President Joe Biden unveiled his administration’s new plan to tackle climate change last month.
The initiative, the American Climate Corps, seeks to involve the American public in the growth of the renewable energy sector of the economy while boosting high-paying jobs, The White House announced in a Sept. 20 press release.
“The American Climate Corps will mobilize a new, diverse generation of more than 20,000 Americans,” the release read.
Chris Williams, co-director of the Office of Sustainability and professor of wildlife ecology at the university, said it is “really exciting that the new Climate Corps was announced. It’s an old idea. It follows FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps of the ’30s.”
Williams went on to mention the benefits the initiative might yield for students, as it is “geared towards young people.”
Additionally, Williams stated the new initiative aims to “right the wrongs of the ‘30s” as the Civilian Conservation Corps was geared towards mainly men.
When commenting on diversity within the fields of climate mitigation and wildlife conservation, Williams explained that the new American Climate Corps can be used as a pathway for more diverse employment.
Williams said diverse employment would be a significant boost to the United States Forest Service and other federal conservation agencies where historically, about “20%, if you’re lucky, are from people of color or Hispanic/Latino backgrounds,” he said.
In 2017, the United States Forest Service employee base was 17% non-white, according to data in the Journal of Forestry.
There is a certain allotment of optimism, as well as concern, for the new initiative. This is especially true for students within the environmental fields at the university, who may look to this for a career in the future.
Madison Drew, president of the Student Sustainability Alliance, had concerns about the messaging and clarity of the Climate Corps. When she asked fellow students at a gathering for university climate advocacy groups on Sept. 28, she found that only three of the six she spoke to had heard of Biden’s new initiative.
“The thing I’m worried about is they’re like, ‘Oh, the first year is 20,000 people or students,’ or whatnot, and then they never gave a specific number for how it would grow, which is what concerns me,” Drew said.
However, Drew said that in terms of gauging students, they “seem excited about it,” whether they were already aware or had just learned of the Climate Corps.
Drew and Williams both expressed concern about how and who would interact with the Office of Sustainability on the Climate Corps. Williams said “there is no good answer” to how the Climate Corps would interact with the office or student groups on campus.
Williams compared the Climate Corps to AmeriCorps, a federal agency that focuses on civic engagement through service projects in communities nationwide. The primary difference between the two is that AmeriCorps did not have a comprehensive outreach program, according to Williams.
Philip Barnes, an assistant professor at the Biden Institute and a policy scientist for the Institute for Public Administration, has published research in the field of local climate change adaptation, community engagement, civil society and sustainable community development.
When speaking on how the Climate Corps could build the next generation of climate resilience, Barnes suggested that the “next group of public servants,” whether they are elected, appointed or assigned, “use those soft sciences to make legislative, administrative, and policy changes in their communities that are also part of climate adaptation.”
Barnes proposed it would be viable for creating visible change for local change agents and people who would be involved directly with the community in utilizing the Climate Corps’ federal resources to build up particularly disadvantaged communities.
Barnes used an example about the Delaware area and flooding, stating that there are “different dynamics in terms of the politics … So what you need are these embedded agents for positive climate resilience to work with these communities.”
According to Barnes, local governments and townships are well aware of the climate issues that face them, and having that local agent coordinate should help curtail those issues. Barnes expressed that higher education should help “plug those gaps” regarding the technicality of climate change issues.
A.R. Siders, director of the university’s Climate Change Hub and a professor at the Biden School of Public Policy & Administration, spoke on the factors that the Climate Corps could relate to in terms of military readiness and mainstreaming climate change in higher education.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has described climate change as an “existential threat.” Siders agreed when referring to readiness for U.S. military personnel domestically, stating that if they need to get to a military installation and the pathway to that base is blocked due to a climate change-related disaster, it can be a considerable issue for any threats the country faces.
“Maybe there will be some overlap in communities that are near military bases,” Siders said. “A lot of the national security issues for the military are either thinking about their base security in light of climate change.”
“I think there’s a trickle effect,” Siders said when talking about implementing climate mitigation policy. “As people … [we] see what becomes normal somewhere else, then that just that influences what people think is the norm is the standard what’s possible.”
Siders put forth that climate mitigation needs to be more involved in higher education. She also emphasized the need for climate knowledge in fields such as engineering.
“The Climate Corps I think has the potential to help communities to build capacity to help communities build their future,” Siders said.