I'm currently weighing between these two specializations before I begin my master degree in Environmental Sciences.

On one hand, Environmental Economics looks more "practical". It links economic development and environmental problems together, focuses on cost-effectiveness and efficiency of policy options so I think its career impact might be easier to measure and foresee. But a quick Google search shows that it seems to have less job opportunities than Environmental Policy. It certainly isn't as popular as a topic like Environmental Policy, which for me is a field that needs a more urgent change.

I also don't have any background in Economics at all, but I'm willing to learn more about it. Although I'm worried that an intense, two year program might not be the best use of time for someone who has no previous knowledge on microeconomic theory to begin from scratch.

I know climate change isn't a top priority of EA but would love to hear some advices regarding which of these two specializations I should focus on.

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Aaron Gertler

Jul 24, 2019


This is a really complex question, and I can't give any kind of comprehensive answer. Some thoughts you mind find relevant:

  • It isn't too difficult to learn the basics of economics, and doing so will give you many more options as a scholar in the future (whatever field you end up in). While you didn't mention wanting to get a PhD, I think some of 80,000 Hours' thoughts on the benefits of an econ PhD could still apply here.
  • I'd be surprised if there were many jobs that would accept you if you had a degree in Environmental Policy, but not if you had one in Environmental Economics (or vice-versa). I'd expect these fields to overlap enough that you could use either one as a springboard to a job (as long as you know what kinds of jobs you want in advance, and choose your classes/research areas accordingly).
  • If you're looking for an especially high-impact research position, at an organization whose work/influence is very strong, I think it's especially likely that the strength of your CV/application will matter much more than the Master's program you select (my impression is that effective organizations tend to care more about skills than credentials, relative to less-effective organizations).
    • As an example, Hauke Hillebrandt has a PhD in neuroscience, but he is among the most influential members of the EA community as far as promoting climate change as a cause area. (This recent article about his work got a lot of attention.)
    • You could also look at the organizations the Open Philanthropy Project has funded to work on climate change, or those they cite in their write-ups on the topic (pretty easy to find if you use their Grants database or Google terms like "Open Phil climate change"). I'd guess that the people working at those organizations come from many different environmental-science backgrounds (or even unrelated backgrounds).
  • All in all, I'd recommend choosing the combination of school/program that seems best for you based on whatever variables you care about, including "location" and "cost". Going to a more prestigious school with access to better internships, getting a good scholarship so that money isn't a concern, being in a physical environment you enjoy... all these factors seem like they would more than make up for any differences between the two types of programs you're looking at.

Thanks a lot for your reply, it is very helpful.

I agree to all of your points, and luckily after nearly a decade of working in the media industry I am able to have the combination of school/program that's best for me. They provide six specializations under the MSc Environmental Sciences program and these are the two I'm most interested about.

The master program is a stepping stone for me to have access to internship and research opportunities I otherwise wouldn't have. And I plan to take a minor in Environmental Communication or Environmental Education as well. So hopefully I can develop a wider range of skills that will be beneficial to my future career.