Young people want to do something about climate change. Biden may have an answer.

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, December 3, 2020

An often-overlooked piece of President-elect Joe Biden’s climate plan is a proposed program to put people in their late teens and 20s to work safeguarding the country against the effects of global warming.

During the campaign, Biden called for mobilizing “the next generation of conservation and resilience workers through a Civilian Climate Corps.” Now Biden’s allies are beginning to think about what exactly such a program will look like as he prepares to take office next month.

“The reason that I’m excited is that it meets the moment,” said Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, who worked with Biden’s late son Beau as head of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and who was one of the first major environmentalists to endorse Biden. “It’s a way to solve multiple problems in a very nonpartisan way.”

But the Biden administration will have to contend with a sharply divided Congress, where lawmakers are still struggling to agree on pandemic relief.


Putting young people to conservation work is a two-birds-with-one-stone win, proponents say.


A work program that has young people planting trees, restoring wetlands and otherwise helping nature sequester carbon dioxide would help boost the economy weighed down by the coronavirus pandemic and bolster ecosystems battered by fiercer floods and fires, they argue.

Past Democratic presidents have enlisted young people to respond to crises of their day. Franklin D. Roosevelt launched a key part of his New Deal program, the Civilian Conservation Corps, in 1933 to put young men to work during the Great Depression. Three decades later, John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps to exert soft power against Russia in the midst of the Cold War.

Similar conservation programs run by some state governments, including California and New Jersey, help fight forest fires and run hunting programs. And a number nongovernmental organizations run their own corps programs, too.

“Young Americans are more concerned about climate change than any previous generation, and that’s in big part because they were born into the daily consequences of climate change,” said Tom Murray, a vice president at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, which runs its own climate corps that places graduate students in local governments and businesses.

“The interest from young graduate students across the country far exceeds our ability to keep up with them,” Murray said.


That economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak has hit young adults particularly hard.


“It is absolutely necessary and timely, even before covid-19 and the economic downturn that resulted,” said Mary Ellen Sprenkel, head of the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, which represents about 135 service programs.

“Young people between 18 and 25, particularly those from low-income and minority communities, have much higher unemployment rates.”


A lot of Biden’s climate plan won’t make it past Senate Republicans. But a climate corps has a chance.


The fate of much of Biden’s $2 trillion proposal to cut emissions from the electric and transportation sectors will depend of whether Democrats win two runoff Senate elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.

But Republicans, especially ones with rural constituencies, have gone to bat for similar work programs.

For example, the Trump administration backed away from shutting down a U.S. Forest Service program called the Job Corps that trains disadvantaged young people after bipartisan outcry in Congress, including from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“There is demonstrable bipartisan support for it,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a Biden confidant. In June, Coons introduced a bill with more than a half-dozen Republican co-sponsors boosting funding for service programs nationwide.

On the other side of the political spectrum, progressive climate activists often point to the Civilian Conservation Corps and the rest of Roosevelt’s economic agenda as inspiration for their own Green New Deal proposal.


One big question: How to get a climate corps going?


Biden could stand up a new corps through an executive order — similar to how Kennedy launched the Peace Corps in 1961 and got congressional authorization for it the following year.

By repurposing existing funds, “the potential is there to have to put tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people to work,” O’Mara said,

But he added, “If you want to have multiple millions go to work, you’re going to need congressional appropriations.”

Plenty of high-quality national service programs focusing on conservation exist across the country, Coons said. He thinks it would make sense for Congress to boost funding of them — both to hire more people and pay them better wages.

“There is this existing nationwide infrastructure for national service,” he said. “The challenge isn’t, do you need to create a whole new infrastructure? It is, can you get the funding?”