The United States is about to embark on an experiment inspired by one of the New Deal’s most popular programs. On Wednesday, the Biden administration authorized the creation of the American Climate Corps through an executive order. The program would hire 20,000 young people in its first year, putting them to work installing wind and solar projects, making homes more energy-efficient, and restoring ecosystems like coastal wetlands to protect towns from flooding…
Reviving the Civilian Conservation Corps is widely popular, with 84 percent of Americans supporting the idea in polling conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication last year. Mark Paul, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University, said the new name that swapped “Civilian” for “American” leans into patriotism in an effort to broaden the program’s appeal even further.
“I think that right now we are in a fight for the very soul of the nation,” Paul said. “President Biden and other Democrats are trying to brand climate [action] as not only good for the environment, but good for America. And I think that’s precisely what they are trying to convey with this name change, that climate jobs are good for the American people.”
With the goal of hiring 20,000 a year, the new program is much smaller than many activists had hoped: The original CCC employed 300,000 men in just its first three months (women were excluded until Eleanor Roosevelt’s “She-She-She” camps opened in 1934). Some progressives, like Ocasio-Cortez, were hoping a climate corps could employ 1.5 million people over five years. Assuming all goes well, the program could expand. Paul speculates that the Biden administration is starting small as “proof of concept to the American people to show that this program can work and that it is worthy of investment.”
If interest in the American Climate Corps is high, those 20,000 slots could fill up quickly. Among the 1,200 likely voters polled by Data for Progress two years ago, half of those under 45 said they’d consider joining, given the chance.
“I teach youth day in and day out, and one of the biggest problems we face right now is youth feeling like they don’t know what to do,” Paul said. “And now we have a program that the U.S. government is facilitating to point to and say, ‘You know, if you want to help, here’s one way that you can contribute to decarbonizing our nation.’”