isn't directly related. Help them grow, and prove growth and zero footprint can co-exist. Hope one of these options pans out for you!

"Joseph Romm, author of the very practical book 'Climate Change, what everyone needs to know' does address this as he's often asked the same question. (Recommended reading, no science background required!)"

I think Joseph himself needs career advice. He was just laid off of his blogging gig when Think Progress Climate was turned into a static archive because of no money.

Romm is an alarmist who makes little sense and assumes no technical advances out to 2100 yet is a physicist. Sam Harris doesn't know anything about climate change so his interview with Romm was painful to listen to.

Speaking of Harris, he has a neuroscience PhD from UCLA, but it is an interdisciplinary program that also requires few science courses. Harris said he did have to take some anatomy and biology classes that he complained were sheer memorization.

Interestingly, to get a B.S. in neuroscience from UCLA, you need a lot of core science credits as well as calculus and linear algebra, and I think statistics.

By some land in Greenland.

Keep in mind there is zero evidence that climate change is not natural.

There is a huge gulf between the apocalyptic language you see in most mainstream reporting on climate change and actions by Governments and individuals. The well meaning activists lobbying for action (like Greta) believe this is due to lack of knowledge or stupidity by people due to deliberate misleading by evil oil companies or billionaires. The skeptics believe this is due to the governments and individuals having a more realistic view of the risks than the activists.

There doesn't seem to be a good way to bridge these arguments via dialogue - neither side is listening to the other side. So what could be an interesting choice is studying and developing techniques to bridge this gap. After-all if the apocalyptic people are right we had better address this issue soon, on the other hand if the skeptics are right we could waste a lot of money.

One possible channel to do this bridging would be perhaps to create some financial instruments. Per Robin Hanson we know that people tend to be more rational where money is concerned, and the more liquid a market the more rational it is. So far it has been hard to see a real signal on damage caused by global warming, in fact since climate change became a significant discussion topic in the 1990's the human condition has done nothing but improve. But of course this is not necessarily true for the future. So backward looking metrics are no helpful. I would suggest working on some agreed financial instrument that both sides could agree would eventually give a real representation of the risks of climate change. Then working to get this financial instrument up and running and into a liquid market. By the way tracking simple insurance claims will not work, as countries get wealthier insurance claims will naturally rise, regardless of the weather.

What’s the price delta for municipal bonds issued by “would be flooded by climate change” areas vs. “would not be flooded”? Should be pretty simple to build two indexes.

Although I seem to recall someone (California?) suing an oil company for the impending catastrophe while at the same time selling bonds claiming there was no climate risk.

Ok, this site is often a case of living in an ideological bubble.

"What advice would you give to someone wishing to build a career in climate change mitigation as a non-scientist?

Two advice scenarios: 1) the person is 16"

Look for work as a technician in the solar / wind field. You can probably get a 2 year CC degree or certification and have a good paying job as long as you are willing to travel on-site for installation work.

This is an option that is still effective even if Global Warming turns out to be far less critical an issue in 20 years that it appears to be today. Whereas, some kind of environmental degree may well become less useful in that case.

Two options no one else seems to've suggested:

1) find something beyond a primary school account of the career of Johnny Appleseed. Compare this account with informed accounts of plant physiology and habitat to learn what plants (trees, grasses, all) in respective (changing) climate zones do good jobs of absorbing carbon dioxide (rising ocean temperatures, which are helping to foment more frequent and more destructive typhoons and hurricanes, are being explained already by our oceans' having absorbed far more carbon than "previously estimated"). Then commence a J. Appleseed-type career of bipedal locomotion dedicated to planting as many types of carbon-hungry plants as possible for the rest of your natural life.

2) In your rest periods read the works of the late Paul Feyerabend to begin to learn just how scuzzy and self-protective Institutional Science has become. Learn how non-scientific and unscientific much of Holy Science is and has become. Learn to appreciate the religious aspirations of Holy Science to "explain reality" to the benighted, the unlearned, and the unsophisticated. Learn how Holy Science has pursued corruption as immediate compensation for its native inability to tame or control the Technogenic Climate Change that it (Holy Science, its cathedrals of research, its committed devotees with their amazing mathematic hieroglyphics) and its Applied Tech applications and processes have unleashed over the past two centuries and more.

"What advice would you give to someone wishing to build a career in climate change mitigation as a non-scientist? "

1) Bet against it being real,
2) sip margaritas
3) cash in on the gains

-Short term learn the science, most of it is just understanding how electromagnetic radiation works.

Long term do what you're really good at and try to get a job that gives the best training at whatever that is. If it's finance work at a great firm for a few years then look for a firm that does climate oriented work or start your own. If it's cooking figure out how to make delicious scalable veg meals that would replace meat eating (I am a carnivore and it'll take something really good to change me). etc etc for other paths, engineering, economics etc.

> What advice would you give to someone wishing to build a career in climate change mitigation as a non-scientist?

I would tell them not to. Two reasons.

First off, planning your entire career around a moral conviction is a bad idea. Careers are important for a lot of reasons, most notably making money to support yourself. If you build your career around a moral conviction (such as climate change), and then one day you lose your moral conviction, you are placed in a dilemma of "lie and keep pretending you care" vs "lose your job and be sent back to square one". On the other hand, moral convictions are very important to people, and wrapping up your convictions into your career means that if your career starts to stagnate, if you start getting hard up for money, you create the incentive/temptation to sell out your beliefs in order to secure more money.

And secondly, if you spend a life doing what you love for a living, you will probably burn out on that thing by the end of it. Planning on a career in climate change mitigation at age 16 is a great way to ensure that at age 35 you are so burnt out that you want to trigger global warming out of spite. For someone who, right now, cares deeply about the climate, going down that path would be counter-productive

This may seem pedantic, but one does not mitigate climate change. One mitigates the CAUSES of climate change. So pick a field that affects the climate -- energy technology and production, agriculture, urban planning, transportation, forest management, manufacturing, and a hundred others -- and then work to reduce emissions in that field. Plus there are fields that support these sectors -- politics, law, activism, economics, analytics, management. For every person who is a climate activist, there are a thousand who apply the basic principles in their chosen field. Be one of these.

"For every person who is a climate activist, there are a thousand who apply the basic principles in their chosen field. Be one of these."


At the margin we don't need another person standing in front of Congress saying "This is a serious problem!" Don't just SAY something, DO something. Find a (non-sexy) industry that produces a lot of CO2 or methane as a by-product and devote your career to making incremental improvements.

One of you brainiacs might explain to me the flaws in the physics of climate change and how decades of CO2 data from Mauna Loa is either bogus or irrelevant.

If you are too busy to answer both questions, please start with the first.


Flawed? They aren't flawed. The Physics and decades of CO2 data indicate that CO2 has a declining logarithmic effect on temperature. So that any given additional CO2 produces less warming than the previous CO2.

Study law, business and statistics. Join a think tank or something like that. Angle toward creating the equivalent to ALEC with pro-climate change policy, probably as a wing of a larger organization.

It's important to move policy along. I think at some point the opposition is going to cave, just like cigarette makers, but it might still be fighting in 5 years. Even if not, there is going to be need for managing the policy changes necessary, either here or globally. Combining an understanding of business, how to present the case for something, and how to translate the obvious into a passable law would are skills that can help unclog the very clogged machinery of state and national politics on this issue.

Mid-career professional in environmental science / climate change here (9 years). I come from a research science background but I'm mainly a practitioner in the sector. Various roles include project management, comms, fieldwork. Resume includes stints at World Resources Institute, US Forest Service, private consulting, and corporate sustainability. Will include advice for both scientists / non-scientists, adapted from various emails over the past year.

1) 16-21 year olds – I’m comfortable giving advice to this demographic as I was in that grind not too long ago, and I’m often approached by kids seeking internships or mentors. In general, I tell young people that they should pursue the interests/skills that they earnestly enjoy and then apply said talents to whatever profession they choose. Climate change mitigation is all-encompassing: there will be a need for artists, engineers, lawyers, politicians, insurers, marketers, comms, researchers, writers, builders, IT, doctors and the list goes on… Every sector will require mitigation work.

That said, there are several specializations and pathways I actively recommend:
* There is incredible demand for programmers/coders or those that are at least decent with tech. Anyone with Python, Java, GIS skills are incredibly employable (shocking, I know). This should go without saying in 2019 but know your way around a computer!
* Green finance is growing at an impressive clip. The industry needs professionals that know how to finance green projects. At the very least, be conversant in economics. MRU is a great resource for this. Research B-corps, social impact, triple bottom line.
* If possible, spend time at a top tier consulting firm. Do this early, let the experience compound. Most professionals in environmental science are undertrained due to shoestring budgets. Understanding the operations of well run (and poorly run) organizations is invaluable experience and it will help to understand how the corporate world functions. There is always a need for good project managers and there will be some mighty large mitigation projects in the future.
* If interested in language/culture, specialize in Brazil, China, India, Russia, Nigeria, or other large countries with growing footprints.
* If interested in the federal government, get an internship with an agency through the Pathways program. Said internship will make it much easier to be hired down the line. Interior has the glamorous outdoorsy jobs but FEMA, Commerce, military and other agencies will do much of the mitigation.
* Read / write every day. Surely, Tyler would +1 this.
* Be skeptical. You’re wading into the least black and white subject matter imaginable. Context is everything, all variables must be accounted for to make responsible decisions. Consequently, learn the art of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and modeling.
* Mentors? Kind of hard to recommend any without specifics. Reach out to those whose work you admire. Try to find a way to ease their workload.

A few starter books / multimedia include:
* Marginal Revolution’s Micro/Macro courses.
* Cass Sunstein’s Nudge (behavior change primer).
* EO Wilson book such as Biophilia, Half Earth or Letters To A Young Scientist.
* Yale 360 website for decent (ish) environmental journalism.

2) Mid-career – Less comfortable with this one as I’m currently navigating this myself (straddling science and project management), but some things I’ve learned:
* Much of the advice for 16-21 year olds still applies here.
* Reiterating the programming / finance lessons from above. It’s not too late to pivot as these skills will be essential over the next decade. I’d also add learning the basics of behavior change as essential.
* Not interested in a hard pivot for whatever reason? In my opinion, the most effective climate advocates are in roles that have little to do with the environment. They simply prioritize and use sustainability as a framework in which to optimize processes and strengthen community engagement/resiliency. Figure out a way to apply your skills and influence at your current position using a sustainability lens. CC mitigation requires top to bottom workforce buy-in. Work in management or HR? Add green outcomes to KPIs and job descriptions. Work in supply chain? Add relevant language to contacts and optimize logistics. Catch my drift?
* Read, write, network. Rinse, repeat.

Helpful books / multimedia include:
* Read / listen to the Economist, which has nuanced coverage of CC.
* Read seminal literature from stalwarts like Edward Abby, EO Wilson, Aldo Leopald, as well as climate change lit from James Hansen, IPCC reports,, etc.

Do what a what a real market builder would do, monetize catastrophe: Figure out how to short Earth (or at least coastal cities).

Avoid the field entirely. You'll just be frustrated when you figure out the problem is too many humans engaged in too much scaled economic activity and that problem is not going to be solved, or even debated.

Or you'll go batshit crazy like this guy.

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