Career planning and peak oil

While participating in a panel sponsored by RePower America yesterday night, I was reminded of the importance of values-based career planning, or the ability to explore and compete for opportunities that match both your career values and skill set.  RePower America aims at providing avenues to open and sustain a dialogue about how local communities can transition towards cleaner energy sources.  This is very much needed in my local community, as we are located in Indiana, a state where coal produces 96% of our energy.  As recently documented by our justmeans climate change team, coal is one of the most costly and least sustainable way to produce energy.

The panelists came to discuss how our town would benefit from moving towards cleaner energy from a variety of perspectives:

  • Ann Kreilkamp, a key member of TransitionBloomington.org, a chapter of the Transition Network, a global coalition of towns around the globe dedicated to build their self-reliance against peak oil and climate change.
  • David Rollo, biology researcher, and member of the Bloomington City Council, who discussed the current city alternative transporation and energy initiatives that will hopefully enable our local community to obatin the LEED Platinum community certification within 3 years.
  • Mylo Roze, founder of Holistic Affordable Housing, an initiative to provide affordable housing solutions that maximize the use of environmentally friendly energy sources (e.g. solar, wind) and practices (e.g. mandatory recycling and composting).
  • And me, offering a perspective on career planning that include how a transition to cleaner energy can help professionals put green in their job and their wallet.

It was a treat to listen and learn from these different perspectives as well as to realize that career planning possibilities directly derive from the choices available around us.  For instance, we discussed the New Orleans Federal Judge's decision to lift the Obama Administration 6 month ban on offshore drilling.  The reasoning given for lifting the ban was its impact on the local communities (i.e. those whose job it is to provide supply and workers to the rigs).  Of course, another argument, just as important, is the devastation on the livelihood of those who were impacted by the current spill in the Gulf, what about them?  The only way to circumvent these chicken and egg debates is to provide highly visible and available new and sustainable career opportunities.  Showing workers that they can get involved in producing cleaner energy and make a decent living out of it will provide a powerful way for people in local communities that depend on money currently generated by off shore drilling to assess the value of learning a new way of working and living more sustainably.  Easier said than done, but starting the conversation is a first step!

Another topic discussed what that of the gap between education and concrete career planning strategies.  If a student takes courses in sustainability but does not find visible opportunities to apply this knowledge in an internship or a first job (because he/she is told that he/she needs to pay her dues first), what kind of signal are we sending to the next generation of sustainability leaders?  Of course the most persistent ones will remain and will be industrious enough to implement career planning strategies to create their own paths.  But for the vast majority of students, they will believe that what they see is all that is available to them.  To make a sizable difference in the mind of our future leaders, social enterprises and socially responsible businesses need to aggressively get out there, and offer case studies in their local universities or offer independent studies or internships or other forms of service learning to demonstrate that there are careers out there that are sustainable and financially rewarding.

A final thought that emerged for me as an educator is that, in our community, many children (and their parents) don't think about the consequences of their consumption habits.  There are wonderful materials and frameworks out there to engage kids and their parents in that conversation, but too few people take the time to make this a conversation topic at home and at work.  I wish that all students in K-12 would be exposed to videos or educational materials such as the 'Story Of Stuff' video.  This video is a great jumping off point for a lively debate about where what we consume comes from, about where what we throw away goes, and about the global interdependence that exists between consumption of cheap goods in industrialized countries and the poor labor conditions of the goods' producers in developing countries.  Exposing kids to this circle of consumption might inspire more kids to ask questions at home and to modify their behaviors while they are kids.  This in turn might move the needle when it comes to the next generation of responsible leaders.  If they understand as children that they vote with their dollars as consumers, they might integrate that thought process into their career planning strategies and get business done better based on these principles as business or community leaders.

Overall, the panel reminded all of us that nothing is easy, and that opening a dialogue about the necessary transition towards cleaner energy has large repercussions on all aspects of a community, including on the career opportunities and career planning strategies available to build a better future through clean energy choices.

Photo Credit.