05/23/2013 02:10 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2013

Career Opportunities in the Emerging Sustainable Society

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You're thinking about your career at a unique point in history. One system is dying as another is being born. We're in the middle of a huge transition as the old, unsustainable ways are collapsing but the new, sustainable economy is just starting up.

We're all part of the Make or Break Generation: Will we destroy our own life support systems beyond repair or will we quickly learn how to live and prosper in harmony with the rest of nature?

We're just starting to realize that we can't have a healthy economy without a healthy environment and a socially just society. As Earth Day founder Senator Gaylord Nelson once said, "The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment."

We've been living the big lie: the delusion that humans are somehow separate from and superior to the rest of nature so we don't have to respect nature's laws and limits.

The predictable result of this insane idea is that most sectors of our society are in some form of collapse. We have Peak Everything -- shortages of clean water, non-contaminated food, healthy soil, fossil-fueled energy -- plus huge overpopulation. We have escalating climate disruption, horrendous species loss, out of control debt and economic disruption.

Former Harvard Business School economics professor David Korten calls this period in history "The Great Turning." Others call it "transition" or even "collapse." Those of us living on the huge, ungainly Titanic of our current life-destroying economy are slowly starting to abandon the bloated, degenerating systems that "couldn't fail" as we struggle to reach (or create) the lifeboats that offer another smaller, lighter way of surviving.

So what's the good news in this terrible situation? There is opportunity in the crisis. We need to redesign, reinvent and rebuild every sector of our society to bring it into alignment with nature's operating systems -- and that means jobs!

Most people think of these opportunities in terms of "green jobs." But that's just a start. It isn't just land care, transportation and energy systems that need to be re-engineered -- it's every sector of society, including health care, education, food systems, shelter, clothing, social systems, law, technology, financial systems, the arts, media, community governance -- even a category called "heart, soul and spirit."

So I advise my students and career counseling clients to choose a sector of society that calls to their deepest nature and finest talents -- and redesign it to fit the world of the future. Some will try to solve these problems at the macro levels, and some will focus on re-localized goods and services. Both are critically important.

I admit this challenge sounds a lot more difficult that just finding a slot in an existing system (a deck chair on the Titanic) and settling down to what seems like business as usual. But as students soon find out, every sector of society is in huge transition -- there are no comfortable berths left. The only way to survive in today's and tomorrow's economy is to be part of the change, part of the transition and adaptation to living on a vastly changed planet.