These visionaries quit their jobs for planet-saving careers

When Eugene Kirpichov left his job at Google in 2020, he shared the farewell email he sent to his colleagues on LinkedIn.

To his surprise, it went viral.

Eugene Kirpichov started Work On Climate to help others find careers that save the planet.

Kirpichov wrote, in part: “The reason I am leaving is that the scale, urgency and tragedy of climate change is so immense that I can no longer justify myself working on anything else, no matter how interesting or lucrative, as long as it is not. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I think others, who are privileged to be able to do so, should follow suit.

“People started responding to me saying, ‘I’m also upset about the climate crisis,'” he says. “Many have asked me to help them understand how they too could work to find solutions.”

The flurry of responses made Kirpichov realize he had a bigger problem to solve than his own professional dissatisfaction. So, with a friend, he launched a Slack channel to connect “climate curious” people with climate experts.

“We thought about putting these people in a community and letting the community do its job,” he explains. He considered it an experience that would help others while he came up with an idea for a “real start-up”.

But as the Work On Climate Slack community grew — and thousands of people found jobs through it — he realized that as more industries deploy climate solutions, millions of people will need new skills.

So he decided to make Work On Climate his full-time job and expanded the nonprofit’s reach beyond networking to building the workforce needed to solve climate change. “Our goal is to create a movement among institutions such as schools, job boards and conferences to use their power for this cause,” he says.

“No university today would graduate an accountant who doesn’t know how to use a computer,” says Kirpichov. “Tomorrow, no school will graduate an accountant who cannot do carbon accounting.”

A growing trend

Bloomberg calls people like Kirpichov “climate abandoners”. The Financial Times dubs them the “green defectors”. And there are more and more of them.

Since 2019, nearly one million people have used the Climatebase job site to explore job opportunities at climate tech companies and nonprofits. According to LinkedIn, sustainability jobs are among the fastest growing careers in the world.

Tom Melendez, a former software engineer, says he quit because “pushing bytes” wasn’t going to improve the world for his kids.

His concern about the climate crisis led him to MethaneSAT, where he leads software development for a satellite mission to locate and measure methane emissions that contribute to global warming from space.

“I now work on difficult problems that are extremely important to solve,” says Melendez. “It’s not tech for tech’s sake anymore… And being able to tell my kids’ friends what I’m doing is kind of cool too.”

Shareen Yawanarajah, a geochemist with decades of experience in the oil and gas industry, now works for Environmental Defense Fund.

Shareen Yawanarajah left Shell when the company resumed drilling in the Arctic. She now works for EDF.

In her role on EDF’s global energy transition team, she calls on governments and oil and gas companies around the world to reduce methane emissions.

Her experience in the industry not only gives her credibility: it also means that she is not afraid to challenge oil and gas executives on their claims.

“If someone says reducing methane pollution is too expensive, I would argue that reducing methane is part of operational excellence, which companies should be aiming for anyway,” she says.

This work is important — and urgent — she adds. Total methane emissions this year will have a greater warming effect on the planet over the next 10 years than all carbon dioxide emissions this year from burning fossil fuels.

“Reducing methane provides quick climate relief over our lifetime,” she says. “No other climate solution can offer this hope.”

Benefits of a green job

As well as meeting the emerging need for green skills, Kirpichov says his own transition to running Work On Climate also had a psychological benefit – it helped ease his anxiety about climate change.

“When you’re actively working to help fight the climate crisis, it feels different than when you’re completely helpless,” he says.

Yawanarajah echoes that sentiment, noting that she took a pay cut when she left the oil industry.

“But it was worth it to be in a job where I can make a positive difference on the climate,” she says.

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