Green Jobs in Politics and Policy

If you want to change the way environmental policy is made, you may want to make a green career transition right to the source of the matter: politics and policy. You don’t have to run for office to play a role in creating eco-friendly legislation, but you can make a significant contribution to the green economy and a sustainable future.

The people we elect and the legislation and policies they enact have a significant impact on the shape of the green economy, the pacing of its development, and the industries that are likely to flourish. The people and organizations that influence voters and those in government are diverse and play a number of roles in the process.

  • Researching and analyzing issues provides in-depth information to government officials, industry leaders, environmental specialists, journalists, and others. Accurate knowledge becomes a critical component in campaigns, elections, policymaking, and advocacy.

  • Influencing the public, politicians, and members of the government to act on a particular issue, cause, legislation, or agency rule, requires determination and action. Depending on the organization, the purpose, and the target, influencers may use education, activism, advocacy, and lobbying to get their point across.

  • Campaigning is a complex process to influence voters to elect a particular candidate or pass an initiative. A variety of tactics are used to inform and persuade the public to exercise their right to vote.

  • Policymaking is the process of developing legislation and regulations that guide appropriate actions. The entire multi-step process is collaborative in that many constituents, from voters to interests groups, have the right to influence what ends up in a particular piece of legislation.

To get a sense of the influence of the political arena, take a look at the following statistics gathered from experts in the field. The American Association of Political Consultants reports that more than 50,000 elections occur each year in the United States, not including elections for local and state initiatives. According to Lobbists.info there are over 22,000 lobbyists and 2,500 lobbying firms in the United States. These lobbyists work with 12,000 client organizations to influence the bills and votes of 535 Congress members.

The day after his inauguration, President Obama announced new lobbying limits in an effort to make government actions more transparent. Several of the restrictions are meant to limit the revolving door that often exists between special interests groups and government officials. In late March 2009 additional limits were placed on lobbyist communications with administration officials regarding the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding decisions.

The Center for Responsive Politics has studied how money influences politics since 1996. In addition to tracking donations to political campaigns, the organization has an in-depth database about lobbyists. As of this writing, the spending on lobbying and the number of lobbyists in 2009 appeared to be dropping, but to be sure, check the final 2009 numbers.

The move against corruption and toward transparency in government is likely to continue. Many, including the American League of Lobbyists, are calling for reforms in the lobbying process. The key is ethics. What’s the most ethical way to influence the legislative process? When new ethical standards are put in place, the next challenge will be enforcing the rules.

At a 2008 conference of the American Association of Political Consultants, political consultants completed a poll about the recent campaign season and campaigning practices in ten years. The poll results show a dramatic shift from direct mail and television advertising to Web-based campaign communications, using e-mails, online videos, social networking, and blogging. Those polled expected to see evidence of this shift as early as the 2010 elections.

Green job opportunities in policy and politics span many fields, including

  • Advocacy: Grass roots organizers, community organizer, public policy advocates, transportation policy advocate, grass-roots campaign manager, field representative, grass-roots advocacy coordinator, program organizer

  • Research: Researcher, economist, scientists, environmental scientists, ecological economists, science-policy scholars, legal scholars

  • Public education: Public affairs program assistant, outreach and communication coordinator, media coordinator, educator

  • Lobbying and legislative affairs: Environmental affairs specialist, climate legislative director, legislative affairs director, government relations senior specialist, government relations manager, legislative assistant

  • Policy making: Policy associate, policy analyst, financial analyst, policy adviser, legislative director

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