Working to Save the Planet

"In the future, we should be able to make more money by preserving our environment than by destroying it."


Everyone has probably heard the gloom and doom data and predictions included in recent reports like the United Nations Environment Programme's ( UNEP's) "GEO 2000," which reads like the script of a horror movie. Among other scary things, the last 3 years have been the warmest on record, and ozone depletion over Antarctica is greater than ever before.

Worse, the report predicts that two-thirds of the world's population will live in water-stressed areas by 2025, states that most commercially exploited fish species in the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans are in serious decline, and estimates that 1244 vertebrate species are threatened with extinction in Central and South America's tropical rain forests.

By their very nature, most environmental issues demonstrate two general tendencies: They do not respect borders, and they involve an interrelation of environmental, social, and economic problems. Thus, international and interdisciplinary approaches--not always the easiest to organize--are almost always required to solve the problems.

But for all these depressing facts and worrying predictions, there is a flip side to the coin. Developing solutions and taking action is necessary--and the bottom line is that there's plenty that science and scientists can do to help avoid or mitigate environmental catastrophe. As a matter of fact, with all the work that needs to be done, the environmental sciences offer a cornucopia of careers, hence Next Wave's interest in this area.

So, for this month's feature, we have explored the world of environmental careers both inside and outside academia. It has not been an easy task--there are so many jobs to choose from (for Germany alone, the estimated number of "green" jobs is between 1 million and 2.5 million). Nevertheless, we've done our best to identify a number of categories.

Many scientists are (mercifully!) still involved in basic research to fill knowledge gaps. Environmental activists are still working at the grassroots level, although many environmental groups have matured into influential and professional lobbying organizations. The policy sector has become extremely important in recent years--scientists work here as advisors or consultants, because no politician wants to make a major decision without scientific input.

We found a colorful mix of scientists from different disciplines and at different career stages, working both out in the field with binoculars or in an office in front of a computer screen. They share their personal motives and experiences, and they discuss the skills that are required to succeed in their area. Additionally, we offer a narrower focus on two particularly interesting environmental research fields--carbon mitigation and environmental genomics.

We can by no means pretend that this feature is exhaustive, but we hope that it will at least point you in a number of directions that you might find intriguing. And if, by chance, you don't find what you're looking for, then be sure to follow the links from the resources page that we have compiled to find further information you might need for your personal career in environmental sciences!

For Our Children's Children- In his guest editorial for Science's Next Wave, Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) writes about the big environmental challenges in the future.

Having an Impact - Andrew Barker talks about what his job as an environmental scientist at an engineering firm involves, as well as how he came to be doing it.

Reducing the Environmental Impact of Consumer Goods -Rüdenauer tells us about her work at a German research institution that collaborates with businesses to reduce the environmental impact of consumer goods.

On a Mission to Protect White-tailed Sea Eagles-Saving sea eagles from extinction requires far more than just being a biologist, as Bernd Struwe-Juhl describes. He also is responsible for the scientific and financial management of one of Germany's most prestigious conservation projects.

A Passion for Poisons-Ecotoxicology expert Geoff Brighty offers his perspective on career opportunities at the UK Environment Agency, and he lets us know just what an ecotoxicologist does all day.

Hunting Moths in Ecuador- Gunnar Brehm writes about the ups and downs of doing research in the mountain rainforests of Ecuador, which are among the most threatened ecosystems in the world.

Cleaning Sludge: Germ Reduction in Municipal Sewage - Oliver Baeder-Bederski, who is based at an environmental research center in Germany, shares his perspective on a multinational project aimed at developing plant/soil filters to treat sewage water.

Remote Sensing of Clouds- Oliver Sievers, an atmospheric physicist and Ph.D. student with the GKSS in Germany, enjoys his long days indoors developing climate models, while cherishing any opportunity to fly among the subjects of his studies--the clouds that have such a tremendous impact on our climate.

Environmental Consulting-Don Lush, an environmental consultant for Beak International, explores the job opportunities in environmental consulting, as well as a postdoc initiative in Canada.

Environmental Genomics- Jason Snape provides an overview of this emerging field, which combines ecology and genomics, from the perspective of the people who run the UK Natural Environment Research Council's 5-year Environmental Genomics Programme.

Careers in Global Warming: Heating Up- It's not just the planet that's getting warmer--as Next Wave's Jim Austin describes, efforts to develop new technologies to cope with rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere are provoking a rash of new job opportunities for scientists.

AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship - Interested in breaking into environmental policy? GrantsNet's Katie Cottingham profiles one program that could help you get a foot in the door: the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships.

STAR and MAI Fellowships at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Writing for GrantsNet's August news, Jerry Gabriel highlights a pair of EPA programs that offer some 135 fellowships each year for undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students in the environmental sciences, and he profiles John Gaskin, a recent STAR awardee.

Careers in Environmental Sciences--Resources Page.The Next Wave editorial team has placed an extensive list of Web sites associated with the environment and with environmental sciences careers on our Resources page. From career information, job opportunities, to real-time monitoring, there should be at least one interesting site for everyone.

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