Climate Careers

If you’ve read the Solutions side of this site, you know that we have most of the climate solutions we need, and that engineers and scientists are working hard to fill in the remaining pieces of the puzzle, so that those pieces will be there when we need them.  But having climate solutions is one thing; implementing them, at the scale and speed necessary, is another.  To do that, we need more than engineers and scientists (and farmers on land and ocean).  We need vast numbers of people, in a wide range of careers, to make it happen.

To get an idea of just how many kinds of people we need in order to implement climate solutions, think about the humble, air-source heat pump.

Heat pumps are already a mature climate solution; they’re ready now.  They can heat buildings in cold climates in the depths of winter and cool the same buildings in summer.  They’re three to four times more efficient than the best gas furnace, so they use much less energy and save money for the vast majority of building owners.  When you’re no longer combusting fossil fuels in your basement, you don’t have to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning, or remembering to order oil or propane, or the small but real chance of a methane gas explosion.  And of course, because heat pumps run on electricity, which can be generated by renewables, they don’t pump carbon into the atmosphere.  But while heat-pumps are clear wins for homeowners, commercial building-owners, and the planet, there are many barriers slowing down their adoption – from high up-front costs, to contractors who are not familiar with them, to local building codes and utility incentives that discourage them – and so they are not being installed nearly fast enough to eliminate emissions from heating in America by 2050.  (We’ll discuss some of the obstacles they face under Public Policy.) 

Now consider one organization aimed at rapidly scaling up heat pump installation.  Blocpower is a start-up business aimed at rapidly electrifying buildings – and addressing environmental injustice at the same time.  Blocpower focuses on apartments, houses, and buildings such as churches in low-income, underserved communities, like the Bronx neighborhood where its founder, Donnel Baird, grew up. 

 Donnel Baird.  Credit: Reuters (get permission). 

Blocpower uses its own machine learning software to analyze each building to determine the most cost-effective way to insulate and electrify it; and it finances each project itself, leasing the heat pumps that it installs to building owners, with no upfront costs – structuring the lease so that owners’ energy savings are greater than their lease payments to Blocpower, and everyone comes out ahead.  Through its Civilian Climate Corps, Blocpower has trained over 1000 individuals at high risk of gun violence in New York City to work electrifying buildings. It has retrofitted more than 1200 buildings so far.  In November, 2021, the city council of Ithaca, NY voted to partner with Blocpower to electrify all of the buildings in the city (more than 6,000) by 2030.  Since then, Menlo Park, CA has voted to partner with Blocpower to electrify over 10,000 buildings there, and several other cities are working on similar plans.  

Think about all the kinds of people that empower a company like Blocpower to accelerate heat pump deployment.  There’s its founder, of course, who had the idea for the start-up.  And there are all the people who work there now: the computer programmers who code the machine-learning software, the financial experts who structure the leases and obtain money from outside investors, the people who work in accounting, human resources, sales and marketing, and the technicians from the communities Blocpower serves who install heat pumps.  All of them have careers working to accelerate a climate solution to the scale and speed we need.

And the people at Blocpower are not working alone:

  • Their work is enabled by the locally-minded climate activists who pushed the city councils in Ithaca and Menlo Park to make the hard choice to electrify every single building; by the climate-minded community leaders in those places who decided to run for city council themselves; and by the professional in those cities’ planning departments who figured out how to make it happen.
  • Their work is enabled by the state legislators in New York and California who passed incentives for installing heat pumps, which help make Blocpower’s leases pencil out for building owners; and by all of the political activists who empowered and elected them (or ran for office themselves), and the political staff that supported them.
  • Their work is enabled by environmental lawyers and ordinary citizens who have argued before state Public Utility Commissions that utilities must adopt policies and practices that support electrification, rather than blocking it.
  • Their work is enabled by the computer programmers and entrepreneurs who built climate-focused crowdfunding sites like Raisegreen, which allows individuals to loan money to Blocpower, to finance the heat pumps it installs.
  • Their work is enabled by executives at businesses like Microsoft, who decided that their companies should engage in “impact investing” supporting start-ups, including Blocpower, that could make a difference on climate – and by all the workers in those companies who lobbied their executives be more active fighting climate change.
  • Their work is enabled by the science communicators, journalists, story-tellers, poets and artists who convinced and inspired all of these people to do more to fight for a livable climate.

Implementing climate solutions at the scale we need will mean making massive changes across every facet of society.  This is not something that technologists, or entrepreneurs, or farmers, or politicians can do on their own.  Climate change is a problem for all of us, and it will require a collective response, from all of us.  

In this part of the website, we’re going to focus on careers that can support and enable climate solutions to deploy at the speed and scale we need.  If you’ve read the SOLUTIONS side of the site, you will already have a good sense of how careers in science and engineering can contribute, so we’re going to leave those aside, and focus elsewhere.  Click on the tiles below to explore some of the careers that can be climate careers.  At the bottom of the page, you’ll find many more resources, including links to websites devoted to helping people find jobs working on climate.

Explore Careers

Further Resources:

Workonclimate.org is a web-page and Slack community devoted to helping people move into climate careers. It’s mostly aimed at professionals who already have jobs and want to switch tracks and find a way to address climate change.  It’s full of resources, including “starter packs” with curated sets of articles on various topics.  Most valuable is their slack community, which is active and lively.  One of their central premises is that addressing climate change requires a community of people helping each other; they aim to foster that.

Climatebase.org keeps a large database of jobs working on climate, both in private companies and non-profits, sorted by sector (agriculture, software, etc.)  They also have a “fellowship program” meant to help jump-start climate careers which charges tuition but also offers scholarships. 

Terra.do is a platform (with a phone app) aimed at helping professionals transition into careers working on climate.  They offer courses, taught by professionals working in the field, designed to help orient people in the field.  They charge a fee for these courses, but also offer scholarships.

For inspiration, read through this great thread of people who have changed careers to work on climate:

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