After college, Wyatt Atkinson, a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribe, was looking for a way to help his reservation become energy independent. Through AmeriCorps, he gained hands-on experience installing solar power for low-income families in the GRID Alternatives SolarCorps program. Today, he leads the SolarCorps tribal program, working to fulfill his goal of energy sovereignty for tribal lands.
Growing up in Northern Michigan, Leticia Rosha faced poverty and other hardships. After high school, she joined a local AmeriCorps program, carrying out conservation and habitat restoration projects. The experience gave her workforce skills and inspired her to pursue a career in environmental stewardship.
Mike Bremer was having a tough time finding work and adjusting to civilian life after his military service ended. Then he joined AmeriCorps, serving on the all-veterans fire team with the Southwest Conservation Corps. With the skills he gained, Mike was able to secure a job with the U.S. Forest Service as a full-time wildland firefighter.
Wyatt, Leticia, and Mike demonstrate a powerful principle of national service: protecting the environment expands economic opportunity. That principle offers a powerful solution as our nation faces the converging crises of climate change, racial inequity, and unemployment due to the pandemic.
Tackling the Climate Crisis
President Biden has proposed a robust, whole-of-government approach to combat the climate crisis. The plan reflects the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real, it’s already causing significant damage to our environment and our economy, and it poses an existential threat if we don’t take begin taking comprehensive action now.
The plan also recognizes that addressing climate change offers enormous potential to create millions of good-paying jobs that can transform our economy—and lives of the American people.
A key pillar of the administration’s plan is a new Civilian Climate Corps to put a diverse generation of Americans to work conserving public lands, promoting renewable energy, building community resilience, and preparing young people for the green jobs of the future.
With decades of experience in environmental stewardship, a vast network of partners across the country, a community-driven approach that is responsive to local needs, and proven pathways from service to employment, AmeriCorps is uniquely positioned to support the Civilian Climate Corps and meet other climate change priorities.
A Modern Day CCC
Eighty-eight years ago, the Civilian Conservation Corps engaged millions of young men in preserving parks and public lands, providing skills and experience to a generation of young people.
For nearly three decades, AmeriCorps has served as a modern-day CCC, yet more diverse, equitable, and focused on 21st century environmental challenges. Working closely with other federal agencies, Governor-appointed State Service Commissions, and hundreds of nonprofit partners, AmeriCorps engages more than 15,000 AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers each year in conservation, renewable energy, and community resilience projects that address the climate crisis:
- Preserving public lands and waters, protecting biodiversity, increasing reforestation, building restoring watersheds, and expanding access to recreation — improving 330,000 acres of public lands each year.
- Reducing carbon emissions and saving energy costs by weatherizing homes and public buildings, performing energy audits, and installing solar panels and other renewable energy systems.
- Supporting urban areas by creating and maintaining city parks and greenspaces, improving stormwater management, recycling, and maintaining urban farms.
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with food systems through community gardens, farm to table initiatives, reducing food waste, and nutrition education.
- Helping communities prepare, respond, and recover from natural disasters and other climate-change effects.
Unlike the CCC of the New Deal era which was open only to men and was primarily white, AmeriCorps reflects the diversity of America. AmeriCorps members are as racially and ethnically diverse as the general population — men and women of all ages and backgrounds including low-income and minority young adults, Native Americans, veterans, and older Americans.
Pathway to Future Green Jobs
AmeriCorps is a proven pathway to employment that provides a living allowance, training, workforce skills, and sustained hands-on experience to prepare people for the clean energy jobs of the future.
AmeriCorps members gain skills that are specific to their service — such as firefighting, habitat restoration, or weatherization — as well as general skills of leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving that benefit all employers. Some AmeriCorps program are certified pre-apprenticeships, while others offer industry-recognized credentials in first-aid/CPR, logging and chain saw safety, energy auditing, wildland firefighting, and other areas. Some AmeriCorps members are eligible for non-competitive eligibility for federal employment, creating a pipeline to public service that helps national service alumni achieve their career goals and federal agencies diversify their workforces to better realize their mission.
In addition to workforce skills, AmeriCorps members earn an education award equal to the Pell grant that can be used to pay for college, technical training, or repay student loans. At a time of rising college costs and student debt, the education award makes post-secondary education more accessible and affordable.
Fifty-one years ago, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson called the country to pause and think about how we can better take care of our planet, and Earth Day was born.
Earth Day is a time to reflect on the state of our planet and steps we can take to preserve our natural resources for future generations.
Climate change is a daunting challenge that requires coordinated and decisive action. It is a moment of peril, but also of extraordinary possibility.
National service is exceptionally well positioned to preserve our lands and our waters, expand renewable energy use, and increase community resilience. Engaging passionate, committed Americans of all ages in national service to tackle the climate crisis is a smart and cost-effective way to increase racial and economic opportunity and build a more prosperous, sustainable future.