How the Climate is Changing Work

As I sit to write this on a very sunny August afternoon, my laptop is whirring like it’s about to take off. Despite my best efforts, during the UK’s latest heatwave I simply cannot stop my laptop from overheating. This was not a consequence I had considered when I found out I was to be the blog officer for OxWIB over the long vac and MT22, but I guess we’ll all have to get used to unforeseen issues as the planet continues to heat up.


The ‘world of work’ is constantly changing - industries gain or lose importance, working hours become more flexible, we’re globalising and digitising, but more and more these changes are going to be dictated by our ever-changing climate. It was over a decade ago that Maria Nilsson and Tord Kjellstrom wrote their paper for ‘Global Health Action’, describing the impact of climate change on working people, and since then there has been a growing catalogue of research papers and policy initiatives into how both employees and employers will have to adapt to the effects of climate change.


The threat to many businesses is a serious one. In 2019, the UN’s International Labour Organization concluded that approximately 80 million jobs would be at risk if predictions for rising temperatures prove correct. Another 2019 study reported that the United States alone would lose at least 520 billion USD across 22 sectors as a result of global warming. There are of course industries where the negative effects are obvious - in some regions, the ski season could shorten by eighty percent over the next eighty years, and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics has reported that already over 1 billion AUD have been lost by farmers during the 21st century alone, largely as a result of drought.


The importance of the changing climate is not to be underestimated even in the sectors that seem the least vulnerable to its physical effects. As in any crisis, laws and regulations have already been (and will undoubtedly continue to be) introduced to cope with climate change, and this period of transition can be especially vulnerable for any business. The response of the consumer to climate change will also be an increasingly important factor for businesses to consider. It is already evident that more and more consumers are looking for ‘greener options’ which have forced even the most giant of corporations into making sustainability pledges, such as Unilever’s promise to source all of its energy for production from renewable sources by 2030.


It also seems likely that in tomorrow’s world of work, the hiring climate will reflect the global crisis. Already, authors such as Andrew Winston (author of ‘The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World’) have remarked upon the importance of climate fluency, comparing the importance of possessing an understanding of climate change to having the ability to use a computer in the workplace of twenty years ago. In a similar vein, Danial Kreeger - executive director of nonprofit Association of Climate Change Officers - has emphasised the lack of employees trained to incorporate climate change into their planning in the current hiring market.


It’s important to note that the effects of climate change will disproportionately affect industries that tend to employ low- and middle-wage workers, and those living in hotter climates to begin with. A report published in April 2022 on the impacts of climate change on Californian workers and employers stressed that the state would incur costs “from the need to expand its workforce to respond to climate change impacts—including more firefighters and emergency responders, as well as new engineers and scientists to assess vulnerabilities and carry out the state’s responses to climate risks.” It goes without saying that in regions where state