State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Layoffs in Big Tech Are an Opportunity to Tackle Climate Change

A view into the offices of Twitter's headquarters
A view into the offices of Twitter’s headquarters in 2019. Photo: SBT4NOW

I work in tech, a sector that has mostly enjoyed high wages and job security during the recent economic turmoil. But over the past month or so, we have started to experience some of that disruption. Bloomberg reports that 120,000 people lost their jobs at tech companies including Twitter, Meta, and Amazon.

While this is stressful for those who lost their income, healthcare and work visas, this is an opportunity for talented people to focus on solving our generation’s biggest challenge: climate change.

Climate tech is the area of technology devoted to tackling climate change. While many focus on the need for engineers to design wind farms and solar panels, or chemists to invent more efficient batteries, software is an essential part of tackling the climate crisis. Software engineers, product managers and designers are building everything from carbon accounting software to electric vehicle chargers on lampposts. Skills developed from building complex systems, designing intuitive user experiences, and marketing products at tech companies translate directly to climate tech.

Climate tech is growing. The Washington Post reports that $30 billion was invested in climate tech in 2021, and the Inflation Reduction Act will bring hundreds of billions of dollars of new investment, according to Bloomberg.

A year ago, I made the pivot to climate tech. I’d been working at Google for years as a user experience engineer, but during the pandemic, the sound of the ambulances echoing through the empty Brooklyn streets made me realize I needed my work to have more impact. I started grad school, taking evening classes in Columbia’s Sustainability Management program. I found a climate-related role at Google, using machine learning to improve weather forecasting.

While grad school is valuable, anyone working in tech already has the skills to help the climate crisis. Every week I receive a newsletter from Climatebase with hundreds of new jobs for software engineers, designers, sales, marketing, and communications.

While Mark Zuckerberg is spending $15 billion to create a virtual reality metaverse, and Elon Musk is spending billions to send people into space, I hope that many of the recently laid off tech workers will decide that the best use of their time and talent is to save our planet.

Thomas Turnbull is a part-time student in Columbia University’s M.S. in Sustainability Management program, and a full-time employee of Google.

Views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Columbia Climate School, Earth Institute or Columbia University.

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1 year ago

These guys works in big-tech, and Big Tech relies on servers and data-centers that needs to be on 24-7 year round, never off year after year, no end in sight…That’s a long-term carbon footprint of being almost infinite. How exactly these programmers gonna solve the Climate Footprint?