Energy and resilience projects need more boots on the ground
If Democrats and progressives have their way, thousands – or even millions – of Americans will soon be able to plant urban trees, manage forests, and make homes more energy efficient and resilient to the ravages of climate change. Can get work. They will create a new “civilian climate corps,” which lawmakers and activists hope to fund through a budget reconciliation process.
For more than a decadeVarious proposals have emerged for a new civic mobilization focused on climate adaptation. Recently, the idea has gained significant momentum. The most ambitious proposal yet was introduced in April by Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Joe Biden proposed further reducing the Civilian Climate Corps in March as part of his American Jobs plan, building on a series of previous proposals. Recently, lawmakers have insisted on involving the Corps in some form or the other in the upcoming budget reconciliation talks, joint letter House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in July.
The proposals vary in size and scope, but each will force people to work on federally funded projects that could lessen the toll climate change has on America. That could mean installing solar panels in Philadelphia, turning to sustainable urban farms in New York City, or building new career paths for former coal communities in Appalachia. The Climate Corps will be overseen by a new body within the White House, and will also boost the work of federal agencies such as FEMA that already partner with other core programs. And as the government establishes a new funding stream, there is hope that communities will find new projects and ways to adapt.
This work is already being done by several non-profit groups, and many are already looking at Climate Corp’s proposals as a way to expand. “We are ready to go,” says Julia Hillengus, executive director of one such program called PowerCorpsPHL. “There are over 130 Corps across the country. There are communities that are mature and ready to start the core… they have all the pieces in there, it’s a matter of being able to get some of that seed funding to get things on the ground.
The idea of a civic environmental mobilization on New Deal-era concepts was proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to fight depression—specifically, the Civilian Conservation Corps, started in 1933, to provide on-the-job training and stipends to young men. Many of Biden’s staff Roosevelt as the current president seeks to spur economic recovery and prepares for future shocks from the climate crisis.
Today’s core programs generally serve two purposes: to serve some kind of public good, and to prepare their members for a particular occupation. In Philadelphia, PowerCorpsPHL members join “industry academies” that focus on stormwater infrastructure, urban forestry, and solar power. Since Hilangus co-founded the program in 2013, its members have planted more than 11,000 trees—a key strategy for cooling city neighborhoods that tend to be hotter than surrounding, greener areas. . Many of his alumni later go on to find related work – for example, members of the Solar Academy may get a job installing or selling solar panels.
A similar program in New York City, called Green City Force, employs public housing residents who have built sustainable farms on public housing properties to provide organic, local produce to other residents. They remodel homes to make them more energy efficient, an occupation in which 65 percent of program graduates have gone on to find employment.
“We hear from a lot of cores that there is a need for institutional support that is equitable and equitable and strongly funded, to make sure they have the monetary resources to go out into the community to recruit people, they They need to provide training, and to hire them,” says Becca Ellison, deputy policy director at the nonprofit Evergreen Action. Evergreen, environmental activist group Sunrise Movement, and Democratic lawmakers are also asking that 50 percent of the funding and jobs for the Climate Corps go to environmental justice communities. Those are places that have become heavily burdened by pollution from industry, and typically have low-income residents and residents of color.
In the long run, advocates hope that climate mitigation and resilience initiatives can also create new, green career paths for those who might otherwise find work in coal, oil or gas.
“We can build this new world, this new Appalachia that has vibrant communities with well-paying jobs,” says Bella Williams, a sixteen-year-old community organizer from Southwest Virginia who joined the Appalachian Conservation Corps this summer. Were. “I think a lot of communities can benefit greatly from opportunities like the Civilian Climate Corps, especially in places that have been ravaged by the coal industry or other extractive industries.”
Advocates are optimistic that the package will include some sort of civilian climate corps – but the size of the program is still up for debate. The Biden administration proposed paying $10 billion over a decade, which by some estimates could be able to fund 20,000 jobs a year. Markey, Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement have sought more than $132 billion to hire 1.5 million Climate Corps members.
“[Markey and Ocasio-Cortez’s] The proposal, we believe will signal the beginning of the decade of the Green New Deal because it will give millions of good jobs to people,” says Alain Siales, communications director for the Sunrise Movement. He adds that the more expensive proposal will also ensure that the core Members earn at least $15 per hour.
Without that money, participants could be stuck making less than a living wage. Current members of programs funded by AmeriCorps receive a minimum stipend of $16,000 a year, although organizations such as PowerCorpsPHL often try to raise funds to pay their members more. The hope is that, with economic stimulus still on the White House agenda, the federal government will be ready to put in the money needed to make programs financially sustainable and make climate mitigation part of a sustainable career path for young people. .
“Young people have this money in their pockets that they are using to support their families,” Hillengus says.
The author of this story was previously a member of Public Alliance and Jumpstart, the Corps program that is part of the AmeriCorps network.