My Future After the Masters
It is hard to believe, but as I write this, I have finished all taught classes for my masters at LSE. The masters has gone by so quickly (it is technically a year but there are only 20 weeks of teaching), and now the question of what to do next looms over me. Doing something meaningful where I am fighting for justice (and ideally systematic change) is important to me. I know I am privileged to be able to say this, but I do not want to work in a job that I hate where I work only to earn a wage to survive. Going along with this, I want a healthy work-life balance where I am not constantly working and have time to do things outside of work. I am more than happy to volunteer in activist and social campaigning groups in my spare time, but I do not want to feel like my job erodes every bit of spare time that I have. I bring up these criteria in order to discuss the example of a recent careers event I went to at LSE specifically on the topic of the environment.
LSE Careers Event
Last Thursday, I attended a careers event organized by LSE’s careers service around the environment. They invited LSE alumni who had worked for a few years already in sectors related to the environment. Every single one of them worked in some form of consulting, business or “green finance” (a veritable oxymoron). I have to admit that I was very disappointed with the selection of alumni that LSE chose because not a single one was from a non-governmental organization (NGO). NGOs certainly have their issues, but the lack of their representation was telling for the kind of society that LSE hopes its graduates will create. Considering that all the students there were doing a degree related to the environment or geography, they hoped to show that yes, you too can make a ton of money and feel good about protecting the environment.
What I mean to say is that by excluding NGO representatives, LSE was implicitly legitimizing that corporations and consultants do, in fact, do great things for the environment. From talking to a few of the alumni, one of the common tasks that I heard seemed to involve helping corporations design strategies to reduce their emissions or consulting on climate adaptation strategies. Unless I am hugely mistaken, these consultants are helping corporations greenwash whereby they claim to be helping the environment but in reality, continue to pollute with vague promises of reductions or “net zero” by 2050.
Let us say that LSE had actually included NGO representatives from organizations such as Oxfam (an international development NGO), which is not specifically focused on the environment. The reason that I mention Oxfam is that they were recently advertising a position for climate justice campaigner in London. Actually addressing climate justice and looking at how climate change is connected with other forms of systemic oppression would go a much longer way towards addressing climate change than advising a corporation on reducing emissions. There are, of course, many different interpretations of climate justice, but even using that term signals a different approach to addressing the crisis than corporate engagement or net zero by 2050. As I expressed on that night, I was disappointed with the lack of imagination in addressing environmental challenges. Being in higher education has taught me that you aren’t going to address climate change without a drastic shift in the status quo. This now brings me on to the question again of what should I do next?
What can I do?
As I consider where to go next with my life, I am left with a lot of uncertainty. I want to do something I believe in where I fight for changes to the status quo, but I reach the end of my masters unequipped and unprepared to do so. I had briefly considered doing academia as a career and pursuing a PhD, but the rampant marketization and precarity highlighted by the strikes has convinced me it is not a good idea. Moreover, while academics I have met are committed to changing the status quo, it seems that these academics are not the ones who rise to the top of a field that is dominated by white men (and at LSE seemingly white men who study economics). And while I firmly believe that academics try to engage with communities and make change happen outside academia (such as through writing editorials), the majority of academic work is hidden behind paywalls. Thus, much of academic writing, in effect, is reproducing the very status quo it seeks to challenge by making accessing knowledge an elite process where only other academics or those who are willing to pay academic journals exorbitant fees can access academically produced knowledge.
With a career in academia looking increasingly out of the question, I turn my eyes towards working in NGOs. While many NGOs do good and important work, my concern with them is that they simply work to make the system work a bit better rather than actively seeking to change the status quo. For instance, the NGO Stand Up to Racism does good work, but one of its campaigns now is to stop the Nationality and Borders Bill in the UK (that will be used to deprive UK nationals of their citizenship). Of course, this bill is draconian and should be opposed but ultimately it will take a massive norm and societal shift to understand that cruel and racist bills like this should not be allowed in the first place. It is this kind of far-reaching change that I am interested in working in, but I am left with questions as to how well suited some organizations like many INGOs (that benefit from the status quo even as they critique it) are to instigating deep changes to the status quo.
From wealth inequality to climate change, from structural racism to transphobia, from ableism to homophobia, from misogyny to war, there are a myriad of problems that society faces. I chose to do my masters in environment and development because I wanted to address climate change, but I would be happy working in any kind of social justice capacity by which I mean working on an issue I highlighted above or a related issue. I think the main reason that I feel so uncertain about where to go next is that nothing has really jumped out at me as offering to address the root causes of these issues but only seeking to make society marginally better. I am also unsure as a white man from the US how helpful I can be. However, I am sure there are some organizations led by people of color, disabled people, queer people, and other marginalized groups doing great work, and I hope to help in any way I can. I hope I can reflect in a few years’ time and be proud of the work that I have done.