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Three left critiques of Jay Inslee's "Climate Conservation Corps"

Data for Progress has published an article by Democratic presidential candidate Jay Inslee calling for the creation of a Climate Conservation Corps (CCC). Since Inslee has labored to brand himself as our climate candidate, I'd like to offer some friendly criticism from the left...

1. Fix your defunding problem.

Inslee promotes the CCC as "a bigger, more ambitious" version of the Clean Energy Service Corps, which Barack Obama created in 2009. But the immediate problem facing the CESC was not that it was too small or unambitious; the immediate problem, as Inslee himself admits, was that it "was never fully funded after Republicans took control of Congress in 2010."

This is, in fact, the immediate problem facing nearly every climate change proposal being advanced by the left: deniers do not want to fund action on climate change, and as soon as they take power they will defund it. But as we see with the CCC, most of the proposals being advanced by climate activists and policymakers seem to be proceeding on the reckless and implausible theory that once we take power, right-wing Democrats and Republicans will never take office again.

Inslee - and everyone else pushing climate policy - needs to explain how their proposals will deal with the defunding problem. There are ways to construct policy that make it significantly less vulnerable to right-wing defunding, but if our plan is just "never lose an election again", the left is taking an absolutely intolerable risk.

2. Fix your funding problem.

To his credit, Inslee is one of the only candidates to give significant attention to the central and most urgent challenge in the fight against climate change: green international development. Inslee calls for the creation of a "Global Climate Service Corps", which will provide boots on the ground "to help rebuild a more sustainable world" abroad.

This program, presumably, would demand a lot of funding in order to pay for these positions (more on this below). But like nearly every other mainstream liberal-left advocate for climate action, Inslee is ignoring the central political problem of international climate development: scale. Say it with me: Climate action means sending at least two trillion from the global north to the global south every year. Climate action means sending at least two trillion from the global north to the global south every year. Climate action means sending at least two trillion from the global north to the global south every year.

Neither Washington DC nor the US public at large is even dreaming of funding on this scale. It would be the most ambitious and transformative redistribution program, by several orders of magnitude, in the history of the world. We are not going to secure this kind of funding without an enormous political fight. We need to fix the international funding problem, and that begins by admitting that it exists.

3. Fix your imperialism problem.

Again: Inslee deserves credit for at least acknowledging an international dimension to the fight against climate change, something that we can't take for granted even among the "ecosocialist" left. But even as he calls for a Global Climate Service Corps, Inslee seems to be insisting on a curious restriction: this program "will give Americans the opportunity" [emphasis added] to assist with international development.

Obviously, the investments we need to make in international funding are going to seem a lot more palatable to the US public if they are promoted in the name of US interests - giving Americans jobs, advancing America's "standing" in the international community, and so on. And as I've argued here, if that's what it takes to win political support for a sufficiently ambitious international development program, then climate activists need to accept this - even if it chaffes our anti-imperialist ecosocialist sensibilities.

But in this case, once we bear in mind the $2 trillion rule, it beggars belief that a green Peace Corps could actually provide in personnel and expertise even a fraction of the international aid the US needs to contribute. To put this in perspective, the Peace Corps's annual budget is about $400 million, which is about .06% of what we should be investing in the fight against climate change. And of course, creating an agency that relocates US residents all over the world so that they can do the work is astronomically less cost-effective than funding people who already live there.

Unfortunately, the polling Data for Progress has published for Inslee's Climate Conservation Corps erases its international component entirely - it only asks about "repairing and upgrading our infrastructure" [emphasis added]. So unless they're sitting on numbers that they haven't released, we really have no idea what Americans think about the most important part of his proposal.

But if winning the support of Americans for green international development means dodging the fight over funding and floating a program that would almost certainly be inadequate to the task, then we need to understand this as a case where green imperialism is standing directly in the way of progress. If Inslee wants the support of a left that's calling for an ambitious and internationalist fight against climate change, he's going to have to do better than this.