July 24 marked the 13th anniversary of the last federal minimum wage increase in the United States. In 2009, the minimum wage went from $6.55 per hour to $7.25 per hour. In the decade and a half that followed, wages remained stagnant.
As the viral tweets on this year’s dark anniversary highlighted, it seems that many facets of society have not changed from the Bush Jr. era to the Obama era. I was a fresh college graduate in 2007, the financial crisis was upon us, and the crash of 2008 was looming just around the corner.
At the time of my major statement, parents of well-meaning friends told me that environmental studies was not a real degree and would be a lot of money. Wouldn’t I rather study the hard sciences and volunteer in my spare time to fill my “benefactor” void?
Professors responded to these challenges by arguing that a sustainable jobs boom was about to take the country by storm and that the green skills I was learning would pay off and pay off. In hindsight, I would say both positions were inaccurate.
My graduation anointing led to a recession, and while there are plenty of jobs in environmental education, low-paying nonprofit positions, and a nascent solar industry, the long-term career opportunities were rare. In this divine year of 2022, full-time, fully-funded environmental positions are flooding job boards and my inbox, often generated by relatively new sustainability offices in universities, government, and corporate America.
This 15-year delay is indicative of the larger marathon mentality when we need to sprint that threatens Earth survival. How many times have you heard this overused saying? Yes, creating change is a marathon that never ends. But when the world is burning, we have to run a 4 minute mile. We have to sprint.
Major flashbacks to my undergraduate experience include when John Kerry conceded defeat to George W. Bush in 2004 and I woke up to the headline, “How can 59 million people be so stupid?” while my teachers retired in a noticeable state of mourning. A silver lining rekindled hope when former Vice President Al Gore in 2006 published An Inconvenient Truth warning us of the urgency of anthropogenic global warming.
In 2006, California passed Assembly Bill 32 which required the state to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and directed the California Air Resources Board to develop and implement a framework plan and regulations to achieve the 2020 goal. Thanks to AB 32, California became the first state in the United States to impose reductions in GHG emissions in all industries.
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that “evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are affected by regional climate change, particularly temperature increases”. Gore and the IPCC were co-recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for their compelling climate advocacy, urging policy makers to listen to scientists and, above all, take proportionate action.
When I graduated in 2007, Congress was debating gay marriage. When I graduated in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 vote to uphold a federal ban on late-term abortion, which choice advocates say could threaten Roe V. Wade.
For context, numerous Environmental Studies (ENVS) programs began to appear across the country in the 1980s in response to environmental quality and environmental justice activism, the political agenda of 1960s and 1970s related to air and water quality, and unfair placement of toxic waste sites.
Academia had historically separated the fields of natural and social sciences. ENVS has linked these fields of study through an interdisciplinary degree that often combines courses in the field and ecology with law, economics, politics and environmental theory. Many ENVS departments recognize that the crises facing the planet are human-caused and that studying systems related to human behavior is crucial to achieving planetary sustainability.
ENVS departments at the time of my statement had perhaps a few decades under their belt, and their validation increased with every “Global Warming Is Not Cool” t-shirt sold by Urban Outfitters (I was the irritating hipster who wore one that now cries that Gen Zers consider “vintage”.)
Back to 2022, what has changed and what remains the same? Minimum wage is more unlivable and cruel now than it was then, a bill is currently before Congress to consider making same-sex marriage a federal law after threatening messages from the Supreme Court, states Individuals are debating the right to access safe abortion, and politicians continue to pledge swift action on climate change as the country and the world experience record-breaking heat waves.
Political movements can shape institutionalized fields of study to prepare the workforce for needed jobs, and pervasive environmental issues have now enshrined curricula, with new associated disciplines such as sustainable business management and even climate change majors in the UK and Australia. Similarly, advocacy influences policies that require the allocation of funds, that create jobs, that require labor.
Local jurisdictions have advocated for, and many have won, climate management positions, sustainability and climate resilience offices, and incorporated sustainability and environmental justice into corporate plans and mandated planning processes. climate action.
“Just over a decade ago, there was no sustainability manager or resilience manager for cities. Cities now feel incomplete without them,” notes MIT’s Sustainable City Podcast. Tech giants are hiring sustainability officer positions. Last July, CNN published an article with the title: “Why tech workers are quitting great jobs at companies like Google to fight climate change.”
In conclusion, it is worth pursuing environmental studies and similar fields as a major in 2022. I am convinced that there are more and more opportunities and that green careers are necessary and essential. However, these opportunities correlate with the longevity of human survival on earth, where my uncertainty now resides. Political advocacy and organizing matters and shapes our institutions and societies. Fingers crossed we start sprinting.
Rachel Kippen is an ocean educator and sustainability advocate in Santa Cruz County and can be reached at [email protected]