From London to Nairobi, Warsaw to New York, climate protests that erupted in September have continued into October as millions around the world stand up to demand climate justice. The protests, attended predominantly by young people, have called on world leaders to do more to curb the effects of climate change.

In the United States, attitudes about climate change are split along partisan and generational lines. A 2019 poll from the Pew Research Center shows that 57% of Americans consider climate change a major threat to the United States, up from 40% in 2013.

In 2019, 57% of Americans polled consider climate change a major threat to the United States.

While changing opinions among Democrats are noted to be responsible for the uptick, another poll found that millennial Republicans are twice as likely as baby boomer Republicans to say that human activity is causing climate change.

As more young people identify climate change as the defining issue of their generation, more are seeking careers that will have a positive environmental impact. This comes at a time when a variety of environmental jobs are projected to have above-average growth over the next 10 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For these reasons, environmental careers focused on conservation, alternative energy, and using engineering to solve environmental problems are increasingly desirable.

Environmental Justice and the New Green Economy

Many climate protestors envision a global green economy that would phase out fossil fuels, increase the use of alternative energy, promote sustainable development initiatives, and prevent or mitigate environmental degradation.

Supporters believe the efforts would not only steer the planet away from the worst effects of climate change, but would also revitalize the world economy as new, eco-friendly industries begin to flourish. The International Labour Organization reports that a greener economy could create 24 million jobs worldwide — if the right policies are implemented.

In August, the United Nations called for a "Global Green New Deal" that would ask countries to band together to rein in climate change, create millions of green jobs, and help avoid a global recession in 2020.

With so many opportunities sprouting up, college students around the world may be wondering how they can best contribute to a global green economy. Some of the fields below feature career paths that offer high social and environmental impact.

Environmental Careers That Are In Demand

Environmental careers that are in high demand are available to students with diverse backgrounds and levels of education. While environmental science and engineering careers generally require at least a bachelor's degree in a related field, there are jobs in the alternative energy industry that require only an associate degree. Environmental advocacy is also an area where individuals with a background in policy, communication, or journalism can flourish.

Alternative Energy Jobs

Also known as renewable or green energy, alternative energy is essential to eliminating the world's dependence on fossil fuels and is one of the central pillars of a green economy. Hydroelectric, solar, and wind energy are rapidly expanding, and green jobs in this field are growing four times faster than the average job in the United States.

Solar Photovoltaic Installers

These professionals assemble, install, and maintain solar panel systems.

  • Area of Study Required: PV installation/On-the-job training
  • Degree Level Required: High school diploma
  • Median Annual Salary: $42,680
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 63%
Wind Turbine Technicians

Technicians tasked with installing, maintaining, and repairing wind turbines.

  • Area of Study Required: Wind energy technology
  • Degree Level Required: Associate degree or wind energy technology certificate
  • Median Annual Salary: $54,370
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 57%
Civil Engineers

Civil engineers design, build, operate, and maintain infrastructure projects and systems, including for hydroelectric dams.

  • Area of Study Required: Civil engineering, graduate studies in hydraulics may be required for some positions
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor's degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $86,640
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 6%
Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineers trained in hydraulics can apply their expertise to the development and construction of hydroelectric dams.

  • Area of Study Required: Mechanical engineering, graduate studies in hydraulics may be required for some positions
  • Degree Level Required: Associate degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $56,250
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 3%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Environmental Science Jobs

Environmental science is the study of the environment and solutions to environmental problems. Students interested in protecting ecosystems, monitoring pollution, and studying wildlife might find their niche within the environmental sciences. These green jobs are plentiful in state and local governments, as well as the private sector.

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

These technicians monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution and contamination that affect public health.

  • Area of Study Required: Environmental science, environmental health, or public health
  • Degree Level Required: Associate degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $46,170
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 9%
Environmental Engineering Technicians

These professionals work with environmental engineers to assemble, test, operate, and modify equipment.

  • Area of Study Required: Environmental engineering technology
  • Degree Level Required: Associate degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $50,560
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 9%
Environmental Engineers

Environmental engineers use engineering principles, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems.

  • Area of Study Required: Environmental engineering or civil, chemical, or general engineering
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor's degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $87,620
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 5%
Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

These scientists study the relationship between wildlife and their ecosystems and the impacts humans have on wildlife and natural habitats.

  • Area of Study Required: Zoology, wildlife biology, or ecology
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor's degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $63,420
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 5%
Conservation Scientists and Foresters

These professionals manage the land quality of forests, parks, and other habitats.

  • Area of Study Required: Forestry, agricultural science, or environmental science
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor's degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $61,340
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 3%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Sustainable Agriculture Jobs

Agricultural science is a field within biology that focuses soil cultivation, harvesting, and plant and animal product processing. Students interested in optimizing food production, reducing agricultural pollution, and improving the sustainability of crops should consider the environmental careers below.

Agricultural and Food Scientists

These scientists work to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural processes and products.

  • Area of Study Required: Agriculture science, biology, chemistry, botany, or plant conversation
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor's degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $64,000
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 7%
Agricultural Engineers

Agricultural engineers attempt to solve problems related to the use of structures and facilities, pollution and environmental issues, and the storage and processing of agricultural products.

  • Area of Study Required: Agricultural engineering or biological engineering
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor's degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $77,110
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 5%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Careers in Atmospheric and Earth Sciences

Earth science is a broad field that includes hydrology, geology, and ecology. Atmospheric science focuses on the study of the Earth's atmosphere and includes meteorology, which involves weather forecasting. If you're interested in studying climate change, testing water quality, or creating geological maps that pinpoint mineral resources, some of the green jobs below might interest you.

Atmospheric Scientists

These scientists, including meteorologists, study the weather and climate.

  • Area of Study Required: Meteorology or related Earth sciences field
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor's degree or a master's for research positions
  • Median Annual Salary: $94,110
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 8%
Hydrologists

Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust and analyze water quality.

  • Area of Study Required: Hydrology, geosciences, or engineering
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor's degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $79,370
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 7%
Geoscientists

Geoscientists create geological maps, perform groundwater modeling, and collect and analyze rock and soil samples.

  • Area of Study Required: Geoscience, environmental science, or engineering
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor's degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $91,130
  • Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 6%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Green Jobs in the Private, Nonprofit, and Public Sectors

Finally, it's worth considering the variety of opportunities available in the private, nonprofit, and public sectors. Environmental careers in the private sector often focus on creating solutions for clients related to infrastructure and energy projects. In government positions, professionals generally develop and enforce environmental regulations or monitor the health of ecosystems. Nonprofits offer opportunities for people interested in conservation efforts or advocating for eco-friendly legislative change.

Public Sector Environmental Careers

Local, state and federal government careers provide ample opportunities for professionals interested in protecting ecosystems while advancing their careers. Governments and public universities hire conservation scientists, environmental engineers, and geologists to conduct research, design projects, and shape policy. Numerous opportunities exist in the public sector, with 43% of environmental scientists, 37% of zoologists and wildlife biologists, and 31% of atmospheric scientists being employed by the government.

Major Public Employers for Environmental Careers

  • Environmental Protection Agency
    The EPA's mission is to protect human health and the environment by providing Americans with clean air, water, and land. They employ a wide range of professionals including toxicologists, environmental engineers, geologists, and lawyers.
  • National Park Service
    The NPS oversees, maintains, and protects the U.S. National Park System. This agency employs geologists, biologists, ecologists, and more.
  • U.S. Forest Service
    Part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this agency is charged with sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the grasslands and forests it manages. The agency hires foresters, firefighters, ecologists, and more.
  • U.S. Geological Survey
    The USGS studies climate change, the natural hazards that threaten our environment and natural resources, and more. Career opportunities are available at this agency for geologists, hydrologists, ecologists, and more.
  • Local and State Governments
    In addition to the federal agencies listed above, the United States has numerous environmentally focused departments and agencies at the state and local levels. Most states have departments of ecology, agriculture, fish and wildlife, and natural resources who will hire scientists, lawyers, and communications specialists.

Private Sector Environmental Careers

Wind turbine technicians and solar photovoltaic installers enjoy the most significant job growth projections over the next 10 years and can find many opportunities working for private wind and solar energy companies. Environmental, civil, and mechanical engineers are likely to find employment at engineering firms and consulting firms, in addition to numerous prospects with government agencies.

Major Private Employers for Environmental Careers

  • AECOM
    Number 157 on the 2019 Fortune 500 list, this engineering firm develops solutions to large problems including planning cities, restoring damaged environments, and designing parks.
  • Tetra Tech Inc
    This consulting and engineering services firm provides clients with solutions water, energy, infrastructure, and more.
  • Jacobs
    With more than 80,000 employees, Jacobs uses big data analytics to tackle issues including climate change, water scarcity, and urbanization. 
  • Environmental Resources Management
    ERM provides consulting and sustainability-related services to help clients manage their environment, safety, and social impact. 
  • HDR
    HDR is one of the largest employee-owned companies in the United States and specializes in engineering, architecture, environmental construction services.

Nonprofit Environmental Careers

Students interested in advocating for greener policies may consider joining international nonprofit organizations including Greenpeace, 350, and The Climate Reality Project. Backgrounds in political science, environmental law, journalism, and mass communication can all be useful for a career as an advocate.

Major Nonprofit Employers for Environmental Advocacy

  • World Wildlife Fund
    The world's largest conservation organization, also known as the World Wide Fund for Nature, works to reduce human impact on the environment and preserve natural habitats.
  • Nature Conservancy
    The Nature Conservancy boasts more than a million members and aims to "conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends."
  • Sierra Club
    One of the oldest, currently active environmental organizations in the United States, the Sierra Club uses its 3.5 million members to promote sustainable energy and mitigate climate change.
  • National Audubon Society
    Committed to preserving ecosystems through education, advocacy, and science, the National Audubon Society has chapters all across the continental United States.
  • National Wildlife Federation
    The NWF's 6 million members are committed to habitat protection, restoration, and management, and preventing the extinction of vulnerable species.

Environmental Careers Are Essential for Climate Justice

As climate change continues to disrupt ecosystems and economies on every continent, and with reports suggesting we have only 11 years left to prevent irreversible damage to the planet, a global reckoning with the climate crisis seems inevitable. As efforts mount to reverse current trends, there has arguably never been a more important time to pursue a career focused on environmental justice.