The Times has an article about a new Green Tech Ph.D. Under Way at Montclair State in New Jersey.  In my experience, caution is called for when looking at pursuing a degree of this nature.  First, let me say at the outset that, as far as environmental education is concerned, I have more or less come full circle, and now believe that any environmental education is better than none at all.  However, such degrees do not always lead to the types of jobs envisioned, so it will pay to look hard and ask questions of lots of folks before jumping in.

These programs have a way of popping up at colleges and universities to ride  the environmental wave, as it were, and we must assume that the people developing these programs have good motives.  Nevertheless, they are always interested in increasing enrollments to affect their bottom line, and a program with environmental aspects certainly can be an attraction.

Some years back, Sigma Xi, The Scientific Society, convened environmental educators to consider approaches in environmental education.   One of their conclusions was that it can be important to first acquire a basic degree (B.S., usually) in a science or engineering discipline, before moving into something discretely environmental on the graduate level.  The idea is that someone with basic knowledge of biology, chemistry, engineering, or even math, can readily understand many environmental things right out of the box.   Policy stuff is just easier to read and understand than hard-core science.  One can see this reasoning reflected in this program at Montclair State:  the person heading it up has a background in geochemistry.

This program may very well give people the background they need to get the jobs they want.  However, it will not lead to a job working as an environmental engineer or environmental scientist unless they have other study under their belt.  We do need good environmental managers, but in my view we need them to have a basic grounding in science and/or engineering.  (I’ll reserve for a later post some discussion of how this point of view applies to environmental law.)