By Abby Weingarten
A longtime policymaker and economist, New College’s Mark Paul, Ph.D. was among an “incredible gathering of experts” who spoke to the U.S. Congress last week about climate change.
The assistant professor of economics and environmental studies was the first to testify during a bicameral discussion on June 23, hosted by the U.S. Senate Climate Change Task Force, regarding the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps (CCC).
“Right now, the nation is facing multiple interconnected crises,” Paul began, “a climate crisis that is already destabilizing the environment and on pace to warm the planet by 1.5°C by as early as 2030; an inequality crisis, driven in part by sustained high levels of unemployment and underemployment since at least 2008, that fuels poverty and threatens the very social fabric of the country; and most recently, the global pandemic, which threw tens of millions of Americans out of work and claimed far too many lives.”
The implementation of a CCC, Paul said, could greatly help combat these interconnected challenges. That is why Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) introduced the Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act of 2021 in April and convened the June 23 hearing. The legislation, which Paul helped craft, detailed exactly what the establishment of a CCC would accomplish. Paul’s testimony further elucidated those points.
“A diverse and equitable group of 1.5 million Americans over five years will complete federally-funded projects that help communities respond to climate change and transition to a clean economy,” the legislation (part of a $10 billion initiative included in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan) stated. “Civilian Climate Corps work will reduce carbon emissions, enable a transition to renewable energy, build healthier and more resilient communities, implement conservation projects with proven climate benefits, and help communities recover from climate disasters.”
The labor market is currently down an estimated 10.7 million jobs from where it should be, and the structural crises of climate change and inequality have intensified, Paul explained. History has proven that a concept like the CCC could help mitigate such disasters.
The idea has its origins in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)—a program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, Paul said.
“Much like the COVID-19 pandemic economy, the Depression worsened inequality and resulted in turmoil in employment markets,” Paul said. “To put these millions of unemployed Americans back to work, President Roosevelt created a number of direct employment programs, including the Civilian Conservation Corps. The goal was to provide meaningful and remunerative employment while working to ‘conserve our precious natural resources’ (in other words, to invest in the American people and environment).”
The program accomplished that task. Within two months, 250,000 hungry youth were put to work. And, over the course of nine years, workers planted more than two billion trees; improved soil quality and slowed erosion on 40 million acres of farmland; assisted in the construction of 800 new state parks; and constructed more than 10,000 reservoirs, nearly 50,000 bridges and 10,000-plus miles of hiking trails, Paul explained. Though the circumstantial challenges may have changed since the Roosevelt era, the opportunity for transformation has not.
“The great challenge of the 21st century is climate change. But this challenge is also an opportunity. It is the spur we may need to unleash our collective efforts to build a just and equitable society—one more focused on human flourishing and less on private profit,” Paul said. “A new CCC that offers a living wage, benefits and career opportunities to its members can help set us on that path. The youth want to work. They want to contribute to averting the worst of the climate crisis. They want to leave this planet better off. We should not let this chance go to waste.”
Paul has been disseminating this message throughout his career, and it was his lauded perspective that led to an invitation to testify in Congress. After receiving a call from Sen. Markey’s office, Paul hopped on a plane to Washington, D.C. from the Berggruen Institute at the University of Southern California (where he is currently a fellow, researching the economic and distributional impacts of decarbonization pathways).
“We’re looking very much forward to this incredible gathering of experts,” Sen. Markey said of the speakers at the hearing, Paul included. “The climate crisis presents us with imminent threats but also immediate opportunities to make financial and sweat equity investments in our communities that build to racial, moral and political equality—work that rebuilds the economy and saves the planet all at the same time (job creation that saves all creation).”
Paul provided his insights on the economic, social and climate-related benefits of creating a new CCC.
“I just feel really privileged to have the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas,” Paul said, “and to push for rapid and far-reaching climate action as soon as possible, to try to preserve our home.”
Paul is now back in California, continuing to take a leave year from New College and working on his book: Freedom is Not Enough (about the intersection of economic inequality and environmental policy), slated for release with The University of Chicago Press next year. When he is not writing, he is pushing green spending into infrastructure and reconciliation bills to help put the U.S. economy on a path toward decarbonization. As for the potential creation of a CCC, he is hopeful.
“Right now, I think that there is serious momentum to get a CCC through reconciliation in the weeks and months ahead,” Paul said. “The future will tell if we’re able to make this program a reality but, right now, I’m quite optimistic that we will be able to. This was the first time I formally testified at a hearing in Congress. I was simply honored to be able to have the chance to speak, both on behalf of New College and on behalf of a new CCC, which is an idea I believe deeply in.”
This time last year, Paul was involved in another key piece of legislation—co-authoring a report on economic growth and climate leadership for Democratic politician Stacey Abrams, entitled State and Local Decarbonization Polices for the South. This report was part of Abrams’ Southern Economic Advancement Project (SEAP) think tank, which was established to bring attention to “how race, class and gender intersect social and economic policy.”
Paul brings these topics into the classroom at New College in courses such as “Economics of Race, Gender and Discrimination” and “Climate Change: Philosophy, Politics and Economics.” He has also been a fellow with the Roosevelt Institute (a nonprofit, progressive-leaning economic think tank in New York) since 2018, and a senior fellow at Data for Progress (a Washington, D.C.-based think tank) since 2019.
“I think it’s a great privilege for me to be able to continue doing this hands-on policy work,” Paul said, “and to bring it back to my students at New College for perspective.”
For more information on Paul’s work, visit markpaulecon.com.
To watch the full Congressional hearing from June 23, click here.
Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.