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The environment is of primary concern in this present age, as we are quickly running out of natural resources and finding ourselves surrounded by greater levels of pollution.  Environmental workers face the task of finding alternative means of efficient resource creation and consumption, as well as mitigating the effects of pollution and planning for efficient use of space.  Environmental work can be broken down into sectors, including air and water quality management, energy and resource engineering, planning and design, forestry and outdoor recreation, biological and life sciences, agricultural and animal sciences, and waste management and environmental site assessment.

environment concept - water drops on grass blades (macro photo) The air and water quality management sector began to take shape after 1962, when Rachel Carson published the book Silent Spring, exposing the dangers of the pesticide DDT.  This led to the creation of several governmental policies including the Water Quality Act (1965), the Air Quality Act (1967), the National Environmental Policy Act (1969), and the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974).  Currently, the air and water quality management sector employs a variety of workers including air pollution control technicians, groundwater professionals, and civil engineers.

Energy and resource engineering deals with the issues of energy consumption from nonrenewable sources such as oil, coal, and natural gas, and seeks to devise economic ways of deriving renewable energy from alternative sources such as hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass, solar, and wind power.  The energy resource and engineering sector currently employs a variety of engineers and transportation professionals, mostly in the private sector.

More than seventy percent of Americans live in urban areas, and the planning and design sector of environmental work seeks to mitigate the effects of issues such as smog, crime, traffic, and congestion.  Planning and design engineers often work within a geographical boundary and devise ways to deal with decaying cities, accommodate suburban growth, reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, and preserve areas of open space.  Architects, city planners, and surveyors are some of the major occupations in the planning and design sector.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was established in 1862, and the National Forest Service was formed under its umbrella in 1902, with the National Park Service following in 1916.  Much of the forestry and outdoor recreation sector of environmental work falls under these two governmental departments.  The forestry and recreation sector is concerned with preserving and reestablishing natural habitats and forests, soil testing, and recreational facilitation and employs forestry technicians, range managers, soil scientists, and park rangers.

Biological and life sciences workers are primarily concerned with studying life processes for the purposes of solving pollution problems, decreasing dependence on nonrenewable energy sources, and developing efficient means of food production and distribution.  Almost half of the workers in this sector are actively employed in research of some sort in the field or the laboratory.  Many are employed by various government agencies and include biologists, oceanographers, chemists, and toxicologists.

The agricultural and animal sciences sector is concerned with efficient farming of crops and raising of cattle.  Workers in this sector are employed by a variety of large and small companies, as well as some agencies of the federal government including the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Agricultural and animal sciences workers include agricultural engineers, botanists, animal scientists, and veterinarians.

Waste management and environmental site assessment deals with the issues of dwindling landfill space, safe treatment of hazardous materials, and environmental cleanup.  Environmental waste management and cleanup became a priority with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970 which sought to balance human needs with the need to preserve the environment.  Workers in the waste management and environmental site assessment sector include environmental risk managers and solid and hazardous waste management professionals.

A large proportion of careers in the environmental sector require a background in the sciences.  Many require a least a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering, biology, chemistry, forestry, geology, physics, or meteorology.  Technicians must have a certificate of training or two year degree from a community college or technical school, or a four year bachelor of science degree.  Many environmental professionals go on to pursue advanced degrees, often after first becoming established in their chosen field.

For more information about environmental issues and careers in the environmental sector, visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Air and Waste Management Association (A&WMA), American Planning Association, and Soil and Water Conservation Society websites.

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