The Worst Job Of 2075: Landfill Miner
More than one futurist has predicted that after we earthlings have used up all our natural resources, we’ll be forced into mining our old capped-and-sealed trash dumps. It’s going to be one stinky job. But it won’t be unprecedented. In the 1980s, officials in Collier County, Florida, tried to mine their local landfill to see if they could profit from the buried paper, plastics and metal discarded years before. “It was beyond imagination in terms of disgusting,” says J.W. Spear, Sr., an environmental engineer who has worked on several large-scale landfill projects. Besides dealing with the suffocating stench, landfill miners must don class-C biochem suits to contend with pockets of volatile methane gas, not to mention the highly toxic trash slurry known as leachate. “What coffee is to coffee grounds, leachate is to trash,” Spear explains. “In Florida it would spray out onto the workers, and I can tell you that’s no fun to work with.” (To practice at home, mix motor oil, antifreeze, a soiled diaper and your kitchen garbage, then shake, stir, and spritz.) To make matters worse, the materials that Florida officials hoped to resell were so foul (duh) that there was no market for them.
The Worst Job Of 2050: Glaciologist
Your bachelor’s in science is awarded in 2040, your master’s in 2042, and, after hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, you are awarded your doctorate in glaciology, class of 2050. Then, lo and behold, like some sort of academic Rip Van Winkle, when you are finally ready to zip up your parka and drill for core samples, the glaciers are gone. That’s right: Your future job is so bad, it doesn’t exist. Predictive models suggest that most of the glaciers in and around the tropics will have melted by the middle of this century. That means all the ice at Glacier National Park, on the Tibetan Plateau, in the Andes and on Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. But there’s always the Arctic, right? In the near future, sure, but in a few thousand years, according to most models, it will be gone too, the North Pole covered in water, and even the 1.8-mile block of solid ice that caps Antarctica likely to be fully melted. The good news: Oceanography promises to be booming.
The Worst Job Of 2025: Marstronaut
NASA is planning a human mission to Mars in 20-odd years, and no doubt the four to six astronauts who visit the Red Planet will come back heroes, with sponsorship deals and calls to run for Senate. They’ll deserve the glory, considering the physical and psychological torture they’ll have overcome. The trip, which will last six months each way, will take a toll on the body. “You lose 5 to 20 percent of your bone mass on long spaceflights, and you lose your cardiovascular and muscular conditioning,” says Jim Voss, a former NASA astronaut who logged five and a half months on the International Space Station. “It took me a couple weeks after returning before I could walk normally. I was exhausted all the time.” Add to that the prospect of a year cramped inside a capsule with five other type-A personalities. Throw in radiation exposure and the foreboding sense that if something goes wrong, you’re pretty much doomed. There’s nobody coming to the rescue if the Mars station malfunctions. But Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, which runs analogue Mars exploration stations in the Arctic and in Utah, puts the potential travails into perspective: “Is it going to be hard? Yes. Is it harder than what two million GIs went through during World War II? No. Anne Frank was stuck in a small, cramped space for six months, and there were Nazis running around outside. It’s not going to be harder than that.” Hey, we said it would be one of the worst jobs in science, not one of the worst things that could happen to a human being, ever.