Why Did It Take Me So Long To Work On Climate?

I was recently browsing through some old photos and stumbled upon this one taken in my student flat in the mid-nineties. On the wall is an event I had completely forgotten about: the Eco 94 Green Fair, which was organized by my then girlfriend who was somewhat ahead of the curve on this issue compared to the rest of the gang. Even then, it appears that climate had an eschatological dimension, as the tagline on the poster reads “party to the end of the world.”

So why, given that such language was being used in 94, did it take me so long to work on climate? First, while I believed in the concept of global warming, I think it’s worth noting how this was often discussed in the late 80s. This is going to sound crazy now, but I have a distinct memory as a child in the UK of hearing about two benefits of global warming: first, it would mean warmer water for swimming off the south coast; second, we would be able to grow grapes and compete with the French in wine-making. So these were the types of thoughts that competed with the catastrophists.

But even putting that aside, there was another aspect that may resonate with you today if you’re considering transitioning to a green job. I assumed that other people would fix global warming: people already on that professional path who knew much more about it than me; people in leadership roles in business and government. Sound familiar? Of course, I was wrong, as it turns out those people did not fix global warming, either due to being blocked in their efforts or outright indifference.

So for years (decades!), I sat on the sidelines watching the climate drama unfold. I learned a lot about climate and in the past 10 years made some effort to incorporate that into my professional life. I stealthily brought climate issues into the classroom, co-opting seemingly unrelated courses when I could. I encouraged students and my own children to get into climate, as it is obviously going to be the biggest issue of the century, and to ignore this is an act of not just personal but professional self-sabotage.

But then I thought, “Hold on a minute, why am I not getting into climate? I’ve probably got 20 good years of working life left!” But looking around, it was not easy to make that transition when you reach a certain age and have already established yourself on a different path. And so it occurred to me that what was really needed was some kind of service to help people make such a transition, and so Ecotopian Careers was born.

I have told this story many times, and usually see the listener nodding their head in recognition. I believe a lot of people assume someone else is going to fix climate change, so have not made it their life mission, despite knowing full well that would be the right thing to do. But of course, all the evidence points to the fact that we cannot rely on other people and have to be part of the solution ourselves.

While it is embarrassing to look at the photo from my student flat and see that an End Times vision of climate change was fully in place by 1994 and to have then done little about it, I can only assume it will be worse in 20 years to look back on today and have done equally little. As the famous quote says, “If not us, who? And if not now, when?”

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