Want to Work on Climate? Start Here.
👋🏽 I am a seasoned technology startup operator who now works in VC. After deciding I wanted to apply a serious climate lens to the work I do, I started to spend around 15 hours / week learning about this space (see below for how I carved out 15 hours).
Lately, more people I know who work in tech and VC are coming out of the woodwork saying that they too want to “work on climate change” but they’re not exactly sure what that means.
Where should they start? (answer: here)
To share my thoughts on this question, I’ve put together this Climate Focus Guide of the best resources I’ve come across on how to learn about climate change so that you can:
- Apply a climate lens to your current role and organization,
- Apply your skills to the climate problem outside of your job in a volunteer or part-time capacity that maximizes your time and leverage,
- Work at a climate company or organization, OR…
- Start a climate company.
Note: Many of the biggest impact+profit opportunities in climate are big infrastructure or ‘hard tech’ solutions where your current skillset (like mine) may not apply. You can still start working on climate right now from within your current job and life, and to do that effectively, it’s important to commit to the foundational work outlined below. No matter which option above is right for you, everyone’s welcome here.
First, how I did all this with a busy day job
Since I have a busy job that I love and yet wanted to make progress in a new area quickly, I did two things that I believe helped me maximize my time and progress:
- I chose to make climate 100% of my multimedia content consumption. From climate-related podcasts and/or videos, to climate-related news, research, long-form articles and books, anything ‘extra’ that I am consuming is related to climate.
- I joined a course called Terra.do, the original climate bootcamp which has been invaluable in helping me to structure the learning path. The folks there are incredibly kind and inclusive, yet also hardcore experts in climate science and practice. I’ve really enjoyed being in a cohort with other members from around the world, especially from India and Southeast Asia where climate change takes on a different urgency.
I’ve included more detail about each of these options in the list below.
The 3 phases of building a Climate Focus: Learning, Connecting, and Staying in the Loop
It’s not enough to watch a few documentaries, read some stressful New York Times articles or even directly peruse the latest IPCC reports (props though).
Climate change is a highly complex systems problem, where coming up with great ideas (or knowing the best companies into which you should invest your time or money) requires a systematic approach to understanding the many facets of the challenge. In other words, you need to invest serious significant time in Learning, Connecting and Staying in the Loop.
- I. Learning because it’s global challenge that touches science, policy, human behavior, society and even civilization itself (no big deal)
- II. Connecting because there are thousands of knowledgable and dedicated leaders and builders already working on this, and you should be their friend
- III. Staying in the Loop because climate is literally always changing. Sad pun intended.
With that, let’s have a look at the Climate Focus Guide.
Climate Focus Guide — Table of Contents
This is a long Guide, so I’ve created a Table of Contents to help you navigate. Everything that appears underlined is a hyperlink, and at the end of every section there’s a link back to the Table of Contents. Click to jump straight to any section.
- 🎧 The 5 best climate podcasts
- 📚 3 Cornerstone climate books
- 🖋 8 Must-read articles and inspirational blog posts
- 📓 This 12-week climate course
- 🏫 3 Useful climate startup / company trackers
- 👩🏻🏭 2 Great job-finding resources
- 📰 My top 7 climate news sites
- 🗳 3 Ways to take political action
Note: If you know of an unmissable resource that I’ve nonetheless managed to miss, please share it in the comments below!
I. LEARNING — PODCASTS 🎧 BOOKS📚 ARTICLES 🖋 & COURSES 📓
Climate change is a complex systems problem, and if you haven’t studied it specifically, chances are there are some things you might be misunderstanding about the science and the possible solutions. Learning is the foundation to figuring out your value-add and connecting with other people who can accelerate your work, and it’s definitely an ongoing journey.
🎧 The 5 best climate podcasts
Useful for surveying the landscape and sampling a bunch of topics, learning on the go or while multitasking
Jason Jacobs founded Runkeeper, sold it to Asics, and then decided climate was more important than anything else he could do. In addition to bringing a useful entrepreneurial lens to his topics, he is a great interviewer who has impressive access to leaders in the private sector, government, and academia, and he asks tough questions when they try to bluster. MCJ also has a very high quality Slack community that you can join (see section on Slack communities below), and recently launched the MCJ Collective, an early stage fund for climate tech.
- 130+ episodes and counting @ 40–90 mins each
- Interview style featuring scientists, entrepreneurs in climate and beyond, researchers, venture capitalists, policy makers, activists and leaders of NGOs
- A+ interviewer who comes from a software entrepreneurship background
- [Bonus] also has a vibrant Slack community
This podcast by Katharine Wilkinson and Leah Stokes takes more of a storytelling approach to presenting dense information, which makes it easy to listen to no matter how tired your brain is. It’s well-produced (reminiscent of This American Life), the stories are evocative and the hosts are likable and charismatic. There aren’t as many female voices in climate leadership as we need, so it’s extra meaningful that Dr. Wilkinson and Dr. Stokes are the voices behind this content.
- 9 episodes and counting @ 40–60 mins each
- Narrative style with storytelling supported by the work of journalists, activists, entrepreneurs, and Dr. Wilkinson’s and Dr. Stokes’ own deep subject matter expertise
- Charismatic-yet-comforting narrative hosts who take strong but inclusive stances
This is a great podcast for those who want to understand the policy and political side of climate. It’s co-hosted by Jigar Shah (who is a hero of mine — see below in Books for why), Katherine Hamilton, and Stephan Lacy. They each offer different voices and don’t always agree, which is one of the highlights of this show. Their differences of opinion are your learning opportunity. It’s a more news-y approach to climate, where they break down timely topics like the election, the new cabinet being appointed, new legislative proposals, and more.
- 359+ episodes and counting @ 40–60 mins each
- News commentary style that gives context and interpretation on new happenings in the fast-changing world of climate, supported by hosts who live and work in this space
- Productively contrasting hosts who differ in background, vertical and tone (for example, Jigar is your matter-of-fact infrastructure guy, Katherine knows politics and policy deeply, and Stephan synthesizes disparate points well).
This is another podcast by GreenTechMedia, and also cohosted by Stephen Lacy, this time with VC Shayle Kann. I like the focus on emerging opportunities in the private sector, presented in shorter episodes that look at the state of specific technologies and problem sets that you might not be thinking about (like the “embodied carbon” in the buildings that we live, work, shop and play in).
- 171+ episodes and counting @ 20–50 mins each
- Interview style with deep-dives on specific areas of emerging climate tech
- Some advertorial content in the form of high quality sponsored episodes
- I appreciate this podcast most for its topics and guests. The hosts take more of a backseat in this particular format.
Nori is a climate tech startup that has done a great job with a podcast that is much more ‘content’ than ‘marketing.’ They do sometimes plug their brand on episodes, but the host, Ross Kenyon, is fun and engaging, and they have some great guests covering everything from “carbon negative carpet” to a journalist who thinks we should aim to increase the US population to 1 billion Americans. It’s great that Nori isn’t afraid to give a platform to controversial discussion topics, and I also appreciate the variety.
- 179+ episodes and counting @ 25–60 mins each
- Interview style featuring subject matter experts from wide variety of disciplines, often showcasing a new / surprising / contrarian research, projects or viewpoints
- Some advertorial content for Nori itself
- Fun and engaging host who is also a climate tech founder / operator himself
Note: There are many more vertical-specific podcasts, so if you’re very interested in energy, policy, etc, you can easily rabbit-hole through additional related suggestions presented in your podcast app.
📚 3 Cornerstone climate books
There are many great works on climate change. I’ve included a few of my personal must-reads that seem to guide the most action. I’d love to get tips on next best reads. Amazon pages are linked for convenience, but libraries are great as well!
This book is a beautifully designed and richly researched survey of solutions to climate change. It will leave you feeling hopeful, excited and intrigued by some of the opportunities you read about. It’s a great place to start because it breaks down solutions and their problems into easy-to-remember categories, and helps you learn the terminology. It’s also a great reference book to come back to you as you further your survey, but don’t let it become a ‘coffee table book’ for occasional browsing. I was fortunate to have a book club that forced me to read the whole thing cover to cover, which was incredibly useful in gaining both a broad view and decent fluency in the productive work happening in climate. The book is part of the broader Project Drawdown effort which is itself an incredible resource.
- 235 pages (but with lots of beautiful photos)
- Published in 2017
- “Coffee table” book of solutions, that’s even better when read entirely
By David Wallace-Wells
The title says it all. This book presents extensive research to show us some probable hell scenarios unless we make meaningful progress on climate change in the next 10 years (preferably sooner). While some in the climate space criticize climate activists for not focusing enough on the “positive,” I think it’s worth noting that there’s actually a lot of negative, and we need both carrot and stick to make things happen.
- 303 pages
- Published in 2019
- Scary but highly motivating read on climate consequences
By Jigar Shah
This book was one of the main points of inspiration that shaped my own climate journey. Jigar Shah founded SunEdison, pioneered a new SaaS-like model for financing expensive solar equipment (called the Power Purchase Agreement, still widely used today), and has a matter-of-fact entrepreneur’s attitude to the climate crisis that I personally relate to. Climate is a big problem, and solving big problems in general creates value for a lot of people. When you create a lot of value, you usually get to capture some of that value. There’s a lot more to it, but that is the central message that should be uplifting to any entrepreneurially-minded reader.
- 210 pages
- Published in 2013
- Quick, “relaxing” read on climate and entrepreneurship
🖋 8 Must-read articles and inspirational blog posts
In addition to a few key investigative and research articles that really accelerated my understanding (these are often more current than books, naturally), it helped me to read a few people’s more narrative-style blog posts on their own learning path towards climate-focused work. These gave me the emotional strength and personal permission to be more public about my own focus on climate change, so I’m sharing a few here.
Inspirational blog posts
- Starting a Climate Change Startup by James McWalter
- Chasing a Job with Purpose by Heidi Lim
- Time to Cool the Planet, Creandum’s Perspective on Climate Tech (note: this is a ‘VC declaration’ type post, but I’m including it here because it’s among the most useful declarations I’ve seen, with a lot of useful context and an inspirational tone)
What else I’ve read that’s good
- Worlds Apart A Story of Three Possible Warmer Worlds is an infographic-filled report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that outlines three potential future scenarios based on how we handle the climate challenge today. This one should be required reading.
- Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change (Science) is a comprehensive assessment of what’s happening, and what will happen, to life on our planet (including human life) as we continue on our current path.
- Asynchronous carbon sink saturation in African and Amazonian tropical forests (Nature) is a research study whose findings show that tropical forests are losing their critical ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere
- The IPCC Reports Did you know the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change puts out all kinds of specific reports related to climate? A great place to direct deeper self-study from reading the actual research (not just someone’s blog post about a blog post about the research).
- PWC’s The State of Climate Tech 2020: The Next Frontier for Venture Capital is a report that’s a useful read if you’re interested in starting a climate-focused company, or otherwise supporting them, whether as a funder or as an early employee, where you should be doing just as much diligence as any potential investor of capital (it’s your life-time! You don’t get that back).
- An (Even More) Inconvenient Truth: Why Carbon Credits For Forest Preservation May Be Worse Than Nothing I’m including this investigative piece because carbon credits and offsets are very popular, and this was an eye-opening look at some of the reality on the ground (in some places).
- A Start-Up’s Unusual Plan to Suck Carbon Out of the Sky (The Atlantic) is a recent look at Stripe’s ambitious work in support of carbon removal (go Stripe!)!
- Climate Change and Water Woes Drove ISIS Recruiting in Iraq (National Geographic) is fascinating and important for folks who are hungry for more of the geopolitical / international relations / fall of civilizations aspect of the climate puzzle.
📓 This 12-week climate course
Useful for structuring the vast ocean of climate information, identifying mentors, and meeting people with similar interests
Terra.do is the ‘OG’ online climate bootcamp, anchored by professors and scientists who have spent decades studying and pioneering climate science, and built into a friendly and inclusive community and online portal. It’s time intensive, and it isn’t free, but the quality is high.
The geographic and cultural diversity adds a new dimension to understanding climate attitudes and solutions, and is largely missed in most of the other material I’ve seen. For example, I love My Climate Journey and AirMiners, but Terra is the only place where I’ve been able to connect with people who can outline in firsthand detail what is happening on the ground in India, the Philippines, Colombia, and more. In my cohort, there are entrepreneurs, science masters and PhD students looking to get a quick-start before their more intensive full-time programs, engineers, filmmakers, investors, from Europe, North America, South and Southeast Asia, Australia and more.
II. CONNECTING — SLACK COMMUNITIES 💬 & 1:1 CONVERSATIONS📞
💬 Top 3 Slack communities
Useful for hooking into a hub of activity and connectivity. Not useful for structured learning or feeling organized in your day!
Great Slack community full of about a 1,200 members, many of whom come from backgrounds in tech (operators covering all functions + founders), finance (VC, PE, investment banking), management consulting and academia. The people in this community are impressively high quality, so this is a treasure trove of potential cofounders, team members, investors, advisors and mentors. Just be careful not to ask them to Google anything for you ;)
- Members from tech, finance, consulting, academia, nonprofit, and more
- 1,200+ strong
- $100 annual fee to join
More focused on carbon removal specifically, AirMiners organizes killer talks over Zoom with deep subject matter experts. This Slack community supports that effort by bringing together a high quality group, many of whom are deeply and directly involved in the space. To me, everyone seems to be an expert, and yet everyone has been very open to contributing guidance to a newbie like me. I’ve had a number of live conversations through connections made in AirMiners.
- Members from scientific community, carbon removal, other deep/hard tech, some software tech
- 800+ strong
- Free to join, but you need to be approved
This is an initiative and accompanying Slack community focused on tech workers, particularly engineers, particularly in large tech organizations. Organizing tech workers is an incredibly powerful way to pressure companies to make big changes (see Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, Googlers for Climate Action and Microsoft Workers 4 Good for examples), and technology is a huge emissions generator — all those data centers run on something!
- Members from tech companies big, medium and small
- 3,100+ strong
- Free to join, but you need to be approved
Note: There are many more Slack communities, but there’s also a good amount of overlap between these and other initiatives (eg, a climate course will have its own Slack, a climate political action org will have its own Slack). These are a great place to start, and if you find you need even more, then might I suggest you spend some of that time on Books / Courses / Conversations? See below.
📞 1:1 Conversations that are worth everyone’s time
Working in VC, my job is to build and nurture relationships. This has given me very useful skills on the climate path, as most people in this space — no matter how ‘high up’ — are pretty open to spending a few minutes speaking with you to share knowledge and help guide your path.
The Learning steps above are a crucial prerequisite to having productive conversations that don’t waste the other person’s time; better to do your time there first, before asking a time-constrained expert to help you answer questions that are Google-able. When you do arrive at the master’s doorstep, your shared time together will be much higher leverage.
How I did it with a busy day job
I set up 3–5 new calls per week with other folks working in climate, usually in the later afternoon or weekend time slots when my schedule is less packed with normal work activities.
- Some of these people are peers who are just a few steps ahead of me on the path
- Some of them are investors who look at this all day
- Many of them have been founders building the solutions we’ll soon see
There is nothing like learning-by-building, and the second best to that is learning by talking to those who are building.
Tactical tip — date your notes
Working in VC, I have been trained to take detailed notes on every conversation because I know I won’t remember the details in 6 days, let alone in 6 months when the minute details of that conversation might become relevant again.
I keep a running file for each person or entity that I speak with, with a different date stamp for each conversation. I manually add the date stamp, so that even if I go in and edit something later, which changes the auto-generated date stamp, I still know exactly when the original conversation happened. (Note: I keep this low-tech and simply use the Notes app, which syncs between my iPhone and my laptop so I always have the notes on hand.)
III. STAYING IN THE LOOP — DATABASES 🏫 NEWS SITES 📰 AND POLITICAL ACTION 🗳
🏫 3 Useful climate startup / company trackers
Useful for quick lookups, reference and context. No need to reinvent any wheels here!
- Climate Tech VC is a comprehensive tracker of VC-backed startup deals that focus on climate. As such, it’s a great way to stay on top of the fast-moving world of climate tech. If you’re looking for funded climate startups to join (or compete with!), join their newsletter or bookmark their site. It includes:
- A weekly deal tracker that alerts you to new fundraises
- Key news developments that impact the space
2. ClimateScape.org is a comprehensive repository of organizations and funders. As a web product, it’s structured more like an actual searchable DB, so it’s handy for doing quick research by category. They have great coverage, but are understandably missing some smaller / fast-emerging startups. Their coverage includes:
- Government programs that carry awards and financing
3. Carbon Plan is a massive database of carbon removal projects and companies, accompanied by in-depth research on different aspects of carbon removal
👩🏻🏭 2 Great job-finding resources
If you’re looking for a job in a climate company, here are some tools for that:
- Work On Climate is a great, community-based approach to working on climate where you can connect with people already in the field and even dip your toes in with part-time and project-based work. This is less of a jobs database and more of a community of people helping others to transition their careers, meaning that you will need to invest time into being a member of the community and building relationships in order to identify and jump into opportunities.
- Tech Jobs for Good is definitely more of a database where you can search for all kinds of that tech workers could contribute to, at impact-oriented organizations and companies. The link I included here is a search filtered on [ environment ].
📰 My top 7 climate news sites
I’m a news-addict, but I also personally find it’s all too easy to scroll general climate headlines all day long, and the forget what you really learned at the end of it all.
So, I think this category is great for following specific topics you’re more interested in, after you’ve done a general survey of all that’s out there on climate. Otherwise, it could mind-boggle you with the trees and distract you from seeing the forest, if that makes sense?
- Green Tech Media — a news hub covering all things climate and clean energy
- Carbon Brief — a must-bookmark site for everything on climate change, with news coverage, deeper analysis, and a broad international focus.
- Inside Climate News — an established, non-profit media project that presents news, analysis and research findings relating to climate change.
- ClimateNexus — densely packed with in-depth, researched reporting on direct “vertical” areas (EVs, agriculture), as well as a necessary showcase of the dangerous trend of climate change denial.
- UtilityDive — an industry news site covering the massive energy economy at the heart of the climate problem (and solution). Read this if you want to identify the next billion dollar climate opportunity.
- WasteDive — an industry news site covering waste, recycling and other materials-related topics connected to climate change. Like UtilityDive, this is an industry publication, not a climate-specific one, but that’s why I love it. Know the business you’re about to get into, and understand the incumbents who will be your needed allies and partners in building a big solution in this space.
- SmartCitiesDive — an industry news site covering buildings and infrastructure, transportation, and utilities (as they relate to urban environments). Super useful if you’re interested in green buildings, vehicle electrification, urban recycling etc.
🗳 3 Ways to take political action
Policy is a massive enabler, and none of the incredible progress we’ve seen in climate would be possible without the activism that shapes it. The legacy energy industry has had “activists” fighting to forward its causes for over a century, and this work has been highly effective in shaping policy, which then shapes industry and even influences consumer behavior. Fortunately, there are also some very smart organizers pushing for positive change on climate.
- Environmental Voter. It turns out environmentalists / people who care about climate change don’t vote as often as they could. Unfortunately, it is literally a politician’s job to focus on what the voters say they care about, and not what s/he personally thinks is great. If the people who say care about climate change don’t number in the voting constituency, this leads to climate and environmental issues being too often excluded from our political conversations. This project tackles that, and if you’re politically minded, this is a great place to learn and contribute.
- Climate Changemakers. This is a community action network focused on getting climate candidates into office, actually started by a Terra alum (go Terra!). This org enables its members to do basic political organizing, pointed at climate, and is taking tried and true strategies that have worked well for other cause areas, and applying them to the biggest cause of them all. They also have a Slack group.
- Extinction Rebellion. Finally, if you are ready to do something more radical — like superglue yourself to a building to draw attention to the climate crisis (and maybe intentionally clog up our nation’s city and county jails with your white collared privilege as a way of sending another message), then I will note that Extinction Rebellion has not only the best name, but also some plans for you. Many local chapters will help bring out the activist in you.
What climate change resources have you most loved? Please share and leave a comment below.
Special thanks to Fabri Caracausi and Jose Montoro for their edits and improvements.