Paging Doctors for the Earth

This Op-Ed is by Phoenix subscriber, Sapna Batish. Her personal story is the wellspring for this article — pressured to study medicine, Sapna dropped out of medical school, however she eventually earned a doctorate in environmental science. Later on she felt her degree was not valued in the “real world.” She is committed to helping young doctoral students to fight climate change passionately and joyfully in the world.

Prior to 2020, it would’ve been hard for any city dweller to imagine their city devoid of loud noises and pedestrian traffic Yet in 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic would make that seeming impossibility, a reality in every city across the globe.

The shift was quick. Why did we alter our lifestyles so quickly? Because our lives depended on it. Doctors were telling us so.

What if we viewed climate change in the same vein as the global pandemic? After all, the Earth is one body, gravely ill, and in dire need of a doctor’s expertise. What if we listened to the advice of this doctor of the Earth, and swiftly, and drastically, changed our behavior, as we did when the pandemic hit?  

The climate emergency is changing the Earth’s biological, chemical, and geophysical systems in ways as noticeable and irreversible as a person dying from an acute illness. This emergency is not localized. It is like a virus to which none of us are immune. We, as a collective, must change our attitudes surrounding climate radically if we are going to avert this climate emergency.

The youth of today are hungry to find a way to change the plight we are in, many wanting to dedicate their lives to this global issue. Young people must be given a viable pathway to make this happen. Training passionate, driven students, and remunerating them appropriately signals that we value the earth as much as human life.  

Training a Doctor of the Earth

Currently, students interested in pursuing doctoral level education to tackle the climate crisis must spend years researching a particular topic, then writing their dissertation. Having earned their PhD in environmental or climate science, many of these new graduates find they are less competitive than someone with a bachelors or masters who was in the workforce while they were earning their PhD.

Going back to the model of the earth as a body, what if we trained and compensated doctors of the Earth like medical doctors?

Medical schools attract bright, passionate, committed students who know that all their hard work will be valued and respected because after successfully finishing their training, they will be guaranteed employment in the field they love, and an excellent salary. Additionally, only a licensed M.D. can compete for the positions to which they are applying, signaling the unique value of that training.  

Imagine we developed a wholly new graduate degree, called ErD (Doctor of the Earth), to train bright, passionate, climate-conscious people to care for the Earth, following the training of a medical doctor?

This training could involve a rigorous standardized course of study and training, but of the earth and its systems.  After passing a test upon completion of the program, the graduate would be placed in a “residency program”, to specialize in a specific specialty (food security, climate finance, etc.) or train to be a generalist, focusing on ecosystem health, like a GP.

Successful graduates of these residencies could find jobs where they are well remunerated for their hard work, just open only to licensed ErDs, in corporations, industry, government, start-ups, and NGOs.

Our best hope for humanity is our brightest and most passionate youth. The ErD would be one way that these youth could apply their passion and dedication to protecting the Earth, by applying their intelligence and diligence to saving the Earth from this climate emergency.

What you can do, currently.

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