A Jobs-Killing Civilian Climate Corps Is Not the Way To Fix Climate Change
Establishing a new Civilian Climate Corps (CCC) is one of the items in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion 2022 Budget Resolution Agreement Framework. According to that framework agreement, funding the new CCC would come out of $726 billion being overseen by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; the $135 billion allocated to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; and the $20.5 billion managed by the Committee on Indian Affairs. The Biden administration has proposed an initial budget of $10 billion for the program. More ambitiously, Sen. Ed Markey (D–Mass.) and Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) have introduced legislation creating a CCC that would hire 1.5 million Americans and spend $130 billion over five years.
The new CCC would be modeled on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps from 80 years ago. That program, launched in the depths of the Great Depression, eventually hired some 3 million unemployed young American men between 1933 and 1942 to build national park facilities and trails, plant 3 billion trees, and fight forest fires.
Progressives are nothing if not persistent. Back during the Great Recession in 2009, some 80 progressive activist organizations proposed the creation of a Clean Energy Corps that would hire 600,000 Americans to “comprehensively apply cost-effective, energy-efficiency measures—from adding insulation to replacing inefficient boilers—to over 15 million existing buildings.” Also in 2009, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D–Ohio) introduced the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act that aimed to “employ unemployed or underemployed U.S. citizens in the construction, maintenance, and carrying on of works of a public nature, such as forestation of U.S. and state lands, prevention of forest fires, floods, and soil erosion, and construction and repair of National Park System paths and trails.” Kaptur has since reintroduced her bill in every subsequent session of Congress.
In June 2020, congressional Democrats released their Solving the Climate Crisis report, which outlines their “action plan for a clean energy economy.” The report called for Congress to reestablish the Civilian Conservation Corps and to create a Climate Resilience Service Corps that would engage in such efforts as reforestation and remediating abandoned mines and oil wells.
On January 27, President Joe Biden issued an executive order entitled “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” that, among other things, directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a strategy to create a Civilian Climate Corps. The new CCC would, among other things, “mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers and maximize the creation of accessible training opportunities and good jobs” with the goal of restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation and carbon sequestration, protecting biodiversity and addressing climate change.
The congressional Democrats are basically correct when they assert in their letter that “2020 was the worst fire season on record, burning over 10.2 million acres and costing over $16 billion in damages and $3 billion in suppression costs.” U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Jeremy Littell and his colleagues find that there have been three eras with respect to the amount of area burned in the western U.S.: Extensive burning declined from the 1920s and ’30s in part due to more vigorous fire suppression activities in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and then began to rise again after 1990.
The 2020 burned area figures calculated by Littell in the chart below for my chapter on how insurance could be used to manage fire risk in California in Adapt and Be Adept were provisional. By the end of the year, a record of 9.4 million acres had burned in the 11 western states cited in his earlier trend analysis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) notes, “There is medium confidence that weather conditions that promote wildfires have become more probable in Southern Europe, northern Eurasia, the USA, an
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