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The Climate Corps Invests in a Different Kind of Green Economy

It’s not just about decarbonization.

President Biden.
The Climate Corps Invests in a Different Kind of Green Economy
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The climate corps is back.

In his first week in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling for, among other things, the creation of a job-training program modeled after the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps that would “mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers and maximize the creation of accessible training opportunities and good jobs.” He called it the Civilian Climate Corps.

After that, the program kind of … disappeared. A version of it flitted through early drafts of the Inflation Reduction Act, but was eventually dropped. For all intents and purposes, it seemed dead.

Until yesterday, when it came back under a new name: The American Climate Corps. And it has grand ambitions, starting with putting 20,000 people to work in its first year.

"We're opening up pathways to good-paying careers, lifetimes of being involved in the work of making our communities more fair, more sustainable, more resilient," Ali Zaidi, Biden’s climate policy advisor, told reporters.

What I’m most struck by is the expansiveness with which the Biden administration defines climate jobs. There’s clean energy, of course, and if you read Heatmap with any regularity you’ve probably read my colleagues’ thoughts on the various ways the clean energy economy is evolving. Among other things, Zaidi said the climate corps will help train up electricians — a profession that my colleague Emily has written is in dire need of more recruits.

But the White House’s fact sheet about the American Climate Corps rightly also identifies what it calls the “climate resilience economy.” The corps, it says, will create jobs that range from restoring wetlands to protect communities from flooding, managing forests to prevent wildfires, and advancing environmental justice.

I find this very exciting: Decarbonization is important, of course, but this emphasis on resilience-oriented employment will prove essential as climate impacts worsen. According to Bloomberg, analysts at Bank of America predict the climate adaptation market will be worth $2 trillion a year by 2026, and the more of that money that’s spent on preventative measures the better off we will collectively be. Even the act of naming the market — “climate resilience economy” isn’t a phrase I’ve seen much before this announcement — feels important.

Much of the last year of federal climate policy, led by the IRA, has focused on energy, and this announcement shows the Biden administration is at least starting to be proactive about the various other ways climate change will transform our world. The Climate Corps provides a space for us to ask important questions about how our relationship with nature can and should change in the future; there is room here to have conversations about stewardship that often take a back seat to other economic priorities.

It’s the kind of thing youth organizers — particularly the Sunrise Movement — have long been pushing for. The idea for the climate corps first came out of negotiations between the Biden 2020 campaign and members and allies of the Bernie Sanders campaign as the two sides hashed out a platform meant to unify the Democratic party.

“I think this represents a significant step forward,” Varshini Prakash, co-founder of Sunrise and a member of the task force that worked on the unity platform, told CNN. “Young people need to see actions like this and more of it in the leadup to the 2024 election.”

Twenty thousand jobs is, to be clear, not very many in the grand scheme of things — the Civilian Conservation Corps created an estimated three million jobs over the decade it was in existence — but it is an important first step; an invitation to the table, if you will, particularly for young people who might feel otherwise helpless in the face of climate change. And unlike the Civilian Conservation Corps, which only created jobs for white men, the American Climate Corps is emphasizing the opportunities available for people from marginalized communities that will be disproportionately affected by climate change. This time around, the Climate Corps seems to say, we can shape the world in our collective image.

Sign-ups for the American Climate Corps opened on Wednesday:

Neel Dhanesha profile image

Neel Dhanesha

Neel is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Prior to Heatmap, he was a science and climate reporter at Vox, an editorial fellow at Audubon magazine, and an assistant producer at Radiolab, where he helped produce The Other Latif, a series about one detainee's journey to Guantanamo Bay. He is a graduate of the Literary Reportage program at NYU, which helped him turn incoherent scribbles into readable stories, and he grew up (mostly) in Bangalore. He tweets sporadically at @neel_dhan. Read More

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