Sunday, February 6, 2011

Are you employable in a changing world?

Joe Romm, author of Climate Progress blog, has a question-answer piece on his blog where he asks "how can you be most employable in a world of global warming, peak oil, and food insecurity?"

I thought this was interesting, as many of the students in our required sustainability classes object to having to study climate change, oil depletion, and food insecurity for the perceived reason that it's nothing to do with their chosen career fields.

I've become a stuck record on this one.

After eleven years of teaching sustainability to non-majors, I have probably exhausted the entire possible repertoire of ways there are to get students to realize that we are all going to be affected by climate change.

Even so, the question needs to be asked, again and again, to each new class of students, or we wouldn't be very responsible as a college.

Of course, how employable you are in the future depends on how bad we in the present let things get. In the worst case scenario, none of us is employable in the traditional sense, because there are no traditional jobs, and we're all just surviving.

But assume that those of us that are struggling to make some kind of rationality prevail in the present succeed at least partly, and so in the future things are not so bad and society continues pretty much as it does today, except with slightly more rapid and more dangerous climate change than at present, increased conditions of energy scarcity, increased worries over agriculture as ecosystems move around, and so on.

I do tend to think of this as the most likely outcome. I'm neither irrationally optimistic nor irrationally pessimistic. I see that we are doing some things that will reduce emissions, and have plans to do more. I see that the latest information out of climate science is tending to decrease worry over rapid feedbacks and tipping points. And I think that as more and more Americans get flooded or tornado'ed, or get ten feet of snow each year in a two-foot region, they will begin to see sense.

Plus, climate skeptics as a whole tender to be older, grumpier white men and so they will die off after a while.

In which case, our graduates in Sustainability Design and Technology should be very employable (they already are) helping implement energy efficiency and green energy programs in business, government, and non-profit organizations, while our Agriculture, Food and Sustainability students will be worked pretty hard growing food in places where food can still be grown, such as Maine. I think our conservation biologists and policy wonks will be busy enough, too, trying to help solve problems of conservation as ecosystems move around the map.

To the extent that our marine biologists and wildlifers and foresters engage with the new information coming out of climate science, and learn the new conservation, they should be more employable than otherwise.

How employable will our future zookeepers and other animal care types be, the folks in our Captive Wildlife Care and Education degree? Or our Conservation Law Enforcement majors?

I think there's a role for zookeepers and interpretation experts that understand climate change, because we're going to have to keep explaining it to the public for years to come. The impacts will change, and so so will the explanation. But the climate change itself will be a fact of life.

As for the Con Law degree majors, while I'm not sure I can tell whether fighting poachers will increase or decrease as a priority (most likely it will increase) I am as certain as a scientist can be that we'll need more, and yet more expert, search and rescue services.

So there's a role for every Unity College degree program.

And assuming that students are willing to take time out from their degree programs and fairly study the problems for a semester of Core 3, Environmental Sustainability, they'll be prepared, whatever happens.

That at least is the college's plan. And mine.

And I'll have done my duty as a professor and a concerned citizen.

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