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Opinion: We need a civilian climate corps

Young people have stepped up to combat existential threats before, let’s do it again
A vehicle is submerged in flood waters along a road in Abbotsford, B.C., Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

It’s been a tough few years for young people.

By this point in our lives, we have seen decades of crises. Those of us who were lucky enough to go to university before the pandemic came are strapped with huge amounts of student loan debt, and either were laid off early on in the pandemic or stayed working in front-line jobs for very low wages. Those who are going to school now have it even worse, receiving low quality education over Zoom while still racking up that debt all while suffering from mental health issues brought on by loneliness and existential dread. We can’t afford homes, we can’t afford to have children, we can barely afford to feed ourselves.

Then there’s the climate emergency.

Last week, the main highway connecting the most populous part of the province to the rest of Canada was cut off for the second time in three months. Last time it was because the forest around it was burning down. Now, because of those forest fires, the unstable slopes washed away and did permanent damage to our main lifeline to the rest of the country.

There has been an idea floating around, however, that could do a lot of good in mitigating these crises and possibly securing a future for the human race that is not full of destruction: a civilian climate corps led by young people.

The idea is that a service be set up that puts young people to work to make sure we are in the best position to confront the climate crisis. This includes things like restoring ecosystems that sequester carbon, building up community resilience, responding to disasters, building infrastructure, transitioning workers and retrofitting our buildings and lives so that we have a chance at surviving what is to come. We need to have it be a large-scale national (or even international) movement. We need the scope that the federal government can provide, like rapid deployment, funding, jurisdiction in far flung areas of the country and coordination of lots of different agencies.

Young people have a long history of stepping up to ensure their futures. Only two generations ago, millions of young people stepped up to fight fascism in Europe. They did this, knowing that their futures were on the line. They postponed doing what they wanted to do in order to do what they had to, and the government actually encouraged them to do it.

In this climate corps, members would get decent pay, room and board during their service, and free post secondary education, just like members of the military after the second world war. That education can then help further transition current industries to greener alternatives and maybe turn the tide in this struggle.

If we had a climate corps set up today, these people would be in the Fraser Valley to help. They would be at every disaster, and they would be working to ensure that next time we get an atmospheric river or heat dome, we would be a bit more ready for it.

It wouldn’t be restricted to young people either. Anybody who wanted to do something to make a difference would be welcomed. A massive societal undertaking is what is necessary, and the more people who want to do this meaningful and rewarding work the better. This corps would also work with Indigenous Peoples to ensure that this time around, things are done the right way: a way that benefits all people, animals, plants and minerals of the world.

Many people, not just young people, today are feeling lost. The world seems to be collapsing around us while we toil away to maintain a system that has never benefited us. We crave meaningful work that benefits both society and the world around us. Are we willing to do it?

I count myself as one of these young people. While I do think I have found meaningful work, I do think I could be doing more. I doubt I’m alone, so put us to work.