Question: How can you be most employable in a world of global warming and peak oil and food insecurity?

I’m giving this talk to college students for the second year running.

I’m going to Stetson University later this month for 5 days as a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow.

Maximizing job security is obviously a big issue for college students and so I came up with this idea for a lecture.  Global warming and peak oil and food insecurity are only starting to be big issues in terms of creating employment.  But over the course of the lives of most those who are now students, they will be some of the biggest drivers.

What should students study and do now in college to be most employable in 2020, 2030, 2040 and beyond?  And yes, I do tell them that becoming experts in diabetes and/or gerontology also pretty much guarantees job security over the next 50 years….

86 Responses to Question: How can you be most employable in a world of global warming and peak oil and food insecurity?

  1. climate undergrad says:

    This is a great question and I look forward to the responses.

    To go back a week or two to “Ian’s question” I think the youth (especially if they are reading climateprogress) want to not only have job security, but have a positive impact.

    I graduated with an engineering degree last year and am currently working in energy and sustainable consulting for commercial buildings. I got my LEED AP a few months ago and plan to get my CEM this summer.

    The lingering question I have though, is where can I have the largest effect on preserving a livable climate for future generations; Science, Industry, or Policy?

    Right now it seems that being a climate scientist and explaining the truth about climate change is of the utmost importance (and a many thanks to Joe, Ben Santer, Scott Mandia, and all the other wonderful contributors here and at real climate). But will we be past this question in 10 years when my education would be over? Onto how to best adapt / mitigate?

    Public Policy has obvious upsides, but far more obvious downsides.

    And finally ‘industry’ or ‘corporate’ or ‘private sector’ (whatever you want to call it) is the best opportunity to gain personal resources to use for good.

    So – science, policy, or industry? I don’t want a big house and a fancy car – just a happy family and an enjoyable career/life.

  2. Artful Dodger says:

    Critical thinking and problem solving skills.

  3. Mark Stewart says:

    Joe –

    Is this a ‘teaser’. We don’t get to read or view your choices for careers on Eaarth?

  4. tst says:

    I’m not a huge fan of higher education here in the U.S. It seems like we’d be better served creating a generation of creative problem solvers, as compared to an endless stream of business grads destined for corporate middle management.

    That said, agriculture, energy, science & health are all likely to remain important regardless of how the world fares on a day-to-day basis. It wouldn’t hurt to see more people focused on permaculture, and the field of biomimicry may hold some potential.

  5. Lore says:

    “And yes, I do tell them that becoming experts in diabetes and/or gerontology also pretty much guarantees job security over the next 50 years….”

    Isn’t this a bit contradictory? In a world with diminishing food and oil supplies, does the epidemic of diabetes become less of a concern as there are fewer overweight people? Likewise, will life longevity go up or down? One of our local hospitals just laid off staff and cut budgets due to a staggering amount of people not paying their bills. So much for the reliability of a secure job in health care. A profession not suited to many anyway.

    I would suggest a better avenue to take is to build on the old reliable skills and professions. Learn to become the butcher, the baker or the candle stick maker. Also, when all the crap, if and when, stops flowing to Wal-Mart a person with the skills to fix any old piece of junk may come to be very valuable.

    [JR: We’re insulated from much food insecurity. Americans are rich and food here is cheap — some of the worst food tends to be the cheapest.]

  6. caerbannog says:

    Become a commodities speculator and profit from the misfortunes of others. More hungry people means greater profits. That would be the GOP’s approach to “green investing”.

  7. Colorado Bob says:

    Develop a cheaper coffin.

    Sorry not very hopeful today.

  8. Ed Hummel says:

    I would tell them to become generalists in the broadest sense. The more they know and the more they know how to think and solve problems, the better off they’ll be. They should definitely also include building, scrounging and gardening in their arsenal of vital skills. I don’t think anyone can predict what kind of jobs, if any in the traditional sense, will be available in 20 or 30 years. Finally, it should become crystal clear to them that nothing will be secure, including the lives of themselves and their loved ones and to make their peace with that fact if they don’t want to go crazy or become depressed. That can be countered easily by enjoying life’s simple pleasures when they occur and by drastically lower their material expectations. They should enjoy the one thing that makes us human and that is the abiblity to wonder, discover and create. Those traits only disappear when we do, not when our bank accounts do.

  9. George Ennis says:

    One way to help them make choices is to describe what life will look/feel like 25 and 50 years out assuming we are going to reduce GHG emissions.

    What does that mean in terms of the everyday goods and services people consume i.e. food, transportation, entertainment , healthcare, and education?

    What does it mean in terms of what goods and where and how goods are manufactured and distributed? What jobs will decline and which jobs will increase?

    What does it mean in terms of adaptation strategies to climate change and the related jobs.

    What does it mean in terms of what we consume? i.e. decline in consumption of consumer goods and increases in consumption of “culture”?

    What does it mean in terms of the size and services that are provided by governments at all levels and the related jobs?

  10. Gord says:

    Most employable, in our view, means being able to move to another location and to get a job very quickly. Why? Because the climate will be changing so rapidly that people will be reduced to a ‘5 – year’ plan. This situation is so different from the life planning one has traditionally done in the past. One moved for economic reasons, most of the time it was a transfer within one’s company or to take another job. Tomorrow, there will still be this traditional movement going on but another force for movement will be the climate.

    Another thing keeping people ‘light on their feet’ will be the concept of renting your residence. As it becomes obvious to people that they have to move more or less regularly, they will rent rather than own. They can pickup and move on short notice and if the property gets damaged they do not have the personal hit on their bottom line and net worth.

    So what kinds of jobs are there for people who want to be very nimble with regards to where they live over their life times? Ideally they should be able to get good paying employment within a week or so of settling in a new location OR, and this is important, they can barter their skills for food, lodging and etc.

    We’ve had this discussion around our dinner table for some time in our household. Our consensus is that the skilled trades will be very important going forward and will allow a person to move almost anywhere and get good employment quickly in a new area. Think of all the infrastructure that will be destroyed going forward. The current skilled trades work force is ageing and young blood is required.

    Critical thinking and problem solving are two extremely important skills for anyone who is thinking of a career in the skilled trades. Every job is different and poses new challenges.

    So what skilled trades are we talking about? Here’s a short list: Master Electrician, Master Plumber, Level 3 Gas technician, Master carpenter, HVAC specialist and the like. To get to the Master level these specialties take as much time and effort as getting a Masters degree at university.

    And unlike many of the projects one builds from within a corporation … many of which are ‘paper’ projects, the Master tradesman cannot afford failure. Failure is not an option because, most of the time, people’s lives and well being are held in the balance.

  11. Lore says:

    [JR: We’re insulated from much food insecurity. Americans are rich and food here is cheap — some of the worst food tends to be the cheapest.]

    Of course you’re speaking in the present and not in 2020, 2030, 2040 and beyond?

  12. Jeff Huggins says:

    First Questions First

    Alas, there is a vital question that comes before the “best way to be employable?” question. And I think that any discussion that jumps right to the latter question, before raising and allowing some discussion on the more basic one, probably does the students a disservice of sorts.

    The first question has to do with the difference between being “employed” (by someone else, some organization, some institution) and ultimately dependent on that source of revenue for staying alive and feeling secure, and (on the other hand) being more directly responsible for your own food, shelter, fulfillment, and sustenance — i.e., being “self-employed” (perhaps as a member of a sustainable community) in generating the necessities of life.

    Does a person want to be dependent (on companies, etc.) or does a person want to be healthfully independent?

    Students can learn, in universities and colleges, and by beginning to live this way while in university or college, smart small-scale agriculture (e.g., permaculture), water acquisition and processing and recycling, local-scale renewable energy generation, construction of eco-friendly shelters, human dynamics and the wise social parameters and practices of small communities, and etc. in order to live in ways that aren’t dependent on a company that might lay you off at any moment, that might want you to do X rather than (the better thing) Y, that might give you mostly meaningless make-work, that might want you to move every five years (away from family and friends), and so forth.

    In short, there’s more than one dynamic involved in these sorts of choices. One is the nature of the sort of intellectual or other subject a person is interested in. Another is the “what fields will be hot?” question, which might result in answers like medicine, biosciences, renewable energy systems design, and etc. The other is what the corporate world and institutions will actually be like, i.e., “how the working world will work”. The reason this latter question is important is this: One could go into a “hot and applicable area” such as bioengineering, renewable energy systems, and so forth, and STILL find that the work places and work tasks themselves are insecure, less-than-rewarding, overly political, and demeaning. This happens all the time, of course. The actual nature of work, and dynamics and requirements of making a living, are just as much (if not more) defined and influenced by how our companies, organizations, and institutions work than they are by what science or technology or craft one hopes to practice within the companies, organizations, and institutions. It’s not clear to me, yet, whether working in a large company, in ANY field, even in a “hot” one, would be a great idea in the future. Frankly, if I were doing it all over again, if I were young again, I’d want to learn (in a university and also by doing it, in parallel) how to live sustainably in and of myself and also as part of a small or modest-sized sustainable community of some sort. Cover all the relevant sciences and systems: land, water, food, shelter, energy, waste processing, health, and the social factors (social dynamics, governance, etc.), plus art and so forth. Also, learning to live in this way can help “inform” the ways we’ll need to change some of the broader systems on the societal scale. That’s what I’d do.

    Thus, one of the first questions a young person should ask, I think, is “Do I even want to be ’employed’ in the sense of working in an industry, for a company, for an organization, etc., OR do I want to ’employ’ myself in life and in the actual processes of living?”

    That said, it sounds like it will be a great talk, but please do at least raise this point, so it’s not forgotten, before discussing the hot fields of the future.



  13. Peter Bellin says:

    I think a solid science core education is needed: fundamentals of biology, chemistry, physics, math (at least college trigonometry, ideally calculus or pre-calculus)should be in the mix.

    I think a broad-based upper division education should include practical applications of the science core. Since I teach in the area of environmental and occupational health, I am biased to promote an education that applies fundamental science to recognize, evaluate and control environmental and occupational health risks to workers, the general public and the environment.

    Most students should seek an education that focuses on skills that can be utilized in the real world. The goal of a university should be to provide a ‘product’ of graduates who have a commitment to life-long learning, as the college degree will never teach you all you need to know.

    Students should find a passion, work experiences that they feel make a difference in the world. A consistent comment from alumni of my program is that a primary motivation for their work is preventing disease and illnesses, and financial rewards are secondary. Graduates can and do make excellent incomes, but recognize that other aspects of work are more important than financial wealth.

    That is about as coherent I can be in a quick response to this post.

  14. Alteredstory says:

    While I’m working on ways to not need to be employable, what keeps coming to mind is adaptability.

    Being employable means being useful to someone. Thinking to the future, what does that mean? Knowledge of agriculture will be useful, especially ways to produce a lot of food with low acreage and low resources.

    Being able to recycle electronics will also be a big one – re-using the circuitry, and also the metals and plastics that currently are deteriorating in landfills.

    Skills relating to generation of electricity will be essential. As time goes by, being able to build different types of generators will be useful.

    Beyond that, the sciences will, barring total collapse of society, be essential.

    I think the most important part, though will be being able to adapt what you know to what the circumstances require, and to do so in ways that might not otherwise occur to people. Being able to think laterally and creatively about broader applications of everything you know how to do is a big one, and takes some training.

  15. I have to challenge the term ’employable’ – instead try useful, worthwhile, problem solving, etc. Employable suggests an exploitation or a set to a distasteful task, i.e. There will be plenty of jobs at oil companies and advertising agencies. But they are not really sustainable. On the other hand there will be plenty of railroad jobs. Medicine, law, government, teaching, etc. There will be too many challenges ahead.

    You might just suggest they be well educated, adaptable, and willing to work to solve problems. And continue learning always.

    Employable might be a redefined as a willingness to commit to the future with an organized effort.

    Adaptation and mitigation are the watch-words of the future – that is where one can have the greatest impact and value.

  16. Guy Dauncey says:

    Engineering – aim for the colleges which have the highest focus on green engineering. Electrical engineering will be critical for the smart grid, renewable energy; civil engineering for high speed rail; mechanical engineering for zero energy buildings.

    MBA – aim for the green MBA programs. Sustainable business skills will be essential, since every business in the world will have to go green, and they’re going to need advice.

    Farming – aim for the colleges which teach sustainable and organic, and know who Joel Salatin is.

    Ocean sciences – we know so little, and the impacts of climate change will be so huge.

    Social sciences – but only if you can find a course that includes community organizing, public engagement, and actin on social and environmental issues.

    Environmental studies – look for the courses that are focussed on solutions, not critique. Too much critique can turns you into a cynic or pessimist.

    Politics – look for courses that focus on the future, and less on the past, and that include municipal leadership, not just the old stuff

    Architecture – look for courses that have a big focus on green buildings.

    Planning – look for courses that emphasize smart growth, sustainable communities, and ecovillages.

    Chemistry – look for courses that include green chemistry, whwich enables us to live in a non-toxic world.

    Public health – look for courses that focus on disease prevention, cancer prevention, and the health impacts of climate change.

    Forestry – look for courses that understand ecoforestry, and know what the Forest Stewardship Council is.

    International Development – look for courses that include a focus on resilience, solar villages, ecological cities, low carbon development, etc

    Media skills – I’m pretty sure all courses include social media, film-making, etc. Look for courses which know what Desmsogblog is, and have a good political critique.

    Climate science – we’re going to need a lot of it!

  17. Jim Adcock says:

    Well, as a strong climate change believer what I am about to say may sound strange, but I believe the biggest contributions that still need to be made are in the area of climate change morality + philosophy + economics. An example of this issue is resolving what economic discount rates really OUGHT to be applied to climate change. Businesses want to use their own internal costs of capital rates, environmentalists pick low numbers “out of a hat”, but I have yet to see any definitive argument about what the “correct” discount numbers really should be. If Business discount rates are say 10% then do we discount our children’s and grandchildren’s futures at a 10% rate — I would say “obviously not!” — but then OK what IS the “right” discount rate to be using and how does one actually calculate it? — rather than just grabbing a number out of a hat. And does a person with no children actually, morally, owe a debt to future generation? — Yes there is already some great morality + philosophy + economics work being done in these areas but I have yet to see any “definitive” answers!

  18. Nick Bentley says:

    Pondering this question has been a major preoccupation of mine. One answer I come back to again and again:

    agricultural water management – earth’s hydrological cycles are changing in a manner likely to reduce total arable land on Earth. Nothing is more important than food and we’re already seeing food prices rising on the back of weird weather. The trend is likely to get considerably worse, probably to crisis levels, and there will be great demand for people who can help make food happen. Helping soils retain water will be a particularly important issue, along with finding ways to deliver water evenly over time, even as precipitation becomes increasingly uneven.

    Nick Bentley

  19. Prokaryotes says:

    How can you be most employable in a world of global warming and peak oil and food insecurity?

    While you choose a job, which is linked to the solution of climate disruption. Thus a range of possible job opportunities come up. For example agriculture sector with sustainability in mind, applied renewable technology solution – deployment or R&D, Construction of clean tech and infrastructue, jobs related to Geoengineering approaches such as Biochar production/sales/management/organization/farming, BECCS – biomass/bioenergy …

    A lot actually, on the bottom line, the most important will be energy and food security related.

    People will learn that we about to approach a situation when fossil energy can no longer deliver, because of a variety of reasons.

  20. George Ennis says:

    Another general thought is to reflect on the kinds of jobs that will emerge from “retro-fitting” our cities to a changed and changing climate. What does the city in 2050 need to look like in terms of how we live, work and play?

  21. BillD says:


    You left out my field–Ecology. In my advanced class in Population ecology, when we work with computer models, we tyically use 50 year runs. Having done that for years, I am used to thinking about 50 years as “intermediate term.” If only the public and the politicians could think the same way.

  22. Dana says:

    Work in the oil industry! With peak oil on the horizon, prices will soar, and oil companies will need as many workers as they can find to produce that black gold.

  23. Leif says:

    GPS Mapping and topological evaluation comes to mind. It is not always intuitive where floods will occur or collect. Also valuable in sighting wind projects, power lines, building sites etc. I also tend to agree with those that stress “jack of all trades” and versatility. There is also far too much credence given to the “status quo” economic system being the future status quo. As food scarcity manifests itself, basic needs supersede loftier endeavors. Conflict mediation skills and leadership skills come to mind. Teem work skills. Permaculture has been mentioned along with organic gardening and needs reinforcing. Ethics.

  24. risa bear says:

    Rob at Transition Culture pulls out a list of occupations necessary to run a post-oil society (by looking at those found in a pre-oil society) :

    Woodland Crafts. Coppicers, hurdle makers, rake makers, fork makers, besom makers, handle makers, hoop makers, ladder makers, crib makers, broaches and peg makers, clog sole cutters, bodgers, charcoal burners, oak basket makers, trug makers, stick and staff makers, field gate makers, willow basket makers, net makers.

    Building crafts. Stone masons, joiners, roofers, floor layers, wallers, thatchers, slaters, lime burners, paint makers, glass blowers, glaziers, stained glass artists, mud brick makers, tile makers, chimney sweeps, plumbers, decorators, bridge builders, French polishers, sign writers.

    Field crafts. Hedge layers, dry stone wallers, stile makers, well diggers, peat cutters, gardeners, horticulturists, vintners, arborists, tree surgeons, foresters, farmers, shepherds, shearers, bee keepers, millers, fishermen, orchardists, veterinarians.

    Workshop crafts. Chair makers, iron founders, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, coopers, coppersmiths, tinsmiths, wood turners, coach builders, boat builders, sail makers, rope makers, wainwrights, block makers, leather tanners, harness makers, saddlers, horse collar makers, boot and shoe makers, cobblers, clog makers, knife makers, cutters, millstone dressers, potters, printers, typographers, calligraphers, bookbinders, paper makers, furniture makers, jewellers, mechanics, boiler makers, boiler men, soap makers, gunsmith, sword smith, brush maker, candle maker, artist, sculptor, firework maker, cycle builder, bone carver, musical instrument maker, clay pipe maker, tool maker.

    Textile crafts. Spinner, weaver, dyer, silk grower, tailor, seamstress, milliner, hatter, lace maker, button maker, mat and rug maker, crochet worker, tatting and macramé worker, knitter, quilter, smock worker, embroiderer, leather worker, felt maker.

    Domestic crafts. Fish smoker, bacon curer, butter maker, cheese maker, brewer, cider maker, wine maker, distiller, herbalist, ice cream maker, butcher, fishmonger, pie maker, pickle maker, baker, barrister and coffee roaster, homeopath, reflexologist, osteopath, naturopath, storyteller, teacher naturalist, historian, jester, actor, administrator, philosopher, labourer, poet, writer, midwife, publican, bookseller, librarian….

  25. Theo says:

    College is too expensive, and tuition is going up. Only the rich will be able to afford to go to school to study ecology, engineering or oceanography. My cynical take is that, these days most schools just want get those Pell grants whether there are any jobs waiting for the students or not. I think that we should create a network of apprenticeships in a variety of fields, particularly in alternative energy, retrofitting, agriculture. Educators who can do this will be performing a great service. Perhaps they could even make a decent living at it.

    And I think we should maintain our public libraries, so that people can educate themselves. Not everyone will have access to the internet from their homes, by the look of things.

    Of course, I don’t think saying this at your college gig will be considered politically correct.

  26. Bill says:

    Learn useful and practical skills like how to design, engineer, build and repair tools and machines. See the link below for a group that is designing and building tractors, smelters, solar power plants, etc. for an off-grid village in a post-scarcity world.

    Someone should design a four-year college curriculum around these concepts.

  27. dorveK says:

    I think the shift towards “remote working” as the new normal, replacing the normal commuting habits of today, is poised to become a hot issue anytime soon:

    “The whole idea of bunging people together, factory-style for all of the time is very wasteful,” [Andy Lake, who heads up Flexibility, a non-profit organization promoting flexible working practices in the United Kingdom] says. “In an electronic age, to have people traveling collectively billions of miles a year to sit in front of a computer, there’s a kind of madness there, isn’t there?”

  28. Dan Allen says:

    Learn (1) low-input gardening & orcharding skills, (2) how to make ‘appropriate technology’ like solar driers, root cellars, straw-bale/cob houses, (3) how to make wine/moonshine

  29. Joan Savage says:

    While in college, they should take advantage of travel-abroad programs and internships that expose them to different cultures and socio-economic groups. The next fifty years are going to include migration at blender speeds, and a global melting pot with the heat turned on high.

    I told my children to be prepared to be nomadic and to continue to learn new skills over time. I passed along their grandmother’s advice: have at least one professional skill, plus one blue-collar skill that is welcome anywhere. I added, learn some skills (in or out of college) that reduce their dependence on the cash economy.

    When my daughter was in college, she said she felt more secure knowing that her brother could fish, I could forage, and she could knit.

  30. Steven Leibo says:

    Aside from classes in modern world history & and climate change I teach a course on globalization. In that context, long ago I came up with the term “Smart Hands” to describe the future for my students. The essence of the idea is that one wants to have a job that requires significant training but also requires your physical presence. Feel free to borrow the term.

    Steven Leibo
    Professor of International History & Politics
    The Sage Colleges

  31. Rick says:

    The title of this article assumes a lot in Peak Oil world.

    [JR: No it doesn’t. Read the blog.]

  32. Gord says:

    I’ve read all the responses to this point.

    Still no one to fix the pipes, design a new HVAC system or design and build safe and to-code wiring for a destroyed building or business.

    It’s almost as if the infrastructure does not exist and if it requires work, any monkey with a belt will do.

    It’s no wonder that the skilled trades are so short staffed and dying in their numbers. There is sooooo much respect for them. I mean who wants their kid to have a job / create a job for the rest of their life?

    We need to bifurcate the idea of skills acquired for employment, or self-employment and education. Education is what makes us enlightened people, skills allow is to make a living.

    There’s a huge difference.

  33. Biomapper says:

    EO Wilson’s book Consilience had a big impact on me during my undergrad years. He argued that the great gains in our learning would take place in the fertile ground between our disciplines. As climate disruption continues to unfold, we will be dealing with problems and solutions that will be inherently multidisciplinary. So I recommend students two choose majors. One content and one application. Examples would be hydrology and law…….biolo and finance……engineering and economics……..chemistry and anthropology….geology and language……medicine and education…etc. Throw in a shrewd avocation such as bike wrenching, knitting, gardening, carpentry, welding etc. and someone will always find you useful.

  34. Peter M says:

    What about Geographers?

  35. Heraclitus says:

    Learn Chinese. With a bit of luck you’ll be able to tag along on their coat-tails.

  36. Adam R. says:

    Civil engineers will have plenty of work on adaptation projects for sea level rise. Designers of automatic controls for energy management and distribution systems will be in demand–in fact, they are now.

    Those are for the next 10-30 years. Beyond that, hunter-gatherer generalist might be the ticket.

  37. OregonStream says:

    If the typical “jack of all trades” is a “master of none”, then hopefully not everyone will follow that route. Tomorrow’s world will also need dedicated experts. Still, having a couple of broadly-marketable skills is likely to be increasingly valuable to the average worker.

  38. Guy Dauncey says:

    Bill D – you’re quite right. So let me add it!

    Ecology – provided that the teaching includes a thorough coverage of what is potentially the greatest ecological catastrophe since the last ice age, so that students don’t come to oppose the solutions to climate change in order to protect a particular turtle, particular creek, or particular viewscape, arguing that climate change is “just another issue”. It’s the big picture ecology that is so important, when we learn to see population, energy ecology and the ecological impacts of consumerism all intwined.

  39. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Learn flexibility, Even where our guesses of the future are broadly correct the reality will still be very different from what we imagine.

    Reality will probably be very different in different places. Reverse globalisation if you will. So mobility will be important.

    I do share Joe’s confidence in the US food supply. With so many crops we have selected a single gene line as the most productive in current conditions. If that gene line suddenly proves vulnerable, entire world crops could be wiped out very quickly.

    It is not just crops, but food animal flocks as well. We have not just concentrated in specific varieties but specific gene lines. Add to that the huge numbers of animals in single locations, scary.

    Remember the potatoe famine in Ireland, look at the current worries over Cavendish bananas. We need to value diversity, our current love of sameness leaves us vulnerable.

  40. Joan Savage says:

    They will need to develop team skills for collaborative problem-solving. A social network provides forms of security that a job does not.

    It will be to their advantage to have entrepreneurial skills to organize new work entities themselves. Unstable economies have already proven that a secure future is not found through having a single employer or a single customer.

    Right now in college team skills are seldom systematically taught, but they can find ways to learn informally, through classes that require team projects, social organizations, or some sports.

  41. spacermase says:

    Traditionally, predicting which field(s) will be the most useful has been a difficult challenge. However, I can definitely tell you which fields *won’t* be useful:

    -Petroleum engineering, many forms of mining science, and just about anything having to do with the fossil fuel industry. Even ignoring the environmental impacts, sheer technological advancement is probably going to render these industries obsolete.
    -“Traditional” industrial agriculture- new developments (no-till farming, scaled-up polyculture/permaculture), combined with rising oil prices, are going to make current standard agricultural practices increasingly uneconomical. And that’s not even factoring in climate disruption (which I still hope we may be able to keep to a minimum, but I’m a perpetual optimist).
    -Engineering focused on internal combustion engines.

  42. 1968. Dustin Hoffman. plastics.
    2011. Water. Food.

  43. Matt says:

    My idea (well it’s what I’m currently studying) is synoptic and mesoscale meteorology in the tropics with an emphasis on flooding. There seem to be quite a few opportunities for both research and private sector for people who can forecast extreme weather events particularly at extended time periods in relation to intraseasonal variability, such as the MJO.

  44. Alteredstory says:

    A couple things: First is that Jim Adcock#18 made me thing about philosophy – I think it’s important that we not forget the mistakes made, and that we work towards a less divided, more planet/species oriented philosophy. The “look out for number one” version of capitalism pushes us into a tragedy of the commons scenario of cataclysmic proportions. Self-reliance and self-sufficiency are both important goals, but they need to be connected to an understanding of the degree to which we rely on other humans and other species.

    As to looking at a post-oil society, I reject the notion that it will look like a pre-oil society. We have the knowledge and technical expertise to generate vast amounts of electricity without oil or coal or natural gas, and there’s no reason we would need to lose the technological advancements we have.

    There’s not a substance made from oil that can’t be made from plant carbon, given enough energy, and we’re very, very good at generating electricity. We’re also getting very, very good at reducing the amount of electricity needed for almost everything we use it for.

    This is not a time for looking at the “good old days” before oil, this is a time for looking at what the future will look like. We’re based on a 19th century system, and earlier in some respects.

    I honestly think we need to look at certain aspects of what is currently in the realm of science fiction, and think about how we can combine lessons from the past with present knowledge and technology to make something better.

    One example would be to look at the steampunk genre. A lot of it’s useless, but kinetic energy transfer is more efficient than converting kinetic to electricity and back to kinetic – we can use excess electricity from sources that fluctuate to raise weights and wind springs, and use those to drive plumbing, factories, and even local public transportation. We could use the energy from wind turbines to do that directly.

    Heck, we could even rig up gym equipment to “power” systems by turning gears, lifting counterweights, and winding springs. I’m not saying that we have a clockwork future, but if we really wanted it, we could.

    There’s no reason for our future to be something we have to “settle for”.

  45. A J says:

    Tell them to go into the field of Elder Law. Yes, there is a rapidly emerging specialty in that. Its practitioners claim the the regulations of the Social Security Administration are even more Byzantine than the Tax Code of the IRS.

  46. Wit's End says:

    Sadly I think the most useful skills in the not so distant future will be a deep familiarity with the workings of various brands of guns (plus an arsenal of ammunition)…and failing that, the physical strength and experience in wielding a machete.

    Just go look at current and past upheavals if you don’t think that’s so.

  47. The age of the “employee” and the “professional” is dying even without global warming.

    Unless its something specific that requires ticking off the right bureacratic boxes – such as medicine – then IMO you’re much better off thinking in terms of “skill set” rather than “employability” on going to university. What are the most important skills?

    * Programming – As long as the electricity remains, so will computers and automated machines. I’m not saying you should specialize in it, but having a good working knowledge of it as a huge boon in an age when so many people can get rich off online stores, designing websites, promoting themselves as advertising and SEO gurus, etc.

    * Languages – To be better able to take advantage of (1) international cost differentials and/or (2) opportunities in prospective regions – such as the Arctic – in our globalizing world.

    In particular, I would recommend Chinese, Russia, and Spanish. A good working knowledge of English is a must practically everywhere.

    Apart from that, have fun doing whatever Major you choose.

    Finally, most other truly important skills – especially for the “cyberpunk” world our future appears to be trending towards – aren’t officially taught in universities.

    Studying martial arts, bodybuilding, sailing, financial investment, speed typing, lockpicking, urban evasion and wilderness survival, etc., can be relied upon to pay big dividends.

  48. OregonStream says:

    Spacermase, here’s hoping we achieve the fundamental change that will make things like internal combustion engines and the fossil fuel industry obsolete. But I’m not sure that’s going to happen within 1-2 decades without carbon pricing or a wholesale turnaround in attitudes. It’s probably going to be tough to replace energy-dense fossil fuels and the engines that power heavier vehicles. Maybe lightweight materials and a new generation of batteries will become commercially competitive all by themselves, but I suspect we’ll need at least two generations of hybrid vehicles (with either gasoline or natural gas engines). And as we speak, Big Petro is gearing up to exploit the thawing Arctic, so they’re not going to yield the future without a fight.

  49. Lewis C says:

    During the first oil-shock of the ’70s I chose the candlestick-maker route, and served an apprenticeship in wheelwrighting and horse-drawn vehicle building, after which I ran my own workshop for about ten years.
    I’d probably still be at it now had it not been for the Reagan-Thatcher backlash, but it has to be said that, like various other traditional skills I’ve learned over the years, it would really be of very little use to society under present circs –

    (When a simily of Peak Oil hit Cuba in the early ’90s, there were far too few heavy horses for the farms and they’d have taken far too long to breed and train, so they went back to oxen for farm draught. Even with the relatively stable climate then prevailing and rational collective decision-making, the average Cuban lost a stone in weight, but there was no famine).

    The supremely urgent need is of young people getting skilled in the techniques that will help to mitigate the looming energy/climate/food-insecurity crises. (And no, I’m not talking about PV for the wealthy to allow more US coal to be exported). Without substantial practical success in that mitigation, the candlestick maker will starve alongside the redundant auto worker, while the police look on as ex-billionaires are hanged from the lamposts.

    Those with skills in mitigation in its many forms will be the most critically needed and thus practically guaranteed a job worldwide. While journalism, activism and politics can offer vital capacities in public information, advocacy and legislation, I know of only one practical field that addresses all three critical issues of climate, food and energy, and that is forest-sourced Biochar (as Prok noted above).

    (For anyone interested I’d suggest browsing “International Biochar Initiative” which is sadly inappropriately high-tech & capital-intensive for most of the world’s potential, but has a lot of good information).

    I’d hope Joe that you’ll point out to the students the unique triple advantages of Biochar :
    – in raising soil fertility and moderating soil moisture,
    – in sequestering carbon drawn from the atmosphere and cutting soils’ GHG-outputs, and also in incentivising the worldwide expansion of sustainable forestry (a recent survey by IUCN & WRI found over 1.5 gigahectares of probable non-farm land available),
    – and, during biochar production, in yielding surplus heat and useful condensates and ‘syngas’, with the latter having strong potential for local usage or for on-site processing to liquid fuels and/or electricity.

    The skills required are of a huge variety, from coppice forestry to chemical engineering to community organizing to village wood-refinery management to activism in international diplomacy. Many of these would be readily applicable to other fields, but people with skills specific to the emergence of a global Biochar initiative seem likely to find employers exceptionally keen to recruit them in future.

    I think Joe you might also wish the students good luck, as they’re definitely going to need it.



  50. Chris Winter says:

    Risa Bear listed some useful skills in #25, and some questionable ones. (Homeopathy?)

    There was no mention of agriculture, a composite of many specialities. I think reading Bill McKibben’s Eaarth would be a good introduction to what’s likely to be useful.

    Also, I’d like to think everyone finished whatever education they get with a working Baloney Detection Kit.

  51. Paulm says:

    Farming(organic), water management, crisis management, solar/geothermal/flood engineering/management.
    Military career (officer etc), Think of careers they had in the world wars…..

  52. Paulm says:

    Health sector

  53. Theodore says:

    The key to success is choosing the right parents. Without them, you are doomed.

    My own parents failed to teach me the significance of being competitive in career development. I drifted through jobs and education like it really didn’t matter much. I only learned by hard experience that it really does matter, but too late to have much effect the course of my life or career.

    Some families discuss important things (like business and careers) at the dinner table. Mine discussed only meaningless trivia. I happily drifted into the poverty of indirection and apathy and was never aware of this unfolding tragedy until I was too old to do much about it.

    Don’t be afraid to become a hyper-competitive asshole. You may hate yourself, but the money will make you feel better.

  54. David B. Benson says:

    Does not Thomas Friedman in his Hot, Flat and Crowded provide some answers this wekkend’s question?

  55. Fred Teal Jr. says:

    Joe, give them something to hope for.

  56. David B. Benson says:

    Washington state has had ~9% unemployment during the Great Recession (which I’ll take as still ongoing). Despite this, Washington does not graduate enough engineers to fill all open positions; in effect industries in Washington are importing engineers from elsewhere.

    Conclusion: obtain a degree in engineering.

  57. Leif says:

    Learn to fix stuff. Not only do you usually get raw materials for free, a good repair job can outlast the original life of the item and can even transform a land fill item into a family heirloom.

  58. Leif says:

    Start a solar powered crematorium with waste heat recovery and co-generation.

  59. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    If the denialist, anti-human, insatiably avaricious Right stays on top, as it is now, I’d recommend being an arms dealer, private security or researcher in bacteriological warfare. If the human race succeeds in removing the incubus of the global Nosferatu caste from our backs, I’d say research or farming, particularly agro-forestry, re-forestation, permaculture or any other practical hands-on stuff.

  60. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    I’d say don’t go into any ecological sciences, including oceanography. In Canada our resource financing for ecology, organism biology in the government sector has been slashed repeatedly. In 1990, our budget for the wildlife assessment program run by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in just south-central Ontario was more than the 1996 budget for the entire province (we’re about 2.3x the size of Texas).

    I suspect part of the cuts come from the politicians not wanting to hear bad news (pretty much any report on birds and other wildlife is going to be depressing), and also because making money is easier if you don’t have all this data or research that shows it is having a negative impact on ecosystems.

    Right now, the Wildlife Assessment Unit of the MNR, which was created by politicians and legislated (originally Term and Condition 81, now something different) to monitor non-game species of wildlife isn’t actually monitoring wildlife. Instead for the past 4 or 5 years all they’ve been able to do is have meetings about how they would monitor wildlife using the new Multiple Species and Inventory Model (MSIM) if they had money to do the field work. The Northeast section (Thunder Bay) has had a small pilot project for the past 3 years, while the other sections can’t even get funding to hire summer students. The full-time biologists just sit around having meetings, going slightly crazy, and everyone else is on contract for decades at a time with no promise of renewal every few months.

    As a result no agency is monitoring our wildlife* although the people of Ontario think the MNR is doing just that.

    Basically, don’t go into any science field that will make the politicians and businesspeople look bad.

    *we do have Bird Studies Canada picking up on bird trends, but a great deal of that relies on citizen science.

  61. Sou says:

    I’d go along with most of the above suggestions. The main thing is for a person to build on strengths, do what they like doing best and work hard to better their best.

    Science, economics, policy, agriculture, engineering – they’ll all continue to be needed in a future world. As will good journalism and communication more generally.

    Another thing is entertainment. When things get tough people seek entertainment to briefly escape their immediate troubles. An ethical approach to keeping the proletariat entertained would be a good thing :)

  62. Richard Brenne says:

    I’d study Anthro-Earth, which is my own umbrella term for all human impacts that are infinitely larger than almost anyone knows, including all specialists, who generally only know their specialty well and have difficulty relating it to all other human impacts.

    Earth is what we inherited, and Anthro-Earth is what we’ve created. When you understand how immense all human impacts are you can understand climate change, species loss, resource depletion, overpopulation, overconsumption, social injustice and all the rest. Even if you study one of these critical symptoms, understand the disease itself, and help synthesize the understanding of all the symptoms into understanding the disease, which is that we are literally growing and consuming ourselves to death in every way possible.

    Without understanding this you’ll inevitably be blindsided and misunderstand what’s happening when the stuff hits the fan, as it has within the last year or so in much of Egypt, Australia, Pakistan, Russia, Haiti and other places.

    Instead of a theoretical academic abstraction that interests only the most effete intellectual fops, this is the most practical thing you can know, together with all the practical knowledge you can muster. Always have a plan A, B and C, and keep them in line with each other.

    For instance, if you’re studying aeronautical engineering (something I wouldn’t recommend, but you might already be doing it) get with your professor that is the most into fuel efficiency and make her or him your academic advisor and work in this area. That’s plan A, the way things are now, or have been.

    Then understand that during your lifetime aviation is likely to go away to a large degree due to what will be the soaring price and even unavailability of aviation fuel, except for the very rich, and many take-offs and landings might draw hailstorms of gunfire from those who remember when they could afford to fly. So then apply the lightness of airplanes to something far more efficient, train (if trains are being funded as they should). That’s plan B.

    Plan C is far more practical and long-lasting still, and that is the design, building and especially repair of sailing ships and boats. I’d get with Leif on this (he designs and builds ultra-fuel efficient boats). Also bikes, bike trailers, canoes and kayaks.

    If you’re drawn to marine biology, study what ocean acidification is doing to all marine life, especially those with hard shells from phytoplankton to corral. Do all the field work along coastlines and boats you can, then at the same time learn to fish, and turn to that for sustenance when the scientific funding runs out until what you were studying kills all sea life (hopefully that’s at least a few generations out).

    Build up the biggest skill set you can in all things most useful, especially growing food, the greenest and most practical construction, and repairing all the most useful things. See how you can heal people most effectively and with the fewest resources (hint: how have history’s greatest spiritual thinkers done this?).

    Get involved in the tightest-knit community you can, where everyone will treat each other like family for as long as you live. Treat your family like family, and get along with every member of your family the best you possibly can, both forgiving all you can (if physical or sexual abusers have repented, and maybe from afar if they haven’t) and accepting forgiveness.

    Find a life partner and be the best life partner you can for the rest of your lives. Forget the musical chairs of life partners called divorce society encourages through its arrested adolescence of wanting the buzz of falling in love all the time, but kiss as many frogs as you need to until you find your life partner. Find a partner who gets all this and agrees with you about it, ideally a person.

    Don’t self-medicate with any drug, including television, the internet and all other electronic communication and entertainment, relate to nature all you can, and vow to help everyone you can, especially everyone who comes into your life for your help.

    Lead us into our understanding of where we’ve gone wrong by shedding new light on some aspect of Anthro-Earth, then like a 12-stepper take your part in the full responsibility for what we’ve done, change your and our behavior the most you can, and make amends to everyone and everything you can. Also appeal to whatever your highest concept is of a higher power to do this, including the highest sense of morality if you’re an atheist (atheists seem to have about as high of morals as anyone, maybe because they’re so thoughtful).

    At the very least if it all falls apart here, you’ll have the best possible karma heading into your next life. Also vow that you won’t help soil our nest in that next life.

    Or you could work on Wall Street.

  63. slect says:

    [JR: We’re insulated from much food insecurity. Americans are rich and food here is cheap — some of the worst food tends to be the cheapest.]
    Joe, not so consistent with what you say elsewhere on this blog on the risks of dust-bowlification and other adverse developments in the US. I wouldn’t take food security for granted anywhere on this planet on a 10 to 20-year horizon. Learning to be an able gardener may end up being more useful than training with employability in mind.

    [JR: It’s quite consistent. First, we’re rich. Second, we’re the world’s breadbasket. Third, I’ve been crystal clear most U.S. dust-bowlification is probably post-2040.]

  64. ToddInNorway says:

    There are several responses in this thread emphasizing the value of traditional trades, e.g. carpentry, plumbing, mechanical repair, weaving, sewing, electrical installation, farm and agricultural skills, etc. I add my vote to this. If you want a college education, fine, but the only degrees I see providing any job security in the next 20 years would be traditional mechanical, electrical and civil engineering. But even if you have a good job with one of these degrees, you are likely to need a trade skill or two in addition to survive when the sh_t hits the fan for real regarding shrinking oil supplies and chronic global food insecurity.

  65. John Mason says:

    As I have suffered periods of unemployment in recent months, I’ve been giving this whole question a lot of thought. There are two aspects to demand for products/services which may be labeled as Needs and Wants. The two are very often confused these days with people mislabeling Wants as Needs. However, in a post-Peak Oil world with an unstable climate, I think the definitions will in time sort themselves out. Then, the answer must surely be to develop one set of core skills (“The Great Reskilling” in Transition-language) that addresses Needs. It might be food production, or making clothes, or supplying firewood – there are many possibilities. By all means maintain skill-sets that address Wants, but have a portfolio that lets you do things with Needs too – it’s a fairly bombproof fall-back position.

    Perhaps a good Weekend Question for a future CP discussion would be “What things do you classify as Needs and what things do you classify as Wants?”

    Cheers – John

  66. I am struck by the overwhelming sense of impending doom that is contained in this weekend’s blog responses. Is there no hope that humankind can rise to the challenge that we face as a result of this self induced crisis of Global Warming? Is there no real possibility that we who read and write these blog responses can yet cause our current “civilized society” to care enough to change before we doom others to a future as described in this blog?

    So while I agree with the recommendations for a focus on education that yields all the numerous practical skills as described in previous posts, perhaps we also are greatly in need of those visionaries that can lead us to a new way of life.

  67. Wyoming says:

    I was finding these submissions interesting reading and had no intention of adding mine until I read no’s 25 and 42. So here goes.

    I am a retired electrical engineer who is now a full time farmer. I have been focused on Peak Oil and AGW issues for 5-6 years and they are one of the main reasons I left a career providing near 200K in total compensation for one currently providing about 30K.

    I like many of the ideas detailed in the list in #25 just because most young people in America have few to no practical skills. They provide a lot of satisfaction with life and provide one useful knowledge. Should the end of the world come they will be very useful. But taking most of those in #25 up as a career pre-collapse is perhaps not wise. Chose carefully, be entrepreneurial. There are no jobs out there for great numbers of folks for whom these skills are a primary occupation. Learn the skills and have patience. Make your primary occupation something more marketable in the near term. Remember that we are talking to young people here, not 50 year olds. They have to have some way of surviving for the next 20-30 years before the crap really hits the fan. (As this statement indicates – I do not believe that we will have a fast collapse in the next few years).

    The reason I bring up #42 is just to present an alternate viewpoint. I think that this post is likely mistaken on all points, but definately on most. The whole premis of Joe’s post is what do we advise young college students to focus on for the future. Now I am not saying here that BAU is what we are trying to sustain. Just the opposite. But the oil/fossil fuel industry is not going away for generations (unless you believe that the great dieoff is hapening in the next 20 years. If you do and you are 20 then hump your ass down to the local Army recruiiting center and get yourself signed up for Ranger training while you are still young enough to get through the program. Then learn another good skill find yourself a farm/small town and burrow in and wait.) Humans are going to use fossil fuels for the next 100 years. We need smart people who can devise methods to use them that are far more efficient/safe/sustainable that those in use today. If we just willy nilly burn them all up we are certainly..toast?

    Industrial farming is not going away! This is just uniformed. We have to try and feed 7 billion people (or we have the great die-off…refer to Ranger training above). Now, since I can feel the blood pressure of the permaculture affcinados, and the host of others that hate industrial farming rising, let me say this. I farm organically, on 4 acres of intensively plannted raised beds, sell only at farmers markets near my farm and am making constant improvements to make my operation more energy efficient. But people like me cannot feed the world. That is just stupid. We have to transition from where we are to where we need to go. If you turn off industrial agriculture techniques today it is too late to even run down and get that Ranger training. How many reading this do not know that most organic food grown for consumption in the developed world is grown via industrial ag techniques? The only difference between large organic and conventional (I hate that word) farms is inputs. Organic versus chemical. The equipment/infrastructure is all the same. The large organic farms supply a disproportionate amount of the organic food sold. One single organic farm in Calif sells 50% of the organic greens sold in grocery stores in the US. Same for the largest organic dairy (50% of US supply). Note when thinking about these things is that the last 2 entities who will have access to large amounts of fuel as supplies dwindle will be industrial farming (and its support industries) and our Ranger buddies. The average farmer in the US is 60 years old (I am at least younger than average). We need huge amounts of farmers. Of all kinds. Lots of those like my neighbors on the conventional operations and lots more like me. And if you want ot be a farmer you need more of those practical skills found in #25 than any other occupation. We can evolve industrial ag techniques over time but we cannot shut them off any time soon. And we need lots of folks to keep working permaculture/biochar/and such for when the time comes that these concepts can provide a meaningful difference. This will be a number of decades into the future and will come during/post significant population reduction. Permaculture techniques are subsistence techniques and are not scaleable to 7 billion people (just where are those 5 million people in Phoenix going to do this? And they are not welcome to move to my neighborhood by the way). A last note on ag. No-till farming is often thrown out as this great idea which came along that has improved the loss of top soil. The use of no-till is fairly rapidly decreasing due to the number of adverse side effects. Much greater use of chemicals is required, soil compaction gets a lot worse, herbacide resistance weeds are rapidly increasing, etc.

    Engine technology. You bet we will need experts in this for the next 20-40 years. Jeavon’s paradox aside (we will have to deal with fixing that eventually) we are going to desperately need to become more efficent at growing and moving food, comodities and people.

    Most of the young people who apply to work for me have college degrees (something is really wrong with that). Most of those degrees are in music, art, sociology (lots of biology degrees, one lawyer, a masters from Yale, history, etc). Anyone spending the amount of money a bachelors degree requires on art or music is just not … thinking things through very well? Avocation and occupation are not equal in all instances. They come here because they cannot find work other than in the restaurant industry or retail. As a rule they have no skills at all and almost none of them have ever done a hard days work in their lives (I had one tell me he had a real hard job – in a car wash. I did not know what to say. He did not last long.) I have had to teach them how to use a shovel (I am not kidding), run a riding lawn mower, explain what a cresent wrench is, how to check the oil and why. The list is endless. Most people in college do not belong there. They are there because we don’t know what to do with them. We sent their jobs to China so we entertain them with video games, tv and their personal communication devices (you should see the anguish when I tell them absolutely no Ipods or cell phones on their persons during working hours). Some have quit over it.

    Food for thought I hope.


  68. Lore says:

    Not everyone can work for Google, part of the latest tech du jour. Recently they’ve received 75,000 applicants for 6,000 jobs. Just like you’re not going to need every graduate to sit behind a desk planning for the next big enviro-fix. Not that we don’t want to encourage and educate our brightest to aspire to make those changes for the sake of all our futures, but what about the millions of average workers?

    Maybe it’s time to also emphasize rolling up your sleeves, getting you’re hands dirty and learning a life skill that can never be outsourced? While we’re raising an overweight youth that is glued to their cell phones, Face Book, Twitter and YouTube, how about prodding them to get off their derriere and produce something. Like a healthier, safer life that expresses itself through the perfection of basic skills which serve both the environment and their fellow human beings. No PHD required.

    No, there will be no fat, rich America in our future. That should be pretty clear by now. Today’s youth needs to be hardened to that fact, or we risk yet another lost generation and possibly much more.

  69. susan says:

    Thank you Alteredstory for providing us with a bit of hope. I know the coming years will be grim, but I have to believe that we can do what is necessary to adapt to our changing planet.

    I have 15 year old twin daughters who need to know the reality of our future, but who are also quite tender. I fear plunging them into a deep depression if they are presented with such a bleak picture of their life on earth. On the other hand I want them to be prepared for the conditions they’ll face.

    Here on our small island in Maine, a group of us have started meeting monthly and are beginning the conversation about how we can become energy and food independent. These are just first steps, but I have found practical hope and a sense of purpose through action with like minded folks.

    Richard Brenne – The College of the Atlantic offers a single major in Human Ecology. It sounds very similar to your description of Anthro – Earth. They offer many courses in multiple disciplines, but all viewed through the lens of how humans imapact the earth.

    Joe – will you have a post about your talk? I’m saving this thread for my kids. It will be useful in another year or two when they start seriously looking at college.

    Thanks for all the great ideas. This place is invaluable.

  70. Joan Savage says:

    The breadth of responses brings up a refocus.

    A related question for students is what will make you/them feel most secure about your/their future? Not necessarily wealthy, but secure?

    We’ve had an economy that has richly rewarded the Koch brothers. They were trained formally and informally in engineering and business, and fortunate to be sons of an innovative petroleum engineer.

    In 2040 there will be other skills that are highly rewarded in their time, regardless of the wisdom of whether the activities will make the world better in 2070 and beyond.

    A deep sense of security comes if a parent feels that he or she has prepared well for future generations. That has usually been by leaving land or business or other wealth. In a climate changing world, those assets are less reliable.

    What do the students of today imagine to be THEIR legacy to the future?

  71. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    water law or environmental geology (hazards remediation and prevention)

  72. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    David B. Benson #55 Read Bill McKibbin’s answer to Hot Flat and Crowded in his book Eaarth and you’ll drop Friedman’s theories, they won’t work.

  73. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    Some very interesting posts here. I think #48 is onto something (lockpicking) – LOL. Richard Feyman was a master lockpicker and I’ve often wished I knew the skill. Like the time I got inadvertently caught on the wrong side of a huge metal pipe gate way out in a canyon…boltcutters and hacksaws are nice to have with the lockpicking skill (I carry both), but that’s another topic on handy things to have.

    If I had kids going to college right now, I would somehow subsidize a few classes in geology so they can get the big picture, it’s amazing what an overview of our planet can do for perspective. It’s actually very liberating to know there have been a number of mass extinctions and life has persisted.

  74. 350 Now says:

    William McDonough’s terrific talk at Stanford in 2009 is posted online at the youtube link below. His description of “Guardian/Commerce” around the 10:00 time stamp helps me understand the magnitude of the problem of Washington’s K street lobbyists’ zeal for the vote of the conservative climate ostriches. The talk also offers lots of new ideas. I recall his participation in the DiCaprio film, The Eleventh Hour.

  75. tst says:


    That’s quite a career change. I hope it continues to work out for you. And thanks for such a wide-ranging response. There’s some fascinating stuff in you comment, and throughout this thread.

    The conundrum we all face is that it’s impossible to make more than an educated guess about the future. Climate change may only manifest itself occasionally for the next 10 or 20 years, or it may gather strength and roar in faster than anyone predicts. I lean toward the latter – there are climate-primed beetle infestations killing hundreds of trees outside my window as I write this – but either possibility could prove accurate.

    The same thing applies with peak oil – or as Richard Heinberg describes it, peak everything. Are we on a semi-stable rolling plateau of peak oil production, or are we starting down the far side of Hubbert’s curve? And where does unconventional gas fit into the equation? I’d love to see us scale down our energy requirements and build a bridge to sustainability, but it’s hard to imagine how that’s possible in a society predicated on growth.

    Speaking of growth, what happens to an economy based on two non-negotiables – growth & debt – when the physical realities of energy and climate intrude? Will we experience hyper-inflation, or depression-era deflation, or some unknowable combination of the two? And how will people here in the U.S. react when it becomes clear that the non-negotiable American dream is heading for parts unknown? Joe mentioned earlier that America is rich. That’s true, at least for the present, but the past is not necessarily the best predictor of the future – even the immediate future. I personally don’t see how an ever-expanding financial system can survive severe environmental degradation and resource depletion. Our economy will only continue to function if people believe that future growth will pay for past debts. How long is that house of cards going to stay standing? We saw what just happened in Ireland. The U.S. is arguably in worse shape.

    In any case, we stand at a fascinating juncture. Climate change and our energy situation and our unstable economy are going to change things in ways we can’t predict ahead of time. I suspect that the people best equipped to handle an uncertain future will be those who plan ahead, educate themselves, and create resiliency and redundancy in their lives. There shouldn’t be an inherent contradiction between knowing how to work on a computer, sheet mulch your garden, and start a bow drill fire – at least not at this point in history.

  76. ken levenson says:

    go work at Google…they’ll be running “everything” soon…..

  77. pete best says:

    You just have to try and make young people of taday reealise that the fossil fuel energy age coupled with our capatalist mantra is a recipe for waste but prosperity. Its too late for my generation – most people do not really care either way – if we can get is solved without putting up energy costs then fine is about as far as most people will go on the subject. Life is wonderful and what it is all powered by is of no consequence for most so long as it can be powered.

    Oil also makes a lot of things, packaging, pesticides, fertilisers and much more besides so its got its uses way beyond merely burning it all. Here in the UK Top Gear a program about extremely fast cars and silly stories and scenarios is very popular and gets big viewing figures so its back to life is wonderful. Flying is not getting less popular now is it.

    Take it from me – speak to normal people and what you hear is depressing from a ecological perspective so its down to tomorrows adults to far more aware then the general public cares now.

    So keep up the good work on getting their awareness raised.

  78. tst says:

    Just ran across an interesting, and perhaps ancillary, piece on the NY Times. Young vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are training to become organic farmers.

  79. Tim L. says:

    Critical thinking and teamwork. When I’ve given talks to students, I stress the approach I’ve taken throughout my scholastic and professional career: see that any and every job involves some measure of problem-solving. Thanks to the rapid pace of technological change, a narrow, highly-specialized education could render one functionally obsolete early or mid-career. (How many COBOL programmers do we have now?) But, as Artful Dodger says, critical thinking skills are vital. We can train monkeys or build robots for routine tasks. But solving problems requires a need to see clearly: (1) what the problem is; (2) what the relative pros & cons are for alternative solutions; and, (3) which alternative(s) might offer optimal outcomes. But to implement solutions, one needs to be able to collaborate, as none of us can solve today’s problems alone. That means knowing how to work as part of a team, to be open-minded, reliable, and trustworthy, and how to meld one’s own talents and knowledge with those of others.

  80. mikel says:

    Joe, there is a lot of good practical advice here and I am not able to I improve on that.

    However, I do think that a major factor in determining what an individual can achieve is his/her attitude. Those, who have confidence in being able to achieve and not look for reasons why any endeavour is likely to fail, are always going to be more sought after by employers or any other group, voluntary or otherwise.

    He/she will automatically gravitate towards like-minded people. They will feed off each other. Unfortunately, the converse is also true. So, avoid the negative individuals, companies or organisations.

    The young are faced with clearing up the monumental mess we have made. I do not envy them. They will need encouragement, fortitude and nerve. They do not need any doomsayer, however plausible.

    Finally, the question here focused on what students should study. Perhaps, you should address what students should learn. Yes, there are practical skills, and yes, there is knowledge. But also, they should learn how to learn for themselves. Life will throw up all sorts of challenges and the answers are not going to be found in textbooks or from training courses.

  81. David B. Benson says:

    susan @69 — Try Hot by Mark Hertsgaard

  82. Lauren says:

    Stetson (in Florida) is a very conservative institution.

    Be prepared for “ambushes” from students and faculty alike.

  83. shannon says:


  84. Flin says:

    Oh dear, I am much too late for suggestions, nevertheless a few words:
    To be able to earn a living in the next 40 one has to take into account
    – scarcity of ressources
    – limited mobility
    – high energy prices

    An impressive vision of such a world can be found in “The Windup Girl”.

    The more I think about it the more convinced I am that the future will be renewable and biological. Energy from the sun or growing ressources, biological machines, genetically programmed. Mechatronically optimized systems guaranteeing that no expensive energy is wasted. And, of course, holding it all together, information technology and systems analyzing and calculating things we can hardly think of now, when even quantum computers and their influence on it-security bring us to the edge of things we can grasp.

    Therefore: Mechatronics, Biology and Genetics, Computer Science. Safe jobs.

  85. CW says:

    How to better ensure that your future is an employed one? Vote for a future that has more jobs in it. Vote for politicians that actually act for a more environmentally and socially-sustainable future.

    Don’t vote for politicians beholden to big companies (hard to do, I know). The objective of companies is to minimize employment and/or ship it over to other countries where employment costs are cheaper for them.

    Also, vote with your dollars — buy local and/or buy American. More jobs for people around you means better odds there’s one for you too.

    Can it be said in any more simply?!

  86. Some European says:

    @8 Ed Hummel
    Bravo, I agree!
    I think the word PEACE is key here. I’ll turn 26 soon and when I look at people of my generation, I can easily pick out the ones who didn’t see it coming and WTSHTF will freak out and shoot at anything that moves. We should be preparing people mentally, to go through the process of learning, denial, panic, anger, apathy, … just like many of CP readers have. The sooner people get to make their peace with the situation, the safer my future will be.
    I’ve already given up on the future I could have had. So now, things can only get better. It’s like when the doctor tells you you’ve got cancer. Every day alive and healthy becomes a present.

    @38 Guy
    “what is potentially the greatest ecological catastrophe since the last ice age”

    I’m afraid that should rather be:
    “what is potentially the greatest ecological catastrophe since the end-Permian mass extinction”

    I think in your phrase, it’s pretty safe to replace ‘potentially’ with ‘certainly’.