The climate crisis has grown undeniably urgent in the minds of many, pushing more people to take dramatic action – including leaving their existing careers. Who are the “climate quitters” and what motivates them? To answer these questions, reporters Oscar Boyd and Akshat Rathi talked to people who quit their jobs to pursue work at environmentally responsible organizations or start their own. This article will appeal to anyone wondering how you might better align your life with your green values and what role your career can play in the fight against climate change.
- The global green economy is growing fast, creating strong demand for people with relevant skills.
- “Climate quitters” decide to change jobs because they want to work in a field that combats climate change.
- Not everyone who wants their work to reflect their green values has to go looking for a new job.
The global green economy is growing fast, creating strong demand for people with relevant skills.
Rapid change is one primary feature of green industries. Not only are the sectors themselves developing rapidly, policy surrounding the green economy is changing all the time. The Inflation Reduction Act in the United States, for example, increased the scope of tax credits for solar power, affecting how projects are financed.
The International Labor Organization projects that, with the right government support, the world could create up to 24 million green jobs by 2030. Right now, listings for green jobs are outpacing the number of candidates with the required skills.
“There’s a lot of really great, profoundly empowering work to be done.” (business school graduate Laura Brown)
For green industries to grow they will need to attract workers from other sectors. For example, almost a third of new workers in green energy used to work in the oil and gas industry.
“Climate quitters” decide to change jobs because they want to work in a field that combats climate change.
The growth of the green sector is set to change the face of the labor market and the shift is already starting. Despite the short supply of workers, the number of people working for clean energy companies overtook the number of people working for fossil fuel companies in 2023.
A 2021 Yale School of Management worldwide survey of business school students found that 51% of respondents would accept lower compensation to be able to work for a company that is committed to environmental responsibility.
“I do have some sympathy for people who stay in oil and gas. But I think we’re past the tipping point.” (energy sector lawyer Justin Kennedy)
Laura Brown warns people looking to move to green jobs that the career change isn’t always painless. It took her six months to find a new job after leaving her former career and graduating from business school with a focus on sustainability. Many employers are looking for candidates with previous experience in the sector.
Employees moving into green jobs come from a variety of backgrounds:
- Some have experienced climate crisis firsthand – Brown made the decision to go back to school and look for a job in the green economy after a tornado hit her Nashville, Tennessee neighborhood in 2020, causing $1.5 billion in damage.
- Many move to parallel positions in the renewable energy industry – Jan Bohnerth worked for the public and government affairs department of ExxonMobil and now works for a clean tech communications firm. Justin Kennedy used to be an oil and gas lawyer. Now he uses his legal skills to help Sun Cable connect Australian solar farms to a Singaporean energy grid.
- People make the switch after reading scientific reports – After reading an eye-opening report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, former restaurant reviewer Catherine Cleary founded Pocket Forests, partnering with city residents to bring native trees and nature back into urban environments.
Not everyone who wants their work to reflect their green values has to go looking for a new job.
You can take pro-environment action even if you can’t, or don’t want to change jobs. Corporations cause over 70% of global carbon emissions, so employees can make a difference by encouraging their current employers to do things like divesting from fossil fuels and lobbying for better public policy. Depending on the employer, this kind of grassroots initiative may or may not be well-received.
“It won’t be possible for everyone who cares about climate change to work on it full-time. But climate quitting is far from the only way to contribute.”
Joe Daniel used to work in the oil sector and proposed a change that would reduce his company’s wastewater pollution by half. His company rejected his proposal, despite the fact that it would save them money, because they did not want to commit to a plan that could restrict their wastewater permits in the future. For Daniel, his former employer’s choice underscores why government policy matters. He now works at a think tank that pushes for green legislation.
About the Authors
Oscar Boyd is a podcast producer and reporter with Bloomberg News. Akshat Rathi is a senior climate reporter with Bloomberg News.