A Modern CCC Would Support the Climate, the Economy and Equity

If you turn on the TV or scroll through Twitter, you can see the disastrous impacts of climate change. Some of us only have to look out our windows to see it. Climate change isn’t just coming — it’s here.

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico four years ago, claiming lives, collapsing an electric grid based on imported dirty fuels and turning individuals into climate refugees. Sierra Club President Ramón Cruz was one of them. Now his new home in New York, far from the tropical origins of these storms, faces similar devastation from Hurricane Ida’s flood waters and destruction.

In northern Colorado, in the district Rep. Joe Neguse represents, communities have experienced record-setting wildfires, fatal flash flooding and some of the worst air quality in the world — just in the last calendar year. Two lives were lost in the East Troublesome Fire, and three more during floods in the Cameron Peak burn scar earlier this summer.

We face multiple unprecedented, interconnected existential crises — crises that threaten our sense of normalcy, our shared humanity, and our planet on a daily basis. COVID-19 created significant economic disruption. Public lands are suffering from years of neglect and exploitation. And the climate crisis continues to devastate Black, brown and indigenous communities, dirtying the air and poisoning the water in low-income communities and communities of color. We can combat all of these crises by investing in a modern version of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps.

The original CCC was transformative. From building national parks to conservation and flood relief, it got people back to work restoring our landscapes — and our national pride. The program was not flawless, but it was creative and ambitious. It set an example we can look to as we take on this era’s existential challenges. A modern CCC will invest in America, our environment, our infrastructure and our people.

There is no shortage of work required to build a clean energy economy. A modern CCC would build healthy and safe communities that are resilient to storms and floods, expand access to renewable energy, weatherize buildings and install electric vehicle charging stations.

Other work would help fulfill President Joe Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative by rehabilitating forests and wetlands, planting trees, building urban parks and repairing trails and public lands. All this work would improve community health, develop the green infrastructure needed to take on the climate crisis, and expand access to the lands and waters that we love.

An ambitious CCC would put hundreds of thousands of Americans back on the job at good wages. Those who join would receive valuable job training as climate and resiliency workers. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create good jobs for every young person who wants one while doing essential work to secure our climate future.

A modern CCC can also be an equity and justice driver. A new corps should look like America and address the disproportionate impacts of climate change, like the deadly urban heat island effect, felt by communities of color across the country. Requiring that at least 50 percent of CCC projects take place in communities most impacted by environmental harms, and recruiting at least 50 percent of corps members from those communities, would increase the climate resilience of those neighborhoods while beginning the work of undoing the harms of years of economic disinvestment.

From fires in the Pacific Northwest to ice storms in Texas, we have seen what our climate future looks like if we do nothing. The challenges we face are immense, and we must act. A modern CCC could be a transformative investment in our country and our people, but only if we are bold in our vision. Our climate future is at stake — we cannot afford to go small.


Rep. Joe Neguse is the representative for Colorado’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he serves as chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

Ramón Cruz is the president of the Sierra Club Board of Directors and an environmental policy and advocacy expert; he previously served as deputy director of Puerto Rico’s environmental regulatory agency.

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