Black youth and young adults could benefit from President Joe Biden’s new American Climate Corps workforce and training service initiative if the program mirrors similar programs from the nation’s past.
The administration rolled the program out last month as part of a federal initiative to reverse or temper some of the damage from climate change. The ACC program will offer a wide range of jobs, including coastal wetland restoration and forest management, as well as renewable energy production involving solar farms, windmill farms, home energy generation, and home efficiency upgrades, to name a few projects. White House national climate adviser Ali Zaidi told reporters the initiative will also train a new generation of electricians to install renewable and efficient technologies, including heat pumps and electric car chargers.
“The American Climate Corps, just in its first year of recruitment, will put to work a new diverse generation of more than 20,000 Americans doing the important task of conserving and restoring our lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, (and) deploying clean energy…” Zaidi said.
Biden resorted to executive action to couch the jobs program into the federal system after Senate and House Republicans removed the program from the Inflation Reduction Act earlier this year with the help of fossil fuel Democrat Joe Manchin, of West Virginia.
The American Climate Corps is a hands-on work program for people interested in getting their hands dirty and using their talent or education to put new projects on the ground or help with forest reclamation efforts. Biden and his administration are lauding the program for its inclusiveness, which could succeed where previous “integrated” social improvement projects failed. The federal government attempted similar work programs in the 1930s in the aftermath of the Great Depression, which hit minority communities particularly hard. Like the more recent National Recession, Black unemployment during the Great Depression was significantly higher than that of white people, and their recovery was comparatively slower and more rocky. The U.S. initially worked to create a federal relief program in the 1930s that integrated minority participation. This included widescale federal employment programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
Many scenic Civilian Conservation Corps products still exist today, including state parks like Mississippi’s Tishomingo Park. In many cases, white-led states like Mississippi have made no equivalent investment in places like Tishomingo Park since CCC workforces built its stone cabins, hiking trails and suspension bridges. The ubiquitous racism that defines the U.S. eventually destroyed the inclusive spirit of early work programs like CCC, and Black participants found themselves either weeded out or pushed into menial work. Advocates say racism is not likely to be an issue this time.
“… [A]s demand for trained clean energy and resilience workers surges, we’ll need all hands on deck for a fair transition,” said Evergreen Action Industry and Workforce Policy Lead Trevor Dolan. “This means ensuring clear pathways to good union jobs, prioritizing historically underserved communities, and making legacy investments in young leaders of color.”
Dolan predicted the initial 20,000 people serving in the corps “will be key in this transition,” charting a new path to climate action that will last generations.
The Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of the Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy and AmeriCorps are already signing a memorandum of understanding establishing the new program. AmeriCorps is creating an “American Climate Corps hub” to support the initiative.
The White House unveiled a website for the new initiative here, and will likely flesh out information over the next few weeks. If the program follows the formula of similar work programs from the last century, plenty of “hands-on” field work will require employees to relocate out of state, at least temporarily.