How do I get a job fighting climate change? (Q&A with Katie Michel of Terra.do)

This Q&A is brought to you by Katie Michel from Terra.do!

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

You'll learn: 

My name is Katie, and I head communications and outreach at Terra.do. I started out in the climate field working in permaculture research and freshwater conservation analysis and made the leap into the climate tech start-up world in 2020. Now I spend my time working to get 100 million people working on climate solutions by 2030!

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  1. Tell us about Terra.do. What's your role within the organization and what do you do?

    Terra.do is a global climate education and career transition platform whose mission is to get 100 million people working on climate solutions by 2030. Is that a huge goal? Yes! But we’ll need to make it happen if we’re going to slow warming and ensure that we still have a livable world by the end of the century.

    At Terra.do, there is very much a sentiment that with such an enormous problem like climate change, it is going to take a full-force approach from every sector– meaning that everyone’s career has a place in climate solutions and the first step to pivoting your career is education. We give you a crash course on all things climate, connect you with mentors and peers, and prepare you to go out and make real change in a sector that matters to you–that’s the “do” in Terra.do.

    Where I come in on all of this is via communication and outreach. I like to joke that if there is written text involved then so am I– I oversee our outward communications like social media and our blog and spend a good amount of my time building partnerships with other communities in and outside of the climate workspace. Those partnerships take a lot of forms but the big idea is to provide value to our community and theirs and break down some barriers to working in the climate sector along the way.

  2. How did you start working at Terra.do? Kind of a meta question, since it's a resource for people who want to work on climate... so how did you get to working on climate?

    How I started working at Terra.do and how I started working on climate are both the exact same question and two completely different ones at the same time!

    My academic background is in environmental science, so I’ve always been on the edge of the climate workspace but focused more on environmental/regional conservation– it was the kind of work where the idea of climate change is always hovering around your work, but is much more reactionary than preventative in its action. And in theory what I was accomplishing in that kind of work had very tangible impacts in the fact that I was work to conserve a specific species, watershed, etc., but it felt like I wasn’t moving fast enough to keep up with all of the effects of climate change, let alone get ahead of the curve.

    So, fast forward to the pandemic and I stumbled across a short-term internship with this new tech start-up called Terra.do– and when I was brought on full time that was my 90-degree turn into climate work.

  3. What skills did you have to build before getting this job? Do you have any advice for people looking to make a career shift to sustainability?

    Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but I think that, besides climate literacy, most of the skills that I needed to get (and be successful at) this job are ones that aren’t technical skills at all, but rather are those that set you up for success as a professional in any sector. And the good news is that those skills like adaptability, innovative/critical thinking, a drive to succeed -- those are things that you can cultivate in any work and they’re just as applicable to climate positions as in any other field. Those are the things that have led to all the little victories I’ve won in this position, and when you get a group of other high-horsepower people together to all work on climate issues you really do get things done!

    As far as advice, I’ll share some practical thoughts that probably best speak to people in college/recent grads.

    1) If you’re worried that your career/major doesn’t qualify you to contribute to climate solutions, that’s 100% false. Everyone can work on climate solutions without having advanced degrees in things like environmental science, so put that out of your mind. Think about it– the organizations and companies working on big, impactful climate solutions aren’t just the CEO and some scientists, everyone in that company is playing a part in the climate workspace. We’re at a time and place where we’re looking at an “all hands on deck” situation, so go for it!

    2) Look forward, not backward. The climate solutions field is moving fast, so look at the new things like start-ups and innovative programs– don’t be afraid to stray from the “typical” career path that is often seen in your field.

  4. Many people see sustainability as a trade-off with profit. This is certainly the case for many people who want to get educated in the climate field. How do you approach climate accessibility in your job?

    I’ve heard this many times, that sustainability means giving up profit, and I think that’s just not looking at the whole picture.

    Not only does that not take into account the myriad of co-benefits that come from sustainable business practices, it also completely ignores the intrinsic value of sustainable and climate-positive business and the ecosystem services they protect and casts a blanket over a way of doing business that involved in literally every sector of society– seems like a long shot to say that sustainability always means lower profits, and there are plenty of counter examples to this!

    I will say this: climate solutions have the potential to be as big as any of the industry revolutions that we’ve seen in the last 100 years, and getting in on the ground floor of something that will likely be as big of a boom as computers/internet was in the 90s is a crazy opportunity.

  5. What's the most exciting thing you're working on/have accomplished?

    Hm, that’s a tough one! I’m really proud of the ecosystem that Terra.do has fostered in that its inclusivity and diversity is always being actively expanded on and improved, and being a part of that makes me really excited for all the ripple effects that we’re sending out into the industry.

  6. Tell us more about why Terra.do is unique. There are so many climate education resources and companies; what makes this one awesome?

    There’s a few things that make Terra.do really stand out for me. The big ones are the community and the emphasis on concrete and impactful climate career work.

    The community has really fostered a culture of positive action and support that I see manifest all the time in every corner of our work– it goes so far beyond the kinds of connections you make at professional networking groups or other workplaces I’ve been in. The other big thing for me is that everything is rooted in the real world practices of climate solutions– everything from the course materials to the events we plan are about what’s happening in the climate work space right now and where climate solutions are growing.

    Terra.do isn’t a place where you memorize some facts and end up with a certificate to be forgotten about in 3 months– I’ve seen people change career paths, explore startup ideas, find new jobs, get inspired to go back to school and get Masters degrees, and just constant engagement with the community.

  7. Other than Terra.do, what are some of your favorite tools and resources for fighting climate change?

    There are so many! If you’re looking for connection and casual networking places like ClimateAction.tech and My Climate Journey are really great, if you’re in it for the hard hitting climate science there’s Carbon Brief, and in all honesty I’d just go out and google every combo of your interests and the terms “climate change” or “sustainability”. There are groups out there that are with BIPOC-specific LGBTQ+-specific, and country specific resources; people in tech and finance, it’s really great how large the number of people in the climate world are, you just need to look around a bit!

  8. What is one thing you wish more people understood about the movement for a more sustainable future?

    If I could wave a magic wand and make people aware of one thing about what the climate solutions sector is trying to do is that the direct benefits and co-benefits of what’s possible with today’s technology and knowledge are so extensive that it’s really a no brainer to make the switch to a sustainable economy and society. I feel like I’m constantly seeing pushback to programs or projects that, yes, might be primarily climate solutions, but when the pre-judgment and partisanship is taken out of the picture, the logical reasons for why we shouldn’t explore these options disappear. And in concrete terms is that if you’re looking to get in on the ground floor of an industry that makes real change for a huge amount of people and is only going to grow in scope and importance, this is the place to be!

  9. Any advice for people who are new to the fight against climate change or aren't sure what their place is?

    I
    f you’re not sure where your place is in this space, or if you don’t want to do a total reboot on your career and go back to square one, I would suggest starting close to home– what climate impacts are you seeing right now? Do you see that in your town, province, county, career? Every industry is going to be affected, changed, and shaped by climate effects for the foreseeable future, so I guarantee there’s a “way in” to the climate workspace through your own field. After you’ve identified where your industry is growing in response to climate change, I’d say that education is your next step. Get that foundational knowledge, make those mental connections between what’s happening internationally, regionally, and locally to what you do. I think the more you grow that framework the clearer your path to action is going to be.

    I guess what I want folks to take away from this is:

    1) yes you absolutely can make your career a climate career
    2) community and mentorship is a huge help in getting your start and there’s tons of people and groups out there, you just need to find the one that’s the best fit for you
    3) PLEASE think outside of the box and don’t get stuck with ideas like climate jobs are automatically low paying, that your career can’t contribute to climate solutions, that there’s only one way to work on climate change, etc.

    There are so many cool sectors of work popping up from agricultural biochar to sustainable fashion to you name it! If it’s a thing that exists in your life, there’s a climate career sector associated with it.

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 4,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
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Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google