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Ask HN: How to become a driver of climatic and social change?

Dear HackerNews,

I am in a rut and don't know which step to take.

My background is liberal arts in Polish literature and history. I have got a baccalaureaute in these and am pursing a master's degree, having once wanted to become a diplomat or a curator.

While initially single-minded in my passion, in recent years I have become more invested in a variety of social issues: social inequalities (regional, racial, religious), helping domestic violence victims, improving education and securing humanitarian aid. Among those, climate change and combating it have become my primary field of interest.

I might not make a good biologist or an engineer, but I have shown promise in activism. I have co-founded and run a local youth organization. I have participated in a UN HRC session (3 weeks), as well as in last year's UN Climate Change Conference in Poland, thanks to an NGO with which I collaborated: thus I know of that work environment. I also have partial command of law. In light of these, I would not mind becoming an ecological activist, or for my career to have elements of that.

Problem is, I am lost. I feel that I don't know what is out there, nor do I have anyone to ask for directions.

In particular, I am at a loss in these areas:

1. What are the ways in which one can make a meaningful impact (realistically, not idealistically)?

2. What background is needed to get involved in that? I am ready to return to university. Which schools or majors are the most suitable?

3. What people do you know who are involved whom I can ask or whose impressive example I could follow?

4. Which people or institutions can I ask for further guidance?

All input and opinion appreciated. Assume all country, language, money requirements met.

Background information: 25 years old, female, Polish. Lives in Zürich. Knows Polish, English, French, Italian. Fledgling interest in data science.

Best regards, Marta Szameto <marta.szameto@gmail.com>

30 pointsIgrom posted 3 months ago19 Comments
lacbuddah said 3 months ago:

Marta, You're looking outside yourself for too many answers.

Just live life and have experiences with the thought that "I'm going to let life teach me about myself". You don't need more schooling but you do need to put in work at hobbies, a job (you don't need to love the first thing that comes around. There's always another job), personal relationships on all levels (friendly, acquaintance and intimate).

If the above is too ethereal for you, find solace that everyone's lost at 25 (and many are beyond that). You just don't have enough time in to LIFE. Keep doing things until you find the VERY FEW that cause you to find yourself.

Good luck.

saaaaaam said 3 months ago:

This may be a good starting point:


maxander said 3 months ago:

I strongly second this- its a well-studied and well-resourced organization that has spent most of a decade investigating the precise kind of question you're asking (namely, how one can best position oneself in life to have a positive impact on the world.)

In particular, they're very clear that there are a large number of possible areas to aim at that all offer the chance to make a big difference, and that there are a wide range of skillsets that can be applied in various ways (you don't have to go back to school and become an engineer.)

justsomeguy3591 said 3 months ago:

I second this site - it's research-based and takes an objective view at several factors including how solvable a problem is, how many people are already working on it, etc. The podcast they host has some great interviews as well.

Marta - I find myself on a similar path and I wish you the best of luck going forward!

abdullahkhalids said 3 months ago:

Its great that you want to be a force of betterment in the world. There are many different kinds of ecological activists, but whats important is that you become the one where your daily life consists of activities you enjoy. Otherwise, you will get burned out soon.

The most straightforward way is to look up NGOs (others have posted links) and try to see if you can get a job with the one that seems exciting to you. Change is always brought about by acting in groups, so joining or creating an organization is the best way.

My answer to your question 1 is as follows. You are probably too small to make meaningful impact on a global scale - no one is. This is a task for governments. But you can make impact on a local scale. People often forget that there are many many things you can do at the city level to create sustainable living patterns. You can join or create organizations that are trying to fix your local problems. One interesting thing that someone with your background could do is to use art to drive social change. I know a excellent organization in my city that does community theater activities to educate and impact people, and you can definitely see the positive effect they have in the communities and areas they work in.

provolone said 3 months ago:

Be the change you want to see. You can only control your own actions. There's no futility in that.

Look towards yourself instead of institutions.


robomartin said 3 months ago:

Marta, I need to be blunt here. And I realize that sometimes being direct with a female these days is politically incorrect. So be it.

Your background is such that you are far more likely to be used by climate change zealots. Which means you are likely to unwittingly engage in spreading lies and non-solutions.

If you really want to help humanity in some of these domains you have to have enough of a scientific background to be able to understand the subject well as well as to separate science from religion.

The good news is: You can acquire this knowledge. If you are serious about this, shift your focus towards studying science. The rest should follow naturally due to your passion.

JSeymourATL said 3 months ago:

FIRST ACTION: Obstacles, identify everything that is standing in the way.

Obstacles become the raw material for achieving your goals.

ON this subject, Dan Sullivan is brilliant > https://www.33voices.com/interviews/the-way-to-defeat-your-o...

hhmartin said 3 months ago:

Here is a startup incubator that focuses on activist companies. Maybe one of their startups would be a good place to work?


You could also consider running for office. There are several organizations now helping novices run for public office from local level to national.

sergiotapia said 3 months ago:

Climatic, there is nothing you can do. The vast majority of pollution comes from corporations, not individuals. Try to rally a change in laws, but don't focus your efforts on changing individual people's habits, it's a drop in the bucket.

maxander said 3 months ago:

I thought the "climate change is really produced by a dozen CEOs, all we need to do is eat them" idea was restricted to cheap memes. Now it's on HN?

Yes, corporate activities produce the bulk of human carbon emissions. But they're not doing it out on an island for their own amusement- they're doing it to produce things that individuals buy. (Or that other corporations buy to produce still other things, but it always grounds out in things-made-for-humans in the end.) Saying that oil companies are to blame for, e.g., automotive emissions, instead of motorists, is bizarre.

defterGoose said 3 months ago:

I agree with you in general, and I believe that if we are to begin really fixing the pollution epidemic, change will come first from regulation of big companies. But I also know that we as individuals will have to eventually exist in world where producing pounds of plastic refuse and driving our cars everywhere is not considered normal; so I try to adapt my current lifestyle to that, bits and pieces at a time. I have a hard time reconciling these two attitudes but at the end of the day, I don't believe supply and demand are going away so we have to push the bigger polluters out of existence with our wallets.

ntlk said 3 months ago:

I understand the sentiment, but there is still a lot an individual could do. Use green energy, fly less, etc. These things all create relevant market pressures.

For example: five years ago it was hard to find more than a single vegan meal option at any given London food place. Fast forward to today, and tons of places have dedicated vegan menus or multiple choices, because of the increase in people willing to pay for them.

I’m not saying it’s a silver bullet, but these things do count, and sometimes changes driven by economic pressures happen very quickly.

gatherhunterer said 3 months ago:

Vegan meals do not help to stall climate change, especially those consisting of soy-based alternatives. This is a marketing ploy by soy producers who profit by shifting public focus to meat and away from monocropping and agricultural emissions from monocrop cultivation. In addition to the fact that very few people have even seen, much less worked with, livestock being grazed and harvested outside of a CAFO and you have an effective marketing strategy that is “natural” enough to justify selling a single meal for more than most people make in an hour.

username90 said 3 months ago:

Do you honestly believe it is possible to solve this from the consumer side? We can't even make people stop eating themselves to death! You might get a small fraction to consume less but that wont save the environment. "Every little bit counts", no it really doesn't, it might buy us a few years and let the rest pollute even more before things are so bad that we start enforcing laws to stop them but ultimately those laws will be there, so all you achieved was making life a bit cushier for people who don't care.

ntlk said 3 months ago:

No, on its own these things aren’t a solution, but collectively we are able to add to pressures on businesses to adapt their behaviours.

sergiotapia said 3 months ago:

All of the things you listed do _nothing_ but lower your quality of life.

ntlk said 3 months ago:

That depends what for you constitutes quality of life. For me switching energy suppliers saved me money. Becoming vegan introduced habits that are proving to have a positive effect on my health. Cycling to work keeps me doing cardio regularly and it halves my commute time.