Environmental Justice Careers Guide: Where Climate Change Meets Social Justice

By: Neha Bhalla

Interested in working in environmental justice, but not sure where to start? 

As climate change worsens, the harm that comes with it is not evenly distributed. Ongoing environmental issues, such as air and water pollution, tend to affect individuals from underprivileged socioeconomic backgrounds the most. More than half of individuals who live in hazardous environmental zones are people of color. Moreover, individuals who are disadvantaged in terms of wealth or race tend to have more difficulty recuperating from climate disasters. 

This inequality has created the need to fight for environmental justice, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies,” as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

If you are looking to make an impact in the environmental field, consider these three environmental justice careers: 

  1. Environmental Lawyer

Areas of Study: Environmental Law, Environmental Studies, Public Health, etc.
Education Required: Bachelor’s degree, J.D.
Median Annual Salary: $126,930, although it can vary vastly depending on your organization and type of work. 

Environmental lawyers fight on behalf of their clients against potential or existing environmental injustices. This can take the form of representing a community in a local NIMBY case or filing a class-action lawsuit against a corporation that is violating environmental law. Oftentimes, lawyers who work in environmental justice offer pro-bono work or work through a charity organization. In some cases, environmental lawyers can also work with legislators to shape environmental laws.

Data from Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lawyers

  1. Environmental Policy Advisor

Areas of Study: Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, Public Policy, Political Science
Education Required: Bachelor’s Degree
Median Average Salary: $73,230

Environmental policy advisors provide their expertise in energy, pollution, environmental technology, etc. to shape environmental policies on the corporate or government level. Environmental policy advisors can use their influence to form laws that prevent or correct environmental injustices. These roles are often required at local or state government offices, national environmental health government organizations, and non-profits. 

It is imperative that environmental policy advisors have strong communication and writing skills; they must be able to explain complicated environmental issues in layperson’s terms to politicians and lawmakers. 

Data from Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Scientists & Specialists

  1. Events Manager

 

Areas of Study: Hospitality Management, Communications, Environmental Studies
Education Required: Bachelor’s Degree
Median Average Salary: $51,560

Environmental justice non-profits and charities seek out events planners to host fundraising events to support the organization and generate public awareness about the organization. Beyond fundraising events, events managers also work to organize food/clothing drives or charity races after climate disasters. Duties for events managers include planning and organizing events, coordinating entertainment, choosing vendors, inspecting venues, and designing and distributing content to promote the event. 

Data from: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Meeting, Convention, & Event Planners

Major Environmental Justice Organizations

Most employers in the environmental justice field will be public sector jobs or non-profits. However, there are exceptions — there may be local law firms or activism organizations that are offering environmental justice roles. 

If you are looking for work in environmental justice in any capacity, consider these non-profits: 

  1. Earthjustice - ‚Äč‚ÄčEarthjustice wields the power of law to fight for environmental justice and protection. Earthjustice has worked to put pollution caps in select industries, preserve wildlife and wildlands, and promote clean energy. 
  2. The Sierra Club - The Sierra Club is a grassroots organization that fights against environmental racism and gender inequality. They partner with groups across the country to rebuild communities after natural disasters.
  3. 350.org - 350.org is an international movement that works to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. 350.org works to amplify the voices of communities that have faced environmental injustice in silence. 
  4. Greenpeace- Greenpeace is a global campaign to motivate citizens to vote for environmental protection laws in their country. Greenpeace U.S. focuses on national and state climate injustices and draws attention to the lawmakers that allow those injustices to take place. 
  5. Look locally and at your nearest big city. Municipalities everywhere are starting new initiatives and positions with the purpose of righting wrongs and ensuring that EJ is infused into future projects. 

Major government organizations that work to combat environmental justice include the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Local and state government organizations and political campaigns will likely also have opportunities for environmental justice professionals. If you are interested in a federal environmental job, learn more about the application process here

Final Thoughts
As you consider the above careers and organizations, remember that these are not just jobs—they are careers. It will require substantial planning, previous experience, and time to land these roles. Although some of these jobs do not necessarily require an environmental science background, you will undoubtedly need an understanding of the current environmental landscape. However, it is entirely possible for you to start a career in environmental justice, whether you are a student or switching into the environmental field. Consider your skills, interests, and past experiences to see how you can transform your passion for environmental justice into a career.

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