Symposium | The Missing Progressive Infrastructure

A Climate Conservation Corps

By Vanessa Williamson

Tagged activismClimate Change

Global warming threatens every American. Fossil fuel pollution worsens hurricanes on the Gulf, blizzards in the Northeast, and wildfires in the West. It deepens the floods in our cities and lengthens the droughts in our farmland. And when climate disasters inevitably strike, we can be quite certain that the Trump Administration and the Republican Congress will do little to help those affected.

That’s where the Climate Crisis Corps would step in.

The Climate Crisis Corps would organize its members to provide relief from harms caused by weather or fossil-fuel production. In partnership with traditional disaster relief organizations, the CCC would respond to immediate acute disasters, like flooding, but—crucially—also more long-term challenges, like persistent drought or sea-level rise. For instance, in an area facing rainfall shortages, local CCC members might decide to work with farmers to help set up buyers’ cooperatives that could provide a steady income stream and new market for local growers of drought-resistant crops. In cities where summer and winter temperatures are becoming more extreme, CCC members might choose to partner with local nonprofits to support insulating the homes of lower-income and elderly people.

The driving principle of the CCC is local decision-making and community organizing, and the structure of the Climate Crisis Corps would be designed to privilege local expertise. The CCC would be a federated national membership organization with chapters in all 50 states, and local chapters organized within states. It would rely on democratic processes to determine its priorities locally and to choose its leadership at the state and national level. The impetus and the power must come from the membership; the CCC’s small national staff would be dedicated to supporting its members, sharing practices across the federation, and providing training for its organizers.

A real answer to our climate crisis is not local but national and international in scope, and effective organizing often bridges direct support and political engagement. CCC members therefore also engage in advocacy to encourage elected officials at every level of government to prepare for the impact of global warming, to provide support to victims of climate change, and to end our reliance on fossil fuels.

Despite an onslaught of misinformation, most Americans know that climate change is happening, and they are worried about it. But the Trump Administration has ordered an end to federal action on climate change. In recent years, disaster relief funds have become political bargaining chips, and to the extent that the Administration is involved in implementing disaster response, it is likely to be rife with bias, corruption, and incompetence.

The CCC would make salient an issue that the Republican Party is ignoring even as it is harming its own voters. It would build local organizing, particularly connections between urban and rural places, by helping people work together regionally on a concrete problem they all face. It produces visible benefits in local communities. And it would organize people around a universal shared risk, the kind of issue that can create solidarity across class, race, or geography.

It is the progressive infrastructure we need to address the most critical issue of our time.

From the Symposium

The Missing Progressive Infrastructure

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Vanessa Williamson is a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and the author of Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes.

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