The Civilian Climate Corps is the Civilian Conservation Corps by another name . In 1933, the US government created the CCC, an unprecedented Depression-era program that put 3 million Americans to work building national parks, fixing roads and dams, and fighting fires. It in no small part helped create the American landscape we enjoy today. “A lot of the activities of the original Civilian Conservation Corps were focused on both getting people to work, obviously, but also improving the accessibility and the infrastructure surrounding our natural resources,” says Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and the director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, which advocates for action against climate change. “I still see there's certainly a need for a fair amount of that. But I feel like, today, there's also a need for more direct community-level activities in this broader category of climate resilience and adaptation.”
That’s because the emergency that the OG Civilian Conservation Corps was meant to address was mostly unemployment. The resulting improvements to infrastructure and natural resources were swell, but secondary. The rebooted version is meant to tackle an altogether more complex, dangerous, and expensive beast: the climate crisis, which is already here and already deadly. We need people to restore wetlands to act as buffers against storm surges . We need people to do controlled burns in the West to keep ever-bigger wildfires at bay. We need people to plant trees to cool cities, because climate change is turning urban areas into ovens thanks to the heat island effect, in which concrete absorbs the sun’s energy during the day and releases it slowly at night.
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On a macro level, these are all manifestations of climate change: Temperatures are growing more extreme, droughts more severe, and storms more ferocious. But on a micro level, these are all problems communities need help to fight. It costs money to clear brush around a town to keep wildfires away, or to open dedicated cooling centers in urban areas so people can escape heatwaves. So while the original CCC was about restoring nature and infrastructure more broadly, the Civilian Climate Corps could—and should—also work to prepare urban areas for the climate crisis.
There’s a problem, though, right out of the gate. “The scale that Biden's proposing is going to be nowhere near in line with what's actually needed,” says environmental economist Mark Paul of the New College of Florida. “The president has called for $10 billion, which would be enough to maybe put to work somewhere in the range of 150,000 to 200,000 workers total.” For comparison, the Civilian Conservation Corps employed over 500,000 workers at its peak, and 3 million over the program’s lifetime. “If we simply scale that for today's population,” Paul adds, “the 21st century CCC should be employing roughly 1.5 million workers at its largest size, and perhaps upwards of 9 million workers over the duration of the program.”
These mayors are members of C40, a network of 94 large cities—Paris, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Lagos, to name a few—committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels and reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030.That declaration didn’t just reaffirm these cities’ efforts to fight climate change .
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