Kasia Kovacs shares insights with BestColleges.com on how you can help the environment by pursuing one of the following 10 popular climate change jobs.
According to NASA, 2020 tied with 2016 for the warmest year on record since scientists began recording temperatures in 1880. In fact, the past five years have all been the warmest years on record. The rise in global temperatures, as well as the spread of forest fires and other natural disasters, has led to a higher demand for careers that fight climate change.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of jobs for environmental scientists and specialists will increase 8% between 2020 and 2030. But you don’t have to become an environmental scientist to combat climate change. The reality is that climate change affects just about every area of our lives. This means you can break into a climate-conscious career by following any number of paths, the most popular of which we introduce below.
What Should You Study for a Career in Climate Change?
An increasing number of U.S. colleges and universities offer degrees that specifically focus on environmental and climate sciences. For example, UCLA offers a climate science major through its Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences Department.
Other science degrees can also help you get your foot in the door when it comes to working in climate science. For instance, you might consider majoring in biology, meteorology, or engineering. Some schools offer focus areas in climate change-related subjects, such as environmental engineering.
You could also pursue a degree in sustainability. Schools like the University of Florida and Roosevelt University offer sustainability studies majors, while other institutions, like UC Davis, boast sustainable agriculture degrees.
If you’ve already got a bachelor’s degree and are instead looking to change careers, consider enrolling in a graduate program. Many master’s programs concentrate specifically on climate science, such as George Mason University’s MS in climate science.
10 Popular Climate Change and Sustainability Careers
Still not sure what degree to get so you can pursue a career battling climate change? It might help to think about the job you want before planning out how to get it. Below are some of the most popular climate change career paths.
1. Environmental Lawyer
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 9% for all lawyers
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $126,930 for all lawyers
- Educational Requirements: Prospective environmental lawyers must obtain a law degree and pass a state’s bar exam.
Environmental lawyers work for law firms that focus on sustainability, renewable energy, and climate change; they can also work for a government agency. These attorneys might challenge a business that broke certain sustainability guidelines, for example.
To become an environmental lawyer, you must earn a juris doctor degree from an accredited law school and pass your state’s bar examination. Many colleges offer environmental law as a concentration.
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 8%
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $99,740
- Educational Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in meteorology or a closely related field. Research positions typically require a master’s degree or a Ph.D.
Climatologists study long-term weather patterns and perform research that explores the overarching consequences of carbon emissions on the climate.
These scientists can work for a government agency or research institute and must have at least a bachelor’s degree. Those hoping to focus primarily on research will generally need a doctorate.
3. Renewable Energy Scientist
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 6% for all materials scientists
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $99,460 for all materials scientists
- Educational Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related field. Research positions typically require a master’s degree or Ph.D.
As the title suggests, renewable energy scientists focus their research on clean energy sources, such as wind, water, and solar power heat. These climate professionals learn how to make renewable energy more efficient and widespread so that we don’t need to rely on coal and oil.
To get a renewable energy job in a research position, you’ll typically need a graduate degree and significant levels of work experience.
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 7%
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $93,580
- Educational Requirements: Bachelor’s degree for entry-level jobs; however, some employers may require a master’s degree.
As Earth specialists, geoscientists play a large role in stopping climate change. These professionals study all of the different elements of Earth, as well as natural resources.
You’ll need a bachelor’s degree, usually in geoscience or environmental science, though many geoscientists have master’s degrees as well. You can find work at universities and research institutes.
5. Environmental Engineer
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 4%
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $92,120
- Educational Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering or a related field.
If you want to come up with real-world solutions to problems caused by climate change, you might be interested in becoming an environmental engineer. In this career, you’ll mainly focus on developing and constructing sustainable architecture, such as green, water-efficient buildings.
Environmental engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in environmental, civil, or chemical engineering. Many go on to earn a master’s degree as well.
6. Clean Car Engineer
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 7%
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $90,160
- Educational Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology, as well as state licensure.
Remember when hybrid cars seemed futuristic? Now, we see charging stations for hybrid and electric cars on city corners. Clean car engineers created these vehicles, and they continue to improve these cars and engineer other models of energy-efficient automobiles.
Becoming a clean car engineer typically means having at least a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or a related discipline.
7. Environmental Scientist
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 8%
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $73,230
- Educational Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in environmental science or science-related field.
If you want to contribute to the scientific sphere of climate change, consider becoming a climate or environmental scientist. These professionals conduct research on climate change and how it affects the Earth.
Usually, they work within a specialty, such as monitoring the effects of increasing temperatures on the ocean or humans’ food supply. You can work in settings like universities, research institutes, and government agencies.
8. Conservation Scientist
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 7%
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $64,010
- Educational Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in fire science, forestry, or a closely related field.
Conservation scientists protect the Earth’s natural resources by performing tasks like evaluating the quality of water or soil and making sure foresting activities follow conservation law.
One major role of these scientists involves suppressing fires and evaluating fire damage, which have increased as climate change intensifies. You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in forestry or a closely related science field, such as agricultural science, to become a conservation scientist.
9. Renewable Energy Technician
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 68%
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $56,230
- Educational Requirements: Postsecondary nondegree award, typically earned from a technical school.
Renewable energy technicians ensure that renewable energy sources run properly by setting up and maintaining solar panels, wind turbines, and other systems. They may work as solar photovoltaic installers or wind turbine technicians, for instance.
This is a very hands-on job, and unlike many of the careers on this list, these technicians do not typically need college degrees; instead, they may complete a training program at a technical school, community college, or even on the job.
10. Environmental Science and Protection Technician
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 11%
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $46,850
- Educational Requirements: Associate degree in environmental science or a related field; however, some positions require a bachelor’s degree.
You might’ve heard of management consultants. These professionals work as analysts and are hired by companies to scrutinize their operations and finances, and suggest ways that the business can become more profitable and more efficient.
Sustainability technicians carry out many of the same tasks; however, they specifically inspect organizations and advise businesses on how to incorporate sustainability and environmentally conscious procedures into their operations.
What Are Some Other Degree Options for Climate Change and Sustainability Jobs?
If focusing on the sciences doesn’t appeal to you, you might consider going into other industries through which you can help with the battle against climate change.
Fashion Design Industry
Although the exact statistics are often debated, one thing is for sure: The fashion industry is a major polluter. It’s also a massive blight on human rights, with garment workers spending their days in dangerous factories for extremely low wages.
But the sustainable fashion industry is hoping to change all that. Many sustainable companies have popped up in the past 10-15 years, promoting slow fashion, sustainable fabrics, recycled materials, and well-made clothing meant to last longer.
Some schools even have programs that focus on sustainability in design. California College of the Arts offers an MBA in design strategy, while the Parsons School of Design at The New School allows students to specialize in sustainability.
Business and Technology Sector
Speaking of MBAs, business is another pathway you can pursue if you’re interested in battling climate change. Numerous schools offer MBAs that focus on sustainability, as well as undergraduate degrees that merge business and environmental studies.
Here are some examples to help jumpstart your school search:
- Indiana University Bloomington’s sustainable business co-major
- Western Washington University’s business and sustainability major with energy studies concentration
- Arizona State University’s sustainability business degree
- University of New England’s BS in sustainability and business
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s MBA in sustainability
- Franklin Pierce University’s MBA in energy and sustainability
Political Science Industry
If you’d rather pass laws to help protect the environment, you could study political science, a common major at U.S. colleges. You might also consider a double major in political science and sustainability or environmental sciences.
If you want to influence policy decisions without actually becoming a politician, consider earning a master of public administration or a bachelor’s in nonprofit management. These degrees put you on track to work at various organizations, think tanks, and nonprofits that concentrate on environmental sustainability.
All of these organizations need to spread their messages. This means that students who study communication or public relations could find jobs in the nonprofit sector as well.