“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.” These words from the late Congressman Shirley Chisholm have never been more accurate than they are today. And the rent just went up.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, life on planet earth is indeed a life-threatening privilege. After eight years of research by hundreds of scientists around the world, the new 3,949-page report from the IPCC finds that human greenhouse gas emissions are “clearly” changing our climate in “dangerous”, “unprecedented” and “irreversible” ways.
Scientists find that since the beginning of human life about 300,000 years ago, the earth has not experienced the level of global warming that we see today.
Rising temperatures bring a variety of climatic extremes with them, from scorching heat waves and droughts to devastating storms and rising sea levels. Fossil fuel air pollution kills over 8 million people prematurely every year – one in five deaths worldwide – while floods now hit ten times as many people as previously known.
Of course, you probably no longer need thousands of pages of scientific research to tell you that the climate is in crisis. Our own senses and daily news feeds have been saying this for years. This summer alone, much of the western United States is battling historic heat waves and forest fires that cost hundreds of lives and immeasurable property damage, as predicted by climate science.
Closer to home, southern New Hampshire set rainfall records in July when violent storms (also a predictable result of global warming) flooded homes and eroded streets and farms. Another record-breaking hurricane season is already underway in the south.
What do these rising “rents” have to do with service? Today’s climate crisis requires a broad response, not just from governments, but from the population at large. While climate protection through massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is paramount, the time is long gone when “do no harm” alone is enough. Instead, the responsibility rests with all of us to actively repair the damage done by helping our nation and the world adapt to a destabilized climate and become resilient to future warming.
That is why America needs national mobilization such as we have not seen since World War II. It starts with building an army of a completely different kind than my grandfather joined around eighty years ago when he and his colleagues of the “Greatest Generation” encountered the existential threat posed by fascism on foreign shores.
Today’s army will be made up of millions of young Americans who come together in national service to help their own communities overcome the even greater threat of climate change while gaining the skills and resources to grow as adults in a 21st century economy to be succesfull.
Join the Civil Climate Corps. Modeled on the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps, which was an integral part of FDR’s New Deal, the Civilian Climate Corps would deliver much-needed public goods to weather the climate crisis and help our country transition to long-term sustainability.
Corps members between the ages of 17 and 24 would embed themselves in local communities to preserve our ailing public land, prevent forest fires, restore wetlands, protect biodiversity, green our cities, provide disaster relief, and stick to tried and tested Make efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and participate in the clean energy transition. As they help protect communities from climate change during their year of service, these and other AmeriCorps volunteers would earn a viable wage and be given the opportunity to attend college (or retire their college loans) before moving into the enter new sustainable economy.
Those who doubt the impact of a civilian climate corps should look no further than its predecessor, the CCC. At the height of the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps employed approximately 3 million young men to build over 100,000 miles of roads and paths, 318,000 dams, and tens of thousands of bridges across the country.
They planted billions of trees to preserve the nation’s topsoil, laid phone lines over mountain passes to connect the nation, and built or improved over 800 campsites and state parks to enable future generations to enjoy the great outdoors. They even fought forest fires and helped with hurricane relief. Your legacy is with us to this day.
In contrast to the unjust practice of the former CCC of excluding women and many people of color, today’s Civilian Climate Corps as part of an expanded AmeriCorps movement (which I had the honor of serving 20 years ago) would ensure equal opportunities for all, especially marginalized groups , guarantee.
Rather than just focusing on small towns and public land, a modern CCC would also respond to the myriad climate needs that frontline urban communities face, from air pollution and extreme heat to lack of green spaces and healthy homes. In doing so, it would unite increasingly diverse generations of Americans across social, geographic, and political boundaries for the common good.
Of course, a civilian climate corps cannot solve the climate crisis on its own. Nor is it fair to ask our young people to accept an existential threat handed down to them by their ancestors. Instead, we should heed the urgent requests of our youth that all Americans, especially those in power, stand up and serve as we can by helping climate-damaged neighbors as we cut our greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that our businesses, nonprofits, and Governments do the same.
First of all, we should demand that Congress serve the common good by adopting an aggressive climate-centric reconciliation package, backed by President Biden, that includes historic investments in the new clean energy economy, as well as a civilian climate corps.
Throughout our history as a nation, Americans have risen to the challenge when faced with looming threats to our way of life, from Valley Forge to Gettysburg to Pearl Harbor. This time will we rise and serve again to protect our common home? There is no moment to lose.
(Dan Weeks is a co-owner of ReVision Energy. 2001-2002 served his AmeriCorps year in the Washington DC City Year. He lives in Nashua.)