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An Open Letter to Young Professionals and Students in Climate Change, Sustainability and the Environment

Posted By Daniel Kreeger, Association of Climate Change Officers, Friday, November 18, 2016

An Open Letter to Young Professionals and Students in Climate Change, Sustainability and the Environment
Daniel Kreeger – Executive Director, Association of Climate Change Officers
November 11, 2016


I have no doubt that the results of this week’s elections have you questioning whether you’ve taken the right career path.  Let me be very clear, now more than ever, your decision has been validated and is even more important. 

As I wrote earlier this week, the world is moving forward on climate change with or without the United States as a national player.  Global companies will have to deal with international and foreign policy efforts aimed at curbing emissions and preparing impacted and vulnerable communities.  Local, state and provincial governments are acting already given the localized impacts and implications and will increasingly be doing so.

There are some incredibly important lessons to be learned from this week.  There’s a significant part of the country that has felt disenchanted for many years and let out a roar.  While the vote result may be scary, if we dig deeper, there are some important drivers for this outcome. 

Last year, Pew did some research on American’s priorities.  They included (from greatest rated importance to least) defending the country from terrorism, strengthening the nation’s economy, improving the job situation, improving the educational system, reducing the budget deficit, reducing health care costs, dealing with problems of poor & needy, strengthening the U.S. military, and improving roads, bridges, and public transit.  So let’s evaluate some of those drivers that contributed this week’s results:

  • The ‘main street’ economy has been struggling for more than 20 years.
  • Jobs are increasingly outsourced beyond our borders.
  • Infrastructure is falling apart.
  • National security is a significant concern.

The President-Elect has indicated he’s going to invest heavily in infrastructure.  So let’s make sure that those investments are efficient, adaptive and resilient.  We need to create jobs, so let’s make sure that we reduce expenditures on natural resources and avoid as much financial damage from extreme events as possible.  Let’s help other parts of the world advance their economies such that terrorist movements are undermined by populations with growing economies and better quality of life.

Our mission clearly intersects with and is a critical component of these issues.  Mother nature, the laws of physics and the planet don’t care about our politics or which political party is in power.  Climate change is still happening, extreme events will continue to increase in frequency and magnitude, and the growing population and its resource demands will continue to challenge our societies.  You have the opportunity to align your work with these critical challenges.

So to be clear, giving up is NOT an option.  Let’s take a deep breath and reorganize our thoughts.

  1. Let’s think of our democracy like a pendulum.  We saw in 2008 and subsequently since 2010 what happens when we go too extreme in a political direction.  Take comfort in expecting that what goes around comes around and that this is a significant opportunity for the greatest climate smart advocacy effort the country has seen to date.  In 2008, more voters between the ages of 18 and 30 turned out than in any election prior.  In 2016, that wasn't the case.  Be the change you want to see and take control of your future -- not just every four years, but every day going forward.
  2. Success on climate change does not need to be hinged to Congress or the White House.  There are numerous paths forward, and historically, most national policy action happens because local and state governments take action.  The history of environmental regulation is littered with examples of states acting first and in an inconsistent way, which forced Congress to take action.  More recently, marriage rights were ruled upon at the Supreme Court because local and state government took action and the Court was compelled to hear the case.
  3. Taking action is the most constructive solution to dealing with emotional duress.  Whether your outlook is pessimistic, pragmatic or optimistic, the best way to ensure that you thrive is to identify tangible next steps and boldly take action. 

Do not let this give you cause to reconsider your conviction or career path.  Quite the contrary, it should serve to harden your resolve, catalyze innovation and focus your efforts.

The time to double down is now – and we need to band together and be more productive as a community of practice.  We are building an army of skilled practitioners and climate smart decision makers.  Our mission is clearer than it ever has been.  Next week, I will share additional thoughts.

Your work and career path is of critical importance.  Your success is even more so. 

With conviction and determination,

Daniel Kreeger
Executive Director
Association of Climate Change Officers

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