Top 5 Faux Careers To Avoid Discussing Global Warming

By Andrew Freedman

This may come as a shock to you, but global warming is a controversial subject in the United States these days. (No, really, it is.)

The very existence of man-made global warming, not to mention the array of policy choices for responding to it, are such flash points in American politics that it’s nearly impossible to raise the subject in social settings without sparking an awkward conversation. Worse, those discussions are nearly always set spiraling downward by the most annoying question ever posed to a climate scientist or journalist: “So, do you believe in global warming?”

I’ve been in too many uncomfortable global warming-related conversations with strangers to count at this point, and it’s tiring. It’s one thing if I’m speaking at a public event or a scientific conference, where I’m trying to foster greater understanding of the climate challenge. In other settings, I really don’t want to get into a debate with people, like the time I was seated next to a coal industry lobbyist at my cousin’s bar mitzvah. (He really, really wanted to talk about “Climategate.”)

As much as I hate to admit, sometimes it’s simply easier to dodge a question about what I do for a living—or flat out lie—than to endure another heated argument.

I’m sure my wariness is shared by many fellow climate researchers and communicators. We share a bond with others whose work is controversial or unpopular—like personal injury attorneys, Goldman Sachs executives, and, judging from recent approval ratings, any member of Congress—and those who truly need a cover story, like CIA operatives. 

So as a service to fellow climate professionals, here’s a ready-made list of the Top 5 socially acceptable—and conversation enabling—professions to fall back on in case you’re on a plane or at a cocktail party and are aiming for pleasant banter with strangers rather than a heated conversation about global warming.

1. Chiropractor

Pros: The quintessential boring-sound profession. Who really wants to find out more about what it’s like to be a chiropractor? I’ll tell you who: no one.

Cons: You might be asked to help crack someone’s back. To avoid this, say you would be happy to, but you’re not a very good chiropractor.

2. You work at Baby Gap

Pros: Everyone loves baby clothes. Even people who aren’t fond of babies think baby clothes are super cute.

Cons: Be prepared for an onslaught of baby photos, boring stories about their kids, or being asked to hold a baby you didn’t realize was hiding under the table.

3. You work in a knot store

Pros: Because this is so clearly a lie, it will discourage follow-up questions. But if you have an offbeat sense of humor, it might be worth trying. It’s inspired by a sketch from the IFC television show, “Portlandia,” in which Jeff Goldblum plays a purveyor of different types of knots, which are sold for decorative purposes.

Cons: Because this is so clearly a lie, people will think you’re a jerk.

4. Tech entrepreneur

Pros: Launching a tech start-up in New York or Silicon Valley sounds hip and cool and you don’t need a coherent explanation of what your company does because no one would understand it anyway. Just say it’s a cross between Twitter, FourSquare and Instagram, with none of Facebook’s privacy concerns.

Cons: If you don’t know what a thumb drive is or haven’t figured out how to use e-mail, let alone fill out a Facebook profile, you might want to skip this one.

5. Consultant

Pros: It’s the least descriptive job title of the modern era. So it’s perfect. And you can pretty much come up with anything as an answer to the inevitable follow up question. For example: “I consult with Jos. A. Bank clothing stores on what sales to advertise. This week, it’s ‘buy one suit, get nine suits, a tie, a shirt, and a pair of wrinkle-free pants, free!’ ”

Cons: You may have to explain how Jos. A. Bank makes money given how its over-the-top promotions have grown more ridiculous with each passing week.

The key with each of these is to then steer the conversation off in another, non-controversial direction.

Or you can tell them you’re really a CIA operative.