Like most parents, I think carefully about my kids’ future. I want them to be happy and safe and have love and joy in their lives. I also want them to be able to get meaningful work that pays a decent salary and offers healthcare and other benefits. I want them to be protected from the disasters the climate crisis threatens to bring.
But I know that none of this is guaranteed. Today, good jobs are out of reach for many young people, who are unemployed at double the rate of the population at large. Those who do find jobs often discover that, thanks in part to employers’ decades-long war on unions, they’re paid barely enough to sustain themselves — and they can forget about health care. We’ve also failed to invest in a clean energy economy or community resilience on anywhere near the scale it will take to shield our children from climate disaster. These challenges are magnified for young people who are Black and brown, or who grew up in poverty.
One proposal that gives me hope for all our kids’ futures is the Civilian Climate Corps (CCC). The program is inspired by the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps, but updated for the era of climate crisis. It would pay young people, veterans, and others to conserve our public lands and waters — especially the forests and wetlands that help counter the effects of climate change — transition the country to clean energy, clean transportation, and clean buildings; and help communities recover after climate disasters.
An ambitious Civilian Climate Corps could help us meet our climate goals and keep our communities safe from extreme weather. It could supply the workforce needed to protect 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030 — the minimum scientists say is necessary to mitigate and build resilience against climate change — as well as the helping hands that prepare communities for climate change-fueled storms. A new generation of CCC parks employees could increase access to the outdoors for all, ensuring those who come after them enjoy a direct connection to nature on a thriving planet.
We could also use the CCC to kick off a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, by paying people family-sustaining wages to do the work our communities so badly need. For example, President Biden has proposed using the program to put former coal miners back to work reclaiming abandoned mines and oil and gas wells, which pollute the air, water, and climate long after fossil fuel companies skip town and leave communities in the dust.
As we push for a revamped CCC, we can’t allow the original program’s flaws to be repeated. The 1930s program hired only young men, and racial discrimination and segregation were rampant. It should be obvious, but this time around we must ensure that Congress invests in a Corps that looks like America, and addresses the disproportionate impacts of climate change and economic disinvestment felt by communities of color across the country.
This new iteration of the CCC offers us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create good jobs for every young person who wants one and to help ensure their safety in a climate-changed world. We owe it to the next generation to seize this moment. Let’s join young climate activists from across the country in demanding a bold Civilian Climate Corps rooted in principles of equity and justice.