The newly authorized American Climate Corps will employ 20,000 young people in its first year. Youth in the paid training programs will conserve and restore lands and waters, bolster community resilience, deploy clean energy, implement energy efficient technologies, and advance environmental justice. The White House announcement explains that the program will offer “skills-based training necessary for good-paying careers in the clean energy and climate resilience economy,” and in doing so, will “mobilize a new, diverse generation.”
The American Climate Corps is a very clever program. It attracts young people who might feel daunted or powerless in the face of the intimidating obstacles that stifle quick climate action progress. It reshapes the narrative so that full youth climate idealism can accommodate a difficult pragmatism: transitioning from 150 years of fossil fuel power and a current supply of about 80% of the world’s energy to a planet powered by renewables is messy and multi-layered.
Participants in the American Climate Corp will install wind and solar projects, assist homeowners in enhancing energy efficiency, manage forests to improve health and prevent catastrophic wildfires, implement energy efficient solutions to cut energy bills for hardworking families, and restore ecosystems like coastal wetlands in order to fortify towns from flooding.
The American Climate Corp has some heady unstated goals:
- to provide education and to fill in training gaps for youth considering clean energy careers
- to prod employers to take advantage of federal investments in recruitment, education, and apprenticeships
- to assist growing companies to prioritize diversity and inclusion in hiring
All American Climate Corps programs will be paid experiences that adhere to a common set of programmatic standards. The Departments of Labor, Interior, Agriculture, and Energy as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will sign a memorandum of understanding to formalize an American Climate Corps hub.
Pre-apprenticeships include an historic $20 million cooperative agreement with the TradesFutures, a non-profit working to develop, promote, and improve Apprenticeship Readiness Programs and to advance equitable opportunities in construction trades. TradesFutures has a goal to enroll more than 13,000 participants in pre-apprenticeship readiness programs – giving them hands-on learning experience and skill development – and expects to subsequently place at least 7,000 of them into Registered Apprenticeships in the construction industry.
Capturing Youth Idealism & Translating It into Practical Experience
Remember how young people were so disappointed at the outcomes of the COP 26 meeting of nations in Glasgow? Their green idealism clashed with behind-the-scenes negotiations threaded with fossil fuel companies’ influence.
Remember how Greta Thunberg was indignant at the World Economic Forum in 2019? “I want you to act as if the house is on fire,” she told her youth audience and the power brokers inside the Forum, “because it is.” She continues to lead youth toward a climate idealism that challenges and replaces scientific materialism as the dominant ideology and ethos of the western world. Such climate action rhetoric infuses the qualities we experience in the world — subjective phenomenal experiences such as listening to a waterfall while hiking or appreciating a stunning sunset at a beach.
This is an important bridge between the scientific method and metaphysical conceptions of reality — a necessary if heightened authenticity.
Youth enthusiasm for protests must translate into practical experience, and, for many of these young activists, this can become a lifelong career. “We called on President Biden to create a Civilian Climate Corps, and today he is delivering,” Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) said in a statement. “We must mobilize and train Americans to tackle the threats climate change poses to our communities by putting people to work on thousands of projects with one shared sense of purpose.”
David Brooks, the New York Times moderate Republican columnist, describes President Joe Biden as someone who has used the office of Executive in Chief “to direct resources to those who live in the parts of the country where wages are lower, where education levels are lower, where opportunities are skimpier.” By one Treasury Department estimate, more than 80% of the investments sparked by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) are going to counties with below-average college graduation rates and nearly 90% are being made in counties with below-average wages.
“That was the medicine a riven country needed,” Brooks continues, saying the Democratic party was always part of a larger picture, “an ethos, a heritage, a tradition.” Driven by a “working-class heart,” the Democrats cultivated “progressivism in a set of values that emphasized hard work, neighborhood, faith, family, and flag. Being connected to Americans’ everyday experiences kept the party pinioned to the mainstream.”
Now the American Climate Corps will continue to emphasize that set of Democratic values that emphasize social equality and equal opportunity, the rights of underrepresented groups, and the fight for an economy that works for everyone by lowering costs for working families and investing in the middle class.
A Future Circular Economy Underpins the Climate Corp
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy is a systemic approach to economic development that is regenerative by design; it aims to gradually decouple growth from the consumption of finite resources. Integral to a circular economy is clean and renewable energy. The argument goes that natural systems thrive on current solar income, and human systems could, too. Renewable energy is clean (at the point of use), low cost to operate, creates no emissions in use, and utilizes abundant resources.
The Climate Corps builds upon the best of a circular economy philosophy: it takes inspiration from natural systems, celebrates diversity, and focuses on the transition to clean and renewable energy. It captures what might otherwise be missing ingredients in a cradle to cradle design.
Research indicates that young people believe in the principles and priorities of a circular economy (CE) but do not receive enough support to participate and implement the priorities actively. Mostly, that’s because formal education these days does not provide youth with enough knowledge to work in this field actively.
“Young people are not sufficiently trained to reason, think, evaluate, make connections, and create new solutions for the CE,” the researchers conclude. “Young people see themselves as the ones who are well informed about the CE but do not have the opportunity to implement, study, and apply the principle of the CE in real cases.”
Today’s youth will have to live with the consequences of climate breakdown and ecological disaster, species loss, and pollution. For them, the role of education is key. As Terry Hyland from the Free University of Dublin argues, properly taught climate crisis education should be “integrated into subject areas across the curriculum—not just physics, chemistry, and geography but economics, history, arts, and food technology. It would be integrated into vocational training courses as well, with plumbing courses teaching how to install low carbon heating systems and catering colleges covering sustainable diets.”
Because it affects every aspect of our lives, essential climate crisis pedagogy would be “a thread woven into every part of our education system,” just as it impacts every part of our lives. Until that time, the American Climate Corps will have to take on the role of educating youth in the pragmatics of clean energy.
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