13 Majors to Help You Combat Climate Change

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Students at a tide pool at UC Davis.
From left to right: Hao Hao Pontius (animal biology major), Vivian Sieu (environmental science and management major), and Lorenzo Olano (animal science major) look at a small crab during a summer class for undergraduates at Bodega Marine Lab at Pinnacle Gulch Tide Pools. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Majors related to climate change are popular — and for good reason. Global temperatures are rising, so college students are joining the fight to combat climate change. Members of Generation Z “flock to climate careers,” according to The Guardian

“I cannot imagine a career that isn’t connected to even just being a small part of a solution,” Mimi Ausland, 25, told The Guardian

If you’d like to prepare for a climate career, consider a major that immerses you in the study of the environment and ecology. Students who choose a specific focus — such as atmospheric science, marine biology, or horticulture — can contribute their unique expertise toward mitigating climate change. These 13 majors within the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences could prepare you to become part of the solution.

1. Agricultural and environmental education major

A study holds a strawberry plant at UC Davis.
Lingyi Zhou, a third-year agricultural and environmental education major, holds a strawberry plant in the Veg Crops greenhouses. Zhou is an intern working with Garry Pearson, the lead greenhouse manager for CA&ES. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Want to teach people the truth about climate change? Students in the agricultural and environmental education major balance the studies of science, teaching and communications to learn how to translate science to the public. They might become educators, advocates, community organizers, curriculum advisors, journalists, or outdoor education specialists, among many other careers. 

The agricultural and environmental education major includes a sampling of courses in animal science, plant and soil science, environmental horticulture, agricultural and environmental engineering, economics, and the environmental sciences. The required courses in education prepare you to work with students of all ages. 

2. Atmospheric science major

Students and teachers laugh outside while holding a tall instrument at UC Davis.
Professor Kyaw Tha Paw U and teaching assistant Janae Clay laugh with the students as they instruct them on reading a rain catcher during an atmospheric science class. The students put together the instrument to measure and record wind speed, wind direction, solar radiation, temperature and air pressure. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Want to help communities prepare for and respond to severe weather events such as floods, heat waves, hurricanes, tornadoes and droughts? The atmospheric science major teaches you about weather patterns through the study of physics, solar radiation, meteorological processes, climate change and variations, and air pollution. 

Graduates are qualified to become National Weather Service meteorologists. They could also work as air quality specialists, atmospheric science researchers, climate scientists, environmental scientists, educators, and more.

3. Environmental horticulture and urban forestry major

Fall colors of gold and yellow are in the trees at the UC Davis Arboretum as students in an environmental horticulture class walk by.
Fall colors of gold and yellow are in the trees at the UC Davis Arboretum as students in an environmental horticulture class walk by. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Plants are a key part of mitigating climate change. They have the power to repair damaged landscapes, control erosion, and reduce water and energy consumption. Plants improve our air quality and our quality of life. Students in the environmental horticulture and urban forestry major learn about the complex relationships between plants, people, animals, soil, water, air and microorganisms.

Graduates could become revegetation consultants, native plant propagators, botanical garden managers, irrigation engineers or restoration specialists. They could go on to further study in urban planning, horticulture, environmental sciences, business and more. 

4. Ecological management and restoration major

Students examine soil while looking at a guide at UC Davis.
Kun Yang (environmental science and management major), Richie Ruiz (environmental education major), Matthew Bridges (ecological management and restoration major), and Neil Singh (ecological management and restoration major) debate the color of the wet soil against their chart during soil science class at Russell Ranch. The students collected soils from natural grassland, conventional agriculture plot and an organic plot to test carbon storage, infiltration rate, microbial diversity and type of soil. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Fire seasons are now a regular occurrence across the West, and hurricanes and blizzards have increased in intensity. As the damaging effects of climate change rage on, our lands will need care. A major in ecological management and restoration will teach you how to tend to wildland, rangeland or plant communities. 

Graduates will be prepared to manage and repair ecological systems so that these systems can keep supplying human needs, such as food, while conserving and sustaining ecology and diversity. Students have gone on to work as environmental restoration practitioners, natural resource conservationists, park botanists and restoration ecologists. 

5. Environmental policy analysis and planning major

A student looks at a large planning draft at UC Davis.
Anuraag Majumdar, an environmental policy and planning major, is working at an internship with the Energy Conservation Office at UC Davis. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Every day, citizens around the world are awakening to the fact that environmental protection is an absolute must. They are demanding that their governments and businesses take action to solve global issues.

Increasingly, there is a need for environmental professionals to make a greater impact, and fast. Water scarcity, biodiversity loss, a skyrocketing global population and food security — while frightening — also offer opportunities to find solutions to the most critical issues of our time.

At UC Davis, environmental policy and planning majors are at the forefront of meaningful and rewarding careers — as an environmental lawyer, a city planner or an environmental consultant, to name a few — that will make planet Earth more sustainable.

Read more at “What Can I Do With a Major in Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning?” by Pablo Loayza.

6. Environmental science and management major

A professor and student examine soil results in a field.
Professor Randy Southard and Hannah Remme, an environmental science and management major, work on her results during a soil science field class. Southard was teaching soil characteristics, how to analyze the soil, read the soil with hands-on techniques and record those observations. The students travel from the Central Valley to Lake Tahoe as they test the soils. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Want to contribute solutions to climate change through a combination of science, policy and management? Environmental scientists advance our understanding of how people are affecting the world around us, and they connect that understanding to management and policy. In the environmental science and management major, all students have opportunities to gain practical experience through field courses and a required internship.

Graduates of the environmental science and management major have a wide variety of opportunities, from research to management. They could eventually go on to careers as environmental attorneys (with additional schooling), geographic information systems analysts, and environmental impact specialists. 

Read more at “What Can I Do With a Major in Environmental Science and Management?” by Tanya Perez and Lev Farris Goldenberg.

7. Environmental toxicology major

A student and professor smile over a tide pool at UC Davis.
Garrot McCune, an environmental toxicology major, and lecturer Ellie Fairbairn look through the tank of sea stars during a summer class for undergraduates at Bodega Marine Lab at Pinnacle Gulch Tide Pools. The students searched through the tide pools for specimens for a diversity count. They also did lab work with some of their findings. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Pesticides and pollutants affect our habitats and our health. Environmental toxicologists study the impact of toxins on all living things, and they play an important role in their regulation. Students in the environmental toxicology major become well-versed in chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and toxicology.

Graduates in environmental toxicology could work as biohazard specialists, environmental compliance analysts, forensic scientists, public health scientists, pharmacists, environmental consultants, and more. 

8. Hydrology major

A professor and three students look at irrigation in a field.
Professor Isaya Kisekka talks to Aya Suzuki, a biosystems engineering major; Mackenzie Gulliams, a civil and environmental engineering major; and Marcoluis Garcia, hydrology major; about measuring soil moister during a new research project on crop irrigation underground with a computerized irrigation system at the Campbell Tract. The tomato research field is a study in managing water and fertilizer together to minimize groundwater contamination. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Hydrologists tackle climate change with a focus on our most precious resource: water. Hydrologic science is the study of water in all of its aspects: as weather, river basins, groundwater, glaciers, lakes, streams, permafrost and water vapor. Hydrologists measure and analyze water beneath the ground, on the earth’s surface and in the atmosphere to determine how water is affected by physical, chemical and biological processes on Earth.

Graduates in the hydrology major might become hydrologists, hydrogeologists, limnologists, water hygiene engineers, water policy analysts, and more. 

9. Marine and coastal science major

A student inspects a tidal pool at Bodega Bay UC Davis.
Siena Watson, a marine and coastal science major, searches the tide pools during a summer class for undergraduates at Bodega Marine Lab at Pinnacle Gulch Tide Pools. The students searched through the tide pools for specimens for a diversity count. They also did lab work with some of their findings. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Do you want to tackle climate change while exploring coastal tide pools? Marine scientists apply their scientific skills to protect ocean and coastal environments and solve global problems. Our oceans account for more than 96% of the world’s water, and few of the world’s coastlines are beyond the influence of human pressures. To help in their conservation and study, we offer three marine and coastal science major specializations: 

Graduates could become fisheries biologists, coastal geologists, marine ecologists, aquarium operations managers, and more. 

10. Plant sciences major

A student stands on a ladder in a greenhouse.
Emma Desany, a plant sciences major, stands on an A-frame ladder in a greenhouse to measure the length of a cucumber vine for a class project. Students harvested cucumbers and weighed them. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

When you study plant sciences, you get hands-on experience with plants and agriculture, experience that can lead to a lucrative, rewarding career and a healthier planet for us all. The combination of science and practical experience prepares graduates to be innovators in sustaining agricultural productivity and environmental quality.

Graduates of the plant sciences major could go on to become agronomists, plant geneticists, precision agriculture specialists, seed producers, and more. 

11. Sustainable agriculture and food systems major

Two students measure corn beside their professor at UC Davis.
Chyna Oyola and Rufayda Dhamani, both sustainable agriculture and food systems majors, measure the growth of corn as assistant professor Amelie Gaudin checks on their progress during an agroecosystems class. The students talked about sustainable agricultural issues and worked in the field to gather soil samples from planted and fallow fields, counted macro fauna, and gathered data on their differing fields. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Want to fight climate change with a focus on food systems? The major in sustainable agriculture and food systems takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding complex issues ranging from food security to food policy to growing crops on a farm.

Graduates could become successful agriculturalists, entrepreneurs and researchers. They could hold jobs as farmers market managers, farmers, community organizers, agricultural policy analysts, international development officers, permaculture specialists, and more. 

12. Sustainable environmental design major

Students write in their notebooks outside at UC Davis.
Brianna Banks, a sustainable environmental design major, takes notes during her landscape design class visit to West Pond and Stonegate Detention Basin in West Davis. The class was surveying the man-made wetland to see how they could design a multipurpose flood detention area. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Climate change will require that we strengthen our communities to make them sustainable. Urban planners and regional developers shape our physical landscapes to create environments that frame our daily lives. With an added focus on sustainability, these community builders help ensure that the places in which we live and work are environmentally safe and resource-efficient. The sustainable environmental design major prepares students to thoughtfully plan communities, design livable cities, develop smooth-running transportation systems and create healthy, equitable urban spaces.

Graduates could become urban planners, community organizers, researchers, developers, and policy analysts. They might go on to additional graduate studies in landscape architecture, urban planning and regional development, architecture, real estate or environmental sciences. 

Read more at “What Can I Do With a Sustainable Environmental Design Major?” by Sudhiksha Shanbhag Kota.

13. Wildlife, fish and conservation biology major

A duck perches on a student's shoulder at UC Davis.
Mitch Hinton, a Ph.D. candidate in wild, fish, and conservation biology, lets Konnie, a wood duck that imprinted on humans, perch on him. Konnie, who hatched outside of the brood cycle, is used for outreach to school children. The wildlife, fish and conservation biology students are interning in a wood duck research program. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Do you want to tackle climate change by protecting animals? 

If you do feel passionate about animals, maybe you want to become a wildlife biologist — or possibly a veterinarian, fisheries manager, habitat restoration ecologist or zookeeper.

If these careers interest you, consider the wildlife, fish and conservation biology major at UC Davis. We prepare students who are dedicated to the conservation of all wildlife and fish species and interested in the resolution of conflicts between people and wildlife.

Read more at “Where the Wild Things Are” by Robin DeRieux.


Rebecca Huval is the digital managing editor of the Majors Blog

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