“College Majors & the Climate Crisis” August 2013

WAMC FOR August 21

So, I have been thinking lately, what with the anniversary of super storm Sandy coming up, we are probably going to have to relive in excruciating detail just how devastating that storm was. You remember, all those flooded subway lines, bomb like devastation from the New Jersey shoreline to Rockaway in Queens, a climatic assault so bad that it practically made us forget, alright, almost forget, how devastating its predecessors, Irene and Lee had been for our region.

And then, well, we all know it, a bunch of Ph.D., talking heads are going to start babbling about how we have simply changed the math of climate dice making such weather disasters more and more common.
How depressing!

And then it occurred to me, it’s not all bad. Because long before October’s Sandy anniversary, in fact just next week colleges are opening up across the country and folks like me, in my case a professor here at the Sage Colleges are going to be facing all sorts of anxious young people, eager to pick majors both interesting and especially important, likely to offer paying jobs four years from now.

Now I have got to tell you for most of my career advising them has long been very difficult. After all who really knew the future? My colleagues relied on guesswork or what worked in our past. Or if I might be a bit cynical what the college curriculum committee thought.

And yet the world has been moving so fast. The collapse, for example of the print journalism so quick, the explosion of the internet, new mobile devices; trouble makers like Steven Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg who keep reinventing the future, not forgetting that wars and economic collapse tend to be somewhat unpredictable. And yet people like me get stuck trying to project what might work, what skills my Sage students should have four years in the future let alone for the rest of their lives. Well, it is damned difficult.

And then I starting thinking harder about our obsession with burning fossil fuels, all those carbon molecules that we have shoved into the upper atmosphere might have a bright side. Sure setting off waves of everything from drought and massive fire to enormous rains and storms sounds bad.

But if you think about it, at least for those planning a career our ever thickening band of green house gases is literally a God send. I mean more than at almost any point in human history the certainty of math and chemistry is giving us a much better idea of what jobs will be available in the future.
And the real cool part is that since climate crisis affects practically everything it does not matter what strikes your fancy?

Find tropical diseases interesting? Well, since they are rapidly moving north one can with absolute certainty predict that there will be more jobs in the northern hemisphere for those who understand cool stuff like malaria and dengue fever.

And of course there’s the impact on food crops. Find plant genetics fascinating? We are going to need a lot more plants that are heat resistant and grow with far less water. Plants that won’t refuse to germinate if the temperature gets too hot.

Interested in human rights? Well there is nothing like hundreds of millions of climate refugees on the move, Literally, one meter of water rise equals about a hundred million such refugees. There is after all nothing like a bunch of homeless people on the move to create work for human rights workers. Like geology? Well all those new green energy devices that might save us from the worst of climate change are really dependent on all sorts of “rare earths” and we’ll be needing more of them.

Not forgetting the lawyers, lots of work to keep lawyers busy because quite soon zillions of them will be suing all those fossil fuel companies for lying about the impact of their products
Just like an earlier generation of litigators went after the Tobacco industry.

So as they say if life hands you a lemon, “Make Lemonade!”

And that can work for us as well, unless of course, given how hard climate change impacts agriculture, the lemon crop fails.

About Steven Leibo

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