Now’s The Time for a Civilian Climate Corps: Climate Resilient Communities through Family-Sustaining Careers


Now’s The Time for a Civilian Climate Corps: Climate Resilient Communities through Family-Sustaining Careers

The past few months—years, in fact—have shown in dramatic fashion, how inadequate our current infrastructure and approaches are for today’s climate, economic, and equity challenges. Hurricanes Ida, Katrina, Sandy and Harvey; cold snaps in Texas, heat waves in the Pacific Northwest; flooding in the East, drought in the West; calls for racial justice and the upheaval of COVID-19—all show that our communities must build resiliency.  

The communities most vulnerable to the climate crisis are also those most underserved and economically distressed. The opportunity before us as we talk about infrastructure resources is to address both economic and environmental challenges at once; we have a once-in-a-generation chance to do just that through the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps.

Working on opposite sides of the Delaware River, in Camden and Philadelphia, we have seen how programs can address public health and climate challenges, while creating employment opportunities and pipelines for skilled, family-sustaining jobs.

One example: both Philadelphia and Camden have big challenges with combined sewer systems that flood homes, parks and neighborhoods with waste amid the heavy rains that increasingly accompany climate change. In response, the Philadelphia Water Department created a groundbreaking, innovative, green infrastructure program to soak up rainwater and reduce combined sewage flooding.   

Then, the City of Philadelphia and EducationWorks created PowerCorpsPHL, an AmeriCorps program which trains young people for careers in sustainability and clean energy, like maintaining the City’s new green infrastructure. Thus, one initiative spurred big wins for both the City’s flooding challenges and for residents in Philadelphia looking to connect to meaningful jobs.  

This program was so successful that the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority adapted and replicated both Philadelphia’s green infrastructure program and the PowerCorpsPHL program, creating PowerCorps Camden.   

Now, we’re looking at a once-in-a-generation opportunity to go big with the same kind of smart solutions for communities and the climate that have been proven over the last 8 years. And truly, it is time to go big. That means bringing a justice, equity and local impact lens to the administration’s proposals for a Civilian Climate Corps, and full funding to this visionary solution at a national scale. 

Here’s why: 

  • We can build good jobs, effective jobs pipelines to anchor institutions in the community like water utilities, and connections with key players in local and state government across the country. Government investment is a powerful engine, and these programs can harness it for good.  
  • We can build resilience, by working on local projects that directly address climate impacts like increased flooding, create green space, and return access to rivers and streams to communities. Water utilities, in particular, can identify and partner on projects at a scale that can bring big benefits to their communities in both the short and long term. 
  • We can build connection and justice, by bringing returning citizens back into the workforce and connecting working folks with career pathways, by creating partnerships with unions and small business, and by working closely to seed public-private partnerships that help people skill up while providing skilled workers to the businesses and agencies who need them, like water utilities, plumbers and pipefitters. As in Philadelphia, where just under 70% of water department apprentices are sourced from PowerCorpsPHL. 
  • We can advance affordability, by leveraging federal and state funding streams that pay for climate resiliency, green infrastructure and green energy projects without raising water or sewer rates.


As a nation, we are poised to make key, critical decisions now that will ripple across communities and across issues. Climate Corps models that infuse equity and workforce development, and build on the existing foundations of successful programs, offer a way to get it done. Just as importantly, they provide openings for real people in real communities to become homeowners, taxpayers, and community leaders. 

Resilient communities are connected communities, where people can fulfill their dreams and work together for the common good. Looking ahead, we know the common good can be better than we have dreamed until now. Harnessing people power, the power of local business and government, and federal government investment can catalyze change at a scale that is essential to meet the challenges of our times. 

At a time of multiple crises, we can meet the crises with solutions that are visionary and impactful for communities and the climate, that build better communities one project at a time. We believe that every person deserves a safe, resilient community, protected from the impacts of climate emergencies, no matter where they live or what they look like. We know that this can be done in a way that also brings jobs to those who need them most.   

Let’s put our imaginations and our know-how to work on a Civilian Climate Corps. This is the moment to make a difference for our communities and our future generations, together. 


Julia Hillengas is the Executive Director of PowerCorps, a partnership program with AmeriCorps in Philadelphia and Camden, NJ that builds career pathways with young leaders and returning citizens to tackle pressing environmental challenges in their communities.

Andy Kricun is Managing Director of Moonshot Missions, a Senior Fellow with the US Water Alliance, a member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and the former Executive Director of the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority.  


READ MORE: William Penn Foundation is giving $1.65 million to create a new Delaware River Climate Corps, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 3, 2021

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