A Call to Action for a Climate Conservation Corps

By Governor Jay Inslee

It is time to face an urgent crisis with the spirit of public service that is deeply embedded in our American tradition. That is why today I am calling for the creation of a Climate Conservation Corps (or “Climate Corps”) that will help mobilize the American people to rise to the defining challenge of our time: defeating climate change.

America rose to the challenge of the Great Depression under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933 that put Americans to work to “conserve our precious natural resources.” President Roosevelt correctly predicted that the CCC “will pay dividends to the present and future generations.” In proposing the creation of the Peace Corps, in 1960, President John F. Kennedy recognized that America held an"immense reservoir of such men and women - anxious to sacrifice their energies and time and toil to the cause of world peace and human progress."

Ten years ago, we built on that legacy of service when President Barack Obama signed the Serve America Act. As a Congressman, I was proud to have authored a provision of that law: the national Clean Energy Service Corps. This corps was created to provide service, green skills and job-training opportunities for disadvantaged youth in communities throughout the country as they implemented energy efficiency, waste reduction, and conservation projects. It contributed in building the Conservation Corps network - a movement that today involves some 30,000 Americans. But the Clean Energy Service Corps was never fully funded, after Republicans took control of Congress in 2010.

Now, 10 years later, it’s time for a bigger, more ambitious proposal. The Climate Corps will organize the greatest renewable resource of all - the talent and energy of the American people - to work together in cities and rural communities, in our great parks and public lands, and all around the planet. It will give young people the opportunity to serve in the domestic and global effort to secure a healthy future, and will provide Americans of all ages and backgrounds with education, skills, job-training and employment opportunities to thrive in building our new clean energy economy.

This Climate Corps will have three elements. The first of these programs, called the National Climate Service Corps, will give young Americans the opportunity to serve in creating sustainability solutions in their own communities. They’ll get right to work changing the world with their hands, even as they earn new skills to assist in future employment: learning how to retrofit buildings, install solar panels on rooftops, and build healthier and pollution-free communities with clean water, food security, and green development. Their work will also include the conservation of natural resources and addressing the backlog of public lands projects. And it will involve recovering and rebuilding resilient communities in the face of increasingly devastating climate disasters.

The second component is a Global Climate Service Corps, which will give Americans the opportunity to conduct a tour of service overseas working side by side with local partners, as they build expertise in climate mitigation and resilience, clean water, and sustainable economic development. This program, like the National Climate Service Corps, will prioritize opportunity for low-income and disadvantaged young men and women and also those with advanced degrees who can put their skills to work. What better way to help young Americans learn about the challenges facing our global community, and to rebuild America's standing and its partnerships in the world (which have been so badly damaged during the Trump presidency), than by sending them out to help rebuild a more sustainable world?

The third component of this Climate Corps initiative is a Green Careers Network, which will build on national service to focus on the challenge of permanent job creation in a clean energy economy. This effort will expand investments in skills-training, apprenticeships and on-the-job education to award credentials and build career ladders for long-term employment in good jobs. It will partner with labor unions, businesses, technical schools, non-profit organizations, and community development institutions – working with existing infrastructure for training and placement to connect Americans with new jobs and lifelong careers. And it will support the alumni of the service corps as well as Americans of all ages and backgrounds who want to get involved in growing green industries.

No one feels the urgency of this mounting climate crisis more acutely than young people. Today they are mobilizing to demand that elected leaders give them a fighting chance at a healthy future. This movement is spurred on by the obvious peril of climate change, but it is also inspired by a vision of hope. And the concept of a Climate Corps is one that appeals to Americans of all ages – receiving over 60% support, including majorities of both Democrats and Independents, according to polling done by the think tank Data for Progress.

The climate challenge that lies before us is enormous. But by rising to meet it, we can call upon the greatest American traditions in our creativity, our ingenuity, and our strength. This is our moment, through service, to overcome greatest challenge of our time.