This Slack channel helps you out of work tackling climate change

Three years ago, while working as a software engineer at Google, Eugene Kirpichov happened to watch the film Al Gore The Unpleasant Truth on a long flight. On the return flight, he watched the sequel. After that, he couldn’t stop thinking about climate change. “Every time I will meet someone real [climate] experts, I would ask them, ‘Is it really that bad?’” he said. “And they would say, ‘Yeah, it really was that bad.’”

The more he learned about his problems, the more anxious and hopeless he felt. Then the pandemic hit, adding a new source of anxiety. But Kirpichov, now 34, started volunteering on a project to make low-cost ventilators, and that changed his feelings about COVID-19: He focused on finding solutions rather than fear. He realized he might have had a similar experience with climate. And even though he had a great job in machine learning at Google—and had been there for seven and a half years—he decided to go find a new job on climate solutions. Cassandra Xia, a friend at Google, decided to leave at the same time, as each convinced the other that it was the right choice.

Eugene Kirpichov

“The reason I’m leaving is because the scale, urgency and tragedy of climate change is so great that I can no longer justify myself to work on anything else, no matter how exciting or profitable, until it’s fixed,” Kirpichov wrote in an email to colleagues. “I would be lying if I didn’t say that I think other people, who have the privilege of being able to do it, should follow suit. I like to frame issues positively as ‘how much can we save,’ and each of us can have a hand in saving something.”

When he shared the email on LinkedIn, the response was overwhelming. “Turns out there were so many people on the same boat,” he said. Many, like Xia and Kirpichov, don’t know exactly which direction to take when they change jobs. So in July 2020, the couple decided to create a Slack workspace where whoever made the transition could talk. (They met their third co-founder, product designer Eva Illescas Sanchez, on LinkedIn.) “We just made this little experiment—let’s put everyone in a community and see what happens,” she says. “Two years later, we have the largest climate community in the world.” Kirpichov now spends all his time running it.

The Slack community—called Work On Climate—now has more than 8,500 members. Many have backgrounds in technology or design, and even if they love the work, they are all ready to do more. “[I’m] done with devoting the time and energy I have to something else—this is our Hail Mary moment, and I can’t keep myself from working on a standard job,” Briana Montagne, a UX designer and developer, recently this post on the channel’s “introductory” community. It’s a reflection of broader sentiment: Nearly a third of Americans now say climate change is their “top personal concern.” Among Gen Z, that jumps to 37%. While people often don’t know what to do—or feel paralyzed by the scale of the problem—people in the Work On Climate community are ready to act.

Some are also disappointed with the state of the technology world today. “VC money, to date at least, has flowed into three or four areas—e-commerce, fintech, social media, and crypto/Web3—all of which have demonstrated, at best, minimal and, at worst, negative social value. , and the people who work for the company know it, even if some of them (but by no means all) have done quite well financially,” said Jed, a software engineer who did not want to give his last name by name. Fast Company because her employer didn’t know she was looking for a new job. (VC investment in climate technology is now booming, with a record amount of funding coming into the space last year.)

Many people in the community are entrepreneurs and are looking for potential founders or early employees. Richard Wurden, who once worked as an engineer at Tesla, met former software company founder Kenny Lee at Slack last year; they now have a startup called Aigen, which is building small, lightweight solar-powered robots that can automatically weed agricultural fields without chemicals. The startup raised $4 million in seed funding in January.

For newcomers, the community offers “starter packs”—a list of resources on overall challenges, specific topics such as climate policy or carbon removal, and job search tips—along with curated events with speakers from climate-focused companies. Groups of people can also join study groups to dive deeper into the topic. Several climatologists in the group volunteer as experts to offer advice to people just starting out. One channel in the Slack workspace lists climate shows. Elsewhere, climate startups are posting full-time jobs.

“From the very beginning, we were absolutely obsessed with making it actionable and motivating,” says Kirpichov. “For example, we really don’t want it to turn into a place where people just exchange links, or sign petitions. We want to focus 100% on helping people find climate work, and helping them take the next step.”

There is a perception, he says, that working in a climate means being an activist or a scientist. But the constant stream of jobs posted on Slack illustrates the diversity: Engineers build carbon capture equipment for cargo ships. Data scientists model carbon storage in trees. Software engineers work on fire or clean energy predictions. Analyst for electric vehicle companies or climate technology VC funds. Someone who works in a traditional tech job or other industry may not know this role exists. “Even though the job is there, people don’t think about looking for it,” Kirpichov said.

“I use [Work On Climate] initially to learn about industry in a climate space that aligns with what I was looking for, something that has a broad environmental impact but also culture and wildlife,” said Victoria de Aranzeta, who recently transitioned from healthcare to a job at NCX, a forest carbon market. “Once I honed in forestry, I started exploring job channels, identifying companies, researching them, and looking for roles in companies that suited me.”

There’s an added layer of complexity when one evaluates potential climate jobs, as candidates try to understand how much their next company might actually be able to reduce emissions. “People evaluate the impact they are experiencing in much more detail than in other goal-driven spaces: Will this really make a difference in the overall situation?” said Joshua Stehr, a service designer who volunteered to interview Work On Climate members to help groups learn how best to support members.

The community, which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is currently raising funds so it can hire staff. While co-founder Xia takes a job at a carbon finance company, Kirpichov plans to stay with the nonprofit. The goal, he said, was not only to assist people in the community’s transition to climate work, but also to help make climate work mainstream in general. Addressing the problem had helped ease his anxiety. “I think today I spent 0% of my time worrying about the climate,” he said. “I spend 100% of my time just thinking about the next steps in the organization. It changed my view from the idea that capitalism and saving the planet are incompatible, to [recognize that] people who know how capitalism works en masse direct all their strengths, and connections, and skills, and industrial knowledge to improve the climate in what capitalism can do. And they did.”

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