Forging an Environmentally Just Civilian Climate Corps

FDR with CCC recruits near Camp Roosevelt, Virginia, 1933. Courtesy, National Archives.

When President Biden signed Executive Order 14008 on January 27, 2021, he called for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps based on the New Deal’s original Civilian Conservation Corps. The new program would put unemployed Americans to work conserving natural resources, much like its 1930s predecessor, but also undertake projects aimed at the most urgent environmental problem of our generation—climate change.

The announcement for the proposed Climate Corps was only one paragraph long. To ensure a popular and productive program, the Biden administration must provide more details and build on the original CCC’s successes while avoiding its pitfalls.

During its nine-year existence, from 1933 to 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps succeeded on the economic and environmental fronts. Financially, it gave jobs to more than 3 million unemployed young men who earned about $700 million (the equivalent of more than $10.5 billion today). The Corps was also successful in its conservation efforts, planting more than 2 billion trees, slowing soil erosion on 40 million acres of farmland, creating 800 new state parks and developing dozens of national parks across the country.

CCC Uniform Patch

CCC Uniform Patch
The CCC hired 2.5 million young men during its nine year existence. The camps were often racially segregated. Courtesy, National Archives.

Yet, there were also significant missteps. The original Corps excluded women and older men, assigned African American enrollees to segregated camps, and placed Native Americans into a separate program. The program stumbled environmentally as well by undertaking some ecologically destructive projects, such as draining swamps for mosquito control and introducing invasive species to conserve soil. There also were problems on the economic front. The great majority of CCC projects, such as soil work on agricultural lands and the development of parks for recreational tourism, benefited mostly white rural communities.

President Biden’s Civilian Climate Corps must acknowledge and improve on this complicated history. First and foremost, the new program must be more inclusive and accept enrollees regardless of gender, age, skin color and marital status. A new CCC must also diversify geographically, locating projects more equitably throughout the country to ensure that urban and suburban communities can benefit. Finally, a new Climate Corps must be guided by scientific experts to avoid the ecological blunders of the original program.


CCC Fighting Fires in Willamette National Forest, Oregon. Courtesy, Oregon History Project.

An updated Climate Corps must also expand its efforts to tackle a host of environmental justice problems, many in urban neighborhoods. Working with local communities to remediate toxic waste sites, mitigate pollution and develop urban outdoor recreational spaces and community gardens are but a few examples.

Most importantly, a new CCC must focus on the most pressing environmental problem of our age: climate change. Enrollees should help develop green energy systems—from solar panel installations to wind farms—and build climate-resilient infrastructure by restoring wetlands and constructing green stormwater management systems. All of this work would train those in the program for jobs in the emerging green energy sector.

Such a new and improved CCC would be hugely popular. According to polling from Data for Progress and The Justice Collaborative Institute, 79 percent of likely voters—including 80 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans—support reviving the Corps.

Planting trees in Illinois

Planting trees in Illinois
CCC enrollees planted an estimated three billion trees from 1933 to 1942. Courtesy, Cook County Historical Society.

The history of the original CCC illustrates that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was already green.  To succeed, today’s Green New Deal initiatives—including President Biden’s Civilian Climate Corps—must also be environmentally and socially equitable.

Neil M. Maher is a Professor of History in the Federated History Department at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University at Newark. His first book, Nature’s New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement (Oxford University Press, 2009), received the Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Book Award.

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal

by Richard A Walker
Abstract:  A Green New Deal is the best way to deal with climate change, economic crisis and social-political disintegration in one sweep. The original New Deal offers the best model for a Green New Deal because it faced similar challenges of conservation, economic collapse, immiseration and political reaction in the 1930s and was successful in overcoming them. Indeed, like the New Deal, the United States today needs nothing less than a program of national reconstruction and renewal that is more than the sum of carbon reduction, infrastructure investment, more jobs and better wages.

Growing Together Illustration by James McInvale

Growing Together
Illustration by James McInvale
Photo Credit: Creative Action Network

The New Deal was not only successful in its time but provides an excellent model for public policy today. As a nation we face a set of profound challenges comparable to the era of the Great Depression, requiring an equally ambitious and thorough attack led by the federal government – the only entity with the power, money and scale to take charge.  The lessons of the New Deal enumerated here offer hope for an embattled nation and a guide to redirecting public policy following 40 years of neoliberal deconstruction.

The New Deal provides guidelines for how to attack the major crises of today. Climate change and economic recession get most of the attention because global warming is bearing down like a runaway train and the economy has gone off a cliff. But the nation faces a massive deficit of investment in infrastructure and lags behind Europe and Asia in modern public amenities.  A gulf between the rich and the rest has precipitated a social crisis marked by underfunded education, gnawing poverty and personal despair. The US is in the throes of a deep political crisis that has the republic teetering on the brink.

The only way to address these challenges is the kind of sweeping program that the Green New Deal has come to summarize. A half-century of experience with neoliberalism has shown that there is no alternative to strong government action led by mass popular mobilization. Nothing less than a Green New Deal will save the country from climate change, economic depression, a crumbling foundation, social malaise, concentration of power and political disintegration.

It needs emphasizing just how radical the New Deal was in terms of the long sweep of US history and how thoroughly it refashioned the country and its politics. The left has spent too much time criticizing the New Deal and FDR for what they did not do – bring the revolution, end White Supremacy, liberate women, etc.  We would do better to appreciate what they did, in fact, accomplish in just one decade, 1933-1942 – roughly the time left to deal with climate change.

How the New Deal Responded to the Crisis of the 1930s

The New Deal is a shorthand for the policies and achievements of the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933-1942.  It encompassed far more than the best-known programs, such as Social Security and the Works Progress Administration, involving over 60 laws and programs in all. The Living New Deal is documenting that amazing decade, reviving historical memory and rethinking deeply ingrained political tropes – because so much of the conventional wisdom about the New Deal is wrong.

I will consider the New Deal’s accomplishments in six areas: economic recovery and regulation, employment and class, investment and modernization, conservation and restoration, programs for the people and national political revival.

Economic Stabilization and Recovery

The Great Depression was the greatest failure of capitalism in US history and one that challenged the legitimacy of the nation’s class system, dominant ideology and political leadership. By winter 1933, US output had fallen by one-third, unemployment risen to one-quarter of the labor force and profits and wages had declined sharply.

In 1933-34, the New Deal ended financial excess and put the banking system on a new foundation. This meant shutting down bad banks, separating commercial and investment banks and providing deposit insurance. In addition, FDR called in gold, devalued and solidified the dollar and stock markets were regulated.

Meanwhile, the administration set up price controls under the National Industrial Recovery Act and Agricultural Adjustment Act. The unpopular NIRA was later dropped, but the AAA became the basis of US farm policy for the next fifty years.[1] More important was the creation of the PWA in 1933 to start the process of federal investment in infrastructure; it would be the central pillar of New Deal spending.

A massive relief effort began with the Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933.  FERA salvaged bankrupt state and local treasuries, ending the downward spirals of government revenues, spending and employment. In the winter of 1933-34, FERA created the first relief jobs program, the Civil Works Administration (CWA), for which Congress created a permanent replacement in 1935, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). 

The New Deal cost roughly $650 billion in today’s dollars. [2] With today’s population that would come to  over $1.1 trillion – a surprisingly modest sum. It was paid for by higher taxes on the rich and the corporations, aided by revived alcohol taxes from the end of Prohibition, and the administration was willing to tolerate peacetime federal deficits for the first time in US history.

Crucially, economic recovery came before World War II. Under the New Deal, GDP grew at an average rate of almost 10 percent and had fully recovered by 1939.[3] Contrary to popular opinion, the war did not solve the Great Depression, but it did dry up unemployment by recruiting millions into the military and by the greatest deficit spending in US history – the same formula as the New Deal. 

Employment and the Working Class

Green New Deal Artist Unknown

Green New Deal
Artist Unknown
Photo Credit: Oregon State University

A pillar of New Deal policy was aiding the working people. The New Dealers saved capitalism but they saved millions of people from desolation at the same time, chiefly through programs for mass work relief: FERA, CWA, WPA, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and National Youth Administration (NYA). These agencies combined created more than 20 million jobs for the unemployed over ten years, giving workers dignity and injecting income into bankrupt households. Those are impressive numbers compared to the 15 million unemployed when FDR took office and the 5 million who were still jobless when the war began in 1942.    

The New Deal succeeded in raising working class wages and incomes by supporting unionization.  Unions were legalized in the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935; New Deal public works required fair and prevailing wages of contractors; and the Fair Labor Standards Act was added in 1938.  It also created the first federal safety net through unemployment payments in the NLRA and the Social Security Act of 1935. Greater taxation of the rich and higher incomes for the working class sharply reduced inequality, ushering in the most egalitarian period in US history.

Not only were jobs programs life-saving financially, they restored workers dignity. Non-discrimination clauses brought jobs and wages to African Americans and other minorities. In addition, they aided economic recovery by raising wages, making relief payments to households and aiding state and local governments. Those flows stimulated aggregate consumption and raised net consumption out of the same total national income. 

Investment and Modernization

The New Deal was more than a short-term program of recovery and make-work projects. The federal government invested in the infrastructure of the country, or what was then called “public works.” The government built tens of thousands of civic facilities, such as city halls, courthouses, schools, sewers and parks, as well as regional systems like dams, aqueducts and airports.[4]

At the heart of this effort was the Public Works Administration (PWA). Just as important, the administration pumped money into existing federal agencies, like the Bureau of Public Roads and Bureau of Reclamation, and demanded contributions from the states.  Governments at every level – federal, state and local – were reanimated.  Moreover, the feds asked the state and cities to propose projects they wanted locally and thus gained important political buy-in. 

Crucially, the New Deal walked on two legs: big regional infrastructure and small local projects. For the latter, the relief agencies were absolutely vital. The CWA, WPA, CCC, and FERA undertook local improvements numbering in the hundreds of thousands: playgrounds, recreation halls, baseball fields, picnic areas, water lines, street trees, ranger stations, park roads and trails and more.  These, too, were projects asked for by local governments, with local financial participation.[5]

Almost entirely overlooked is the degree to which the New Deal modernized the United States. It brought the entire country into the 20th century. The 1930s witnessed the second greatest leap in economic productivity in US history after the 1920s – higher than the World War by far.[6]   The New Deal aided modernization through its massive investments in hydropower and highways, at a time when industry and transportation were shifting en masse to electric motors and trucks.

This infrastructure was long-term investment that continued to pay off after the New Deal ended. The war effort was the first beneficiary, as was recognized at the time. But roads, dams, schools and hospitals continued to function for decades after that, and many are still with us.

Conservation and Restoration

An essential element of the New Deal was conservation – healing the land and resources along with the people. This massive effort is too easily overlooked because it took place far away from the urban centers—on rangelands, forests, farmlands, marshes and coasts.  The New Deal was nothing if not green.[7]

Most of the New Deal’s conservation programs were small-scale works. CCC camps planted 3 billion trees under the direction of the US Forest Service.[8]  A massive soil conservation program was set in motion on damaged range and farmlands under the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), which built erosion dams, regraded hillsides and planted windbreaks. Grazing controls were imposed for the first time on federal lands under the new Grazing Service. 

Around 200 national wildlife refuges were established during the Roosevelt years, often at the president’s personal direction, and a new Duck Stamp program channeled millions of dollars from hunters to wildlife programs. Several new national parks and national monuments were established, and national forests were expanded. The CCC built the waterworks, roads and campgrounds that rendered federal recreational lands usable. 

Many protected areas were purchases of degraded lands in the Dust Bowl or cutover forests, while agricultural policy paid for the withdrawal of millions of acres of farms from production, returned to wetlands and woods that aided wildlife.

Programs for the People

Green Jobs Illustration by Lisa Vollrath

Green Jobs
Illustration by Lisa Vollrath
Photo Credit: Creative Action Network

While the New Deal employment and relief effort was focused on the working class, it went much farther. It embraced farmers, retirees and the poor. In addition, there was an array of programs targeting the  forgotten and neglected. An essential principle was universal programs with non-discrimination clauses. This was not only a matter of principle. It made such programs more popular with the public.[9]

A number of programs aided tenant and marginal farmers and others targeted African Americans. The New Deal built the first federal public housing projects in both rural and urban areas. It also brought the first federal initiatives to meet the special needs of the handicapped and a major turnaround in the treatment of Native Americans.

A primary quality of New Deal activity was its wide distribution, or “geographic universality”.  There is hardly a county or city anywhere in the country that did not get federal funds for a high school, hospital or park from the New Deal – not to mention land restoration, farm subsidies and programs for poor farm families, such as the Resettlement Administration’s housing and town-building. When the New Deal invested in depressed places, the people saw the evidence of federal concern with their own eyes, both in what was built and who did the work.

Lastly, there was a firm belief in the need to address the whole person and the needs of the public as a whole. The New Deal prioritized aid to education from school lunches and teachers’ aides to college buildings and laboratories; built up health programs from school nurses to the National Institutes of Health; and invested in recreational facilities and programs from playgrounds to national parks. One of the most remarkable dimensions of the New Deal was its creation, en masse, of civic buildings, civic spaces and public art to edify and elevate the spirits of the people.

Political Renewal of the Nation

The Green New Deal

The Green New Deal
Illustration by Jordan Johnson
Photo Credit: Creative Action Network

Franklin Roosevelt was a master politician and dealmaker who played his cards carefully. But he was also a true leader, coalition builder, progressive reformer and believer in American democracy. These qualities ran deep among all the New Dealers like Harry Hopkins, Frances Perkins and Mary McLeod Bethune.[10]

The New Dealers first step was to take charge of a terrible situation with a real sense of urgency. They waded into the fray, ignoring precedent, deficits and naysayers to introduce legislation, issue executive orders and draw up plans for action. There was no blueprint, just a liberal pragmatism and willingness to try anything that might work.  For all his patrician background, FDR was able to speak to the public in a manner that restored their confidence in government and gave them hope.[11]

The New Dealers built a broad coalition across class, regional and racial lines. FDR knew that his legislative program depended not to alienating the South over race because he needed that left-leaning white populists of the southern delegation to pass New Deal legislation. That coalition frayed over the years as southern landowners reasserted their power.[12]

FDR was willing to bring unions on board and address the catastrophic conditions facing the working class. Conversely, his aristocratic origins gave him the confidence to stand up to the rich and the corporations when he needed to. He wisely sought to defang radical uprisings by meeting some of their demands, as in the case of the Townsend Movement’s demand for old-age pensions.

A vital quality of New Deal leaders was their ethical commitment to the public good and to the welfare of the common people. They recognized the importance of work to self-worth; the value of civic works in uplifting communities; and that education, recreation and the arts were essential to the human spirit.  Their sense of public service also meant no significant scandals hanging over the agencies dispensing such huge amounts of money.

Lastly, Roosevelt and the New Dealers understood that a nation devastated by the Great Depression and left rudderless by Republican leadership needed a new sense of national purpose. The New Deal gave Americans a project of national renewal in which they could participate, feel ownership, and witness in their everyday lives.

FDR was urged by many liberals to seize emergency powers, but refused. He was confronted by fascist movements, was abandoned by the capitalist class—many of whom were fascist sympathizers that feared FDR’s alliance with the working class.  Nevertheless, Roosevelt was a committed democrat who wanted, like Lincoln, to save the Republic from itself.[13]

The New Deal was a political earthquake in American governance. The power of the federal government grew exponentially and the federal system was transformed. The Democrats replaced Lincoln’s Republicans as the dominant party for the next half-century. And, despite many failings of the New Deal on racial grounds, there was an epochal shift of African-American voters to the Democrats.

[1] Both were overturned by the Supreme Court but the AAA was revised and passed a second time by Congress in 1938.

[2] Fishback, Price and Kachanovskaya, Valentina. “The Multiplier for Federal Spending in the States during the Great Depression.” Journal of Economic History, Vol. 75, No. 1, 2015, pp. 125-62.

[3] Romer, Christina. 1992. What ended the Great Depression? Journal of Economic History. 52, no. 4: 757-84.

[4] Leighninger, Robert. 2007.  Long Run Public Investment: The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal.  Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.  Smith, Jason Scott. 2006. Building New Deal Liberalism: The Political Economy of Public Works, 1933-1956. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[5] Taylor, Nick. 2009. American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA, When FDR Put the Nation to Work. New York: Bantam Books.

[6] Field, Alexander. 2011. A Great Leap Forward:1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth. New Haven CT: Yale University Press.

[7] Brinkley, Douglas. 2016. Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America.  New York: Harper Books

[8] Alexander, Benjamin. 2018.  The New Deal’s Forest Army: How the Civilian Conservation Corps Worked. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

[9] There has been too much criticism of the New Deal as ‘racist’, which is not true. It was not the Civil Rights revolution, but its programs were of enormous benefit to the vast majority of Americans. Sitkoff, Harvard. 2009. A New Deal for Blacks: The Emergence of Civil Rights as a National Issue: The Depression Decade. New York: Oxford University Press.

[10] Smith, Jason Scott. 2014. A Concise History of the New Deal. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[11] Leuchtenberg, William. 1963.  Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-40.  New York: Harper Torchbooks.

[12] Katznelson, Ira. 2013. Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time.  New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.

[13] Katznelson 2013.

Richard A Walker is the director of the Living New Deal.

Ten Lessons for a Green New Deal


The Green New Deal by Jan Berger
The Green New Deal  Source

FDR and the New Dealers were idealists, but their genius lay in a hard-nosed pragmatism and a willingness to experiment. The Green New Deal is still mostly a set of potential policies and hoped-for outcomes.  To succeed, it needs to take seriously ten lessons from the first New Deal.

  1. Advance universal programs. The New Deal succeeded by serving a wide range of Americans, rather than targeted populations. All seniors would receive pensions, all jobless qualified for work relief, and all localities were eligible for public works.
  2. Fix income inequality. The New Deal dramatically reduced income inequality by taxing high incomes and corporate profits, curbing financial speculation and lifting the fortunes of workers through the right to organize, fair labor practices and federal minimum wage. As a result, the postwar era was the most equal in American history.
  3. Civilian Conservation Corps Poster
    In the 1930s the CCC employed millions of young men. They planted a billion trees, fought wildfires, restored cropland, and were on the scene following hurricanes and floods.  Source

    Create good jobs.The New Dealers understood that Americans do not want handouts; they want jobs that provide dignity and a living wage. The Civilian Conservation Corps hired 3.5 million young men to build parks, plant trees and fight wildfires in exchange for family income and education. The Works Progress Administration trained and employed 9 million workers in useful jobs in their communities.

  4. Fiscal stimulus pays. New Dealers rejected the conventional wisdom about balanced budgets that had hamstrung the Hoover Administration and used fiscal stimulus to spur economic recovery.  The higher tax revenues from growth meant the deficit stayed within reason.
  5. Modernize the nation. The Public Works Administration and other agencies invested in big infrastructure, such as airports, dams and bridges, laying the foundation for the nation’s future prosperity. Most of these New Deal public works are still in use today.
  6. Invest in lagging places. The New Deal closed the gulf between urban and rural America by aiding rural areas through programs such as the Farm Credit Administration, Soil Conservation Service and Rural Electrification Administration. It improved the lives of people everywhere through new schools, hospitals, parks, housing and more.
  7. WPA sewer project for the City of San Diego

    WPA sewer project for the City of San Diego
    The Works Progress Administration, a federal jobs programs during the Great Depression, paid for all kinds of projects that federal, state, and local leaders thought would be worthwhile.

    Involve local communities. The New Deal worked with state and local governments to build hundreds of thousands of small-scale projects—parks, sidewalks, waterworks, etc. —requested by local officials. These brought visible benefits to local communities across the country and made Roosevelt the most popular president in U.S. history.

  8. Focus on the public good.The New Dealers sought the public good over private profit and put public careers ahead of personal gain. This spirit of public service pervaded a nation previously in despair.
  9. Restore faith in government. The New Deal rekindled Americans’ belief in government by programs that aided ordinary people and by the example set by the New Dealers. Corruption was extremely rare because it simply was not tolerated.
  10. A growing movement

    A growing movement
    Climate protesters urge Congress to adopt a Green New Deal
    Photo Credit: Sunrise Movement

    Go green. Conservation and environmental restoration were central to the New Deal’s agenda. It provided clean drinking water and new sewers; built thousands of parks and wildlife refuges; and planted billions of trees.  Restoring the land and the people were two sides of the same coin.

While the centerpiece of the Green New Deal is climate change, its advocates understand the need to address inequality, jobs and infrastructure. They now need to come up with dozens of concrete ways to attack the many problems facing the nation, as did the New Deal.

Meanwhile, critics calling the Green New Deal pie-in-the-sky need to learn the greatest lesson of the New Deal.  A climate program that does not address the needs of ordinary Americans is not only unjust, it is doomed to failure. Only a sweeping call to rebuild the country while serving the people will galvanize Americans to work for their common betterment.

Opposition to the Green New Deal

Opposition to the Green New Deal
Conservatives decry the plan.
Photo Credit: Heartland Institute


A version of this article appeared in The Washington Post.

Richard A Walker is the director of the Living New Deal.

Raising the New Deal Flag in New York City

Raising the New Deal Flag in New York City

Raising the New Deal Flag in New York City
Fiorello La Guardia at the formal raising of the NRA flag outside the New York headquarters of the National Recovery Administration, April 1934.
Photo Credit: Encyclopedia Brittanica

Two hundred New Yorkers gathered at the Center for Architecture on May 7 to kick off a Living New Deal initiative to familiarize New Yorkers with the New Deal’s vast imprint on their city.

The reception and panel discussion, “A New Deal for New York City: Looking Back, Looking Forward,” were co-sponsored by the Museum of the City of New York, the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter, Planners Network, Historic Districts Council, National Jobs for All Network, City Lore, FDR Library, Gotham Center for New York City History, and Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.

Welcoming the audience, Phoebe Roosevelt, great-granddaughter of Franklin and Eleanor, expressed gratitude for the remarkable men and women—including her grandparents—who championed the “great experiment we call the New Deal.” She also praised the citizens who “went to the voting booth to give FDR and Congress the mandate for action.”

Keynote speaker Kevin Baker, whose April cover story in Harper’s,“We Can Do It Again,” masterfully reviewed New Deal 1.0 in light of calls for a Green New Deal, commented, “What is most surprising about the city today is not how well it’s doing but how little of its old social dysfunction it has managed to shed,” but which the Roosevelt administration sought to address eighty years ago.

A panel of four, including writer Nick Taylor; Living New Deal’s founder Gray Brechin; Marta Gutman, professor of architectural and urban history at City College of New York; and New York City Deputy Mayor Phillip Thompson, elaborated on Baker’s remarks.

Speaking for the city, Thompson fully endorsed the idea of a policy agenda modeled on the New Deal that would, once again, tackle the city’s social problems while rectifying past injustices via a “Greener” New Deal.

All agreed that the first step toward that goal is making people aware of the enormous legacy the New Deal left to them by commemorating through signage, tours, and educational events, its ubiquitous presence throughout New York City.

The audience was also treated to a short film, “A Better New York City,” produced by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1937. See it here.

Margaret W. Crane ("Peg") is the Living New Deal program associate for New York City. A freelance writer, her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Scientist, and numerous health and education websites.

Green New Dealers Turn Up the Heat

Organizers are mobilizing youth to put pressure on Congress

Green New Dealers
Organizers are mobilizing youth to put pressure on Congress  Source

In a radical departure from business as usual, talk of a “New Deal” has lately been reverberating through the halls of the nation’s Capitol. Newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) have introduced a resolution for a Green New Deal that is making headlines and rapidly gaining public support.

The Green New Deal resolution, introduced in early February, cites catastrophic repercussions for the economy, the environment, humans, and wildlife as a result of climate change. The Green New Deal is a package of federal programs and investments to transition the nation from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean, renewable energy over 10 years, creating millions of high-wage jobs in the process. The details are still to come.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Announces the Green New Deal resolution on Feb 7

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Announcing the Green New Deal resolution on Feb 7
Photo Credit: OaklandNews

The original New Deal offers a blueprint. Like its proposed green offspring, the New Deal was a massive response to an unprecedented national emergency. The government took multiple and experimental approaches to the economic, social and environmental crises of the Great Depression.

One of the first and most popular programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), begun in 1933, deployed millions of men over ten years to improve the environment. The “first responders” of their day, the CCC men fought wildfires and epic floods, planted billions of trees, stabilized soils in the Dust Bowl and elsewhere, and developed a system of national refuges to sustain diminishing wildlife.

Millions found work through federal programs to modernize America’s “commons,” building roads, bridges, dams, housing, schools, hospitals, parks, and playgrounds.

CCC at work, Installing phone lines at Logan Pass, Montana, 1938

CCC at work
Installing phone lines at Logan Pass, Montana, 1938
Photo Credit: National Park Service

While the New Deal brought jobs and enhancements to cities, towns and rural nationwide, many minority communities were left behind. African Americans, domestic, and agricultural workers were often excluded in exchange for the support of Republicans and Dixiecrats in Congress who held the purse strings.

Recognizing this failure, the Green New Deal resolution is explicitly inclusive in its aim “to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.”

More than sixty progressive House members and several 2020 presidential candidates have already declared their support for a Green New Deal, as have several labor unions and environmental organizations. The trillion-dollar question is how to pay for it. A carbon tax, raising taxes on the ultra wealthy, and redirecting subsidies away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, are among the ideas.

WPA sewer project, Men laying pipes for the city of San Diego, California, 1935

WPA sewer project
Men laying pipes for the city of San Diego, California, 1935  Source

Not surprisingly, Republicans dismiss the Green New Deal, branding it “socialist,” “reckless,” “expensive,” and “unattainable.” Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin pronounced: “The Green New Deal, like Medicare- for-All and tuition-free college, is nothing but an empty promise that leaves American taxpayers on the hook.”

But climate activists point out that a Green New Deal would be far less costly than the climate disasters, pollution, and health problems that come from fossil fuels. Polls show growing public support for a Green New Deal. A December 2018 poll by Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication, found more than 90 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of self-identified “conservative Republicans” support a Green New Deal.

WPA emblem, Posted at work sites nationwide during the Great Depression

WPA emblem
Posted at work sites nationwide during the Great Depression

Organizers want to make the resolution a litmus test for those running for office in 2020. The Sunrise Movement is one of a growing number of grassroots groups mobilizing support among the nation’s youth. Its stated goal, “To build the movement for a Green New Deal.” Their social media campaign enjoins supporters to “turn up the heat” on Congress.

Sign the petition for a Green New Deal

The Living New Deal website’s new page on the Green New Deal describes ten
principles that led to the success of the original New Deal.

Susan Ives is communications director for the Living New Deal and editor of the Living New Deal newsletter.

Lessons for a Green New Deal today

The Democratic sweep of the midterm elections in 2018 brought a remarkable outpouring of support for a Green New Deal. Progressive Democrats introduced a resolution putting forward a program in general terms and some concrete proposals have been put in the congressional hopper. With the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis in 2020, calls for a Green New Deal and other policy initiatives based on the New Deal, like a new CCC, have been many.

Given the importance of the moment and the need to think through ambitious new programs, we at the Living New Deal have created this forum to feature discussion and proposals to help educate the public and guide legislators.

This forum is organized into five sections, starting with news about Green New Deal proposals and legislation and debates in the media about the Green New Deal. We then give our own views about lessons to be drawn from the original New Deal. The last two sections show that the original New Deal was green and feature some New Deal art that echoed the conservative spirit of the time.

Tabs to those sections can be found at the top of each page.

Here is a quick introduction to the Living New Deal’s view on the Green New Deal

Nine Principles that Should Guide the Green New Deal

By Richard A Walker, Living New Deal Director

Op-ed, Washington Post
Read the PDF

New debates are emerging around how the Green New Deal should tackle the critical challenges the country faces today—environmental, political, and economic. We are currently developing research that engages with these conversations, while drawing on the key lessons of the original New Deal. This section offers an overview of key debates about how the Green New Deal should achieve the transition to a low carbon economy, bring equitable growth, and rebuild the nation. 

Political Change

Members of the Civilian Conservation Corps work to control the Malibu fire near Angeles National Forest, California, 1935.

How FDR’s Original Green New Deal Challenged Jim Crow


The Jacobin

The Civilian Conservation Corps, FDR’s original Green New Deal, cared for the environment and gave jobs to the unemployed. And though its record on racial equality was imperfect, it helped undermine key parts of Jim Crow.

What We Can Learn From the First New Deal to Make the New One Better

by William Janeway

“Whether it is called “Build Back Better” or a “Green Industrial Policy” or, indeed, a Green New Deal, it is imperative to reject the false dichotomy of ‘jobs against climate.'”

Photo: Peg Hunter/flickr/cc

New Book: Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs

By Jonathan Neale

We are in the midst of a global pandemic and we are entering into a deep global recession, mass unemployment and the threat of runaway climate change. In every country, a great debate is beginning. What can be done about the economy and climate change? And what would a green new deal look like that meets the needs of people and the planet?

Joe Biden’s New Deal

Jake Bullinger, posted on Bitterroot Magazine, . Illustrations by Maddy Olson

A series of stories about the COVID-19 recovery called “The Next New Deal.” The author draws on New Deal policies to assess how the Biden administration can respond to the challenges ahead.

FDR’s Legacy and Joe Biden’s Greatest Challenge

David Riemer and June Hopkins

Previously published in The Hill

Thanks to the New Deal, Biden inherits a legacy of federal policy that he has the power to reshape. Will he build a 21st century New Deal?

Read more here.

Climate change: How a green new deal really could go global

By Justin Rowlatt, Chief Environment correspondent, BBC

Stimulus isn’t enough. Our cities need a post-pandemic New Deal.

“With 22 million-plus out of work, we need jobs and public-works vision for the future” By Patrick Sisson, Curbed.

Gray Brechin was interviewed by By Patrick Sisson for a Curbed story. Reflecting on the current crisis, Brechin noted that, “advocates and boosters of the New Deal constantly spoke of ‘increasing the health of the country in the broadest possible terms,’ part of what he calls the ‘lost ethical language’ of the program. Improving health, both physical and economic, was a measuring stick for success.”

What the New Deal Can Teach Us About a Green New Deal

An Interview with Richard A Walker, Jacobin

Nine Principles that Should Guide the Green New Deal

Lessons drawn from the successes—and failures—of the first New Deal.

By Richard A Walker, Living New Deal Director

Op-ed, Washington Post
Read the PDF

Green New Deal: Can we be the next Greatest Generation?

By Helena Birecki Jan. 3, 2020, San Francisco Chronicle

The Role of Public Capital” A Reconstruction Finance Corporation for the 21st century

BY Kevin Baker December 5, 2019

Photo: “President Franklin Roosevelt called a special session of Congress on March 9, 1933, to deal with the banking crisis.” (AP Images)

Forged in Fire: California’s Lessons for a Green New Deal

By Naomi Klein, Nov. 18, The Intercept

Photo: “Flames climb trees as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2018., Noah Berger/AP”

The Chico Green New Deal framework marries rapid decarbonization targets with calls for more affordable housing; a safe and sustainable food system; investments in “clean, 21st century” public transit; green jobs creation…and much more.

Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.

In her recently published book, Naomi Klein makes the case for urgent climate action and the need for a Green New Deal.

Listen to Naomi Klein speak about the Green New Deal here and the Extinction Rebellion here.

The climate crisis is our third world war. It needs a bold response

Joseph Stiglitz Opinion, The Guardian

Critics of the Green New Deal ask if we can afford it. But we can’t afford not to: our civilisation is at stake

No, climate action can’t be separated from social justice

The Guardian, Opinion, by Julian Brave NoiseCat

Where Our New World BeginsPolitics, power, and the Green New Deal

By Kevin BakerHarper Magazine

“The manifesto that announced the Green New Deal will not be instituted literally. Some parts of it will be compromised, some will be improved, added, or subtracted. But it had better come into being, or we will leave to future generations a world of natural disasters unlike anything we have ever known.”

Building a “Green New Deal”: Lessons From the Original New Deal

“Demands centering on the need for a “Green New Deal”, focused on the creation of a public works “green jobs” infrastructure policy, have helped energise the American left in recent weeks. In this article Matt Huber offers four vital lessons from the original New Deal that contemporary activists and policymakers must learn.”

By Matt Huber, Verso Books

This Is An Emergency, Damn It

Green New Deal critics are missing the bigger picture. Does this change everywhere?

By David Roberts, Vox

Photo: Nelson Klein, Sunrise

Economy and Cost

Climate Change Will Cost More Than We Think

The New York Times

Economists greatly underestimate the price tag on harsher weather and higher seas. Why is that?

By Naomi Oreskes and Nicholas Stern

Dr. Oreskes is a professor of the history of science at Harvard. Professor Stern is chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

Oct. 23, 2019

The New Deal Wasn’t What You Think

If we are going to fund a Green New Deal, we need to acknowledge how the original actually worked.

By Louis Hyman, Atlantic

Make Corporations Pay for the Green New Deal

A Green New Deal will require trillions of dollars of investment. But the government doesn’t actually need to put up all the cash — we can make corporations pay.

By Christian Parenti, Jacobin

How to Make the Next Green New Deal Work  

To make green investments pay off, policymakers must learn from past mistakes and stop subsidizing polluters. 

By Edward B. Barbier, Nature

A Green New Deal

Data For Progress Policy Report

Greg Carlock Lead Author, Emily Mangan Contributing Author, Sean Mcelwee 

A Green New Deal is fiscally responsible. Climate inaction is not

Opinion: Justin Talbot Zorn, Ben Beachy and Rhiana Gunn-Wright, The Guardian

The War On Climate Change Won’t Be Won Quibbling Over The Green New Deal’s Costs

The mounting damage of global warming is a crisis far greater than the deficit.

By Zach Carter and Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffington Post. Photo: David Mcnew Via Getty Images


If Washington rejects the Green New Deal, California should step up and do it ourself

By Jacques Leslie. Photo: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

“The Green New Deal is an audacious, ambitious proposal to treat the climate threat with the radical seriousness that it requires, while also reversing economic inequality and injustice.”

A California coalition is tackling one of the hardest, unsexiest parts of climate policy

Decarbonizing buildings: it’s tedious, but oh so necessary.

By David RobertsVox

Success On A Green New Deal Runs Through Public Lands

The ambitious climate resolution includes specific language about land preservation and protecting fragile ecosystems. By Chris D’Angelo, Huffington Post.

Photo: Associated Press.

Jobs and Justice

Green Economy Program

The UC Berkeley Labor Center

The Labor Center Green Economy Program conducts research on issues of job creation, quality, access, and training in the emergent green economy. 

The Promise of the Green New Deal

“[J]ust as the New Deal needed an index of success, so does the Green New Deal, but it requires a different one.  We need to measure things that contribute to quality of life and the restoration of the environment and subtract those that do not.”

By John de Graaf, Front Porch Republic

The US Needs a New Civilian Conservation Corps

FDR’s CCC worked in the 1930s, and it would work today.

By Paul J. Baicich, The Nation

The Green Collar Economy

How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems 

By Van Jones

Advocacy and Organizing

Green New Deal

Mobilizing for a Just, Prosperous, and Sustainable Economy

By Rhiana Gunn-Wright And Robert Hockett, New Consensus

Statement of principles from the think tank behind the GND Resolution

Green Jobs in a Global Green New Deal

 “An investment that fights climate change, creates millions of green jobs and spurs green growth.” 

Friends of the Earth Urge Congress to Support the Green New Deal

We need a Green New Deal to fight climate change while tackling issues of justice and rising inequity.

The Green New Deal has emerged as a path to lead the nation out of a profound crisis. It represents a major, long-term commitment to national renewal and reconstruction. Recognizing that incremental change is no longer sufficient to lead the United States toward environmental sustainability and economic stability, the Green New Deal has put forward a vision of sweeping economic change. Its principles are evolving along with a growing grassroots mobilization. This section is a chronicle of the latest developments and news about the Green New Deal. 

Sunrise Movement Protest in Washington DC, June 2021

Photos by Shae Corey

Group Photo Co. 193

America needs a Civilian Climate Corps

By Edward J. Markey
United States Senator (D-MA)

Boston Globe

America needs to get back to work, and we can do that while confronting the intersecting crises of the coronavirus pandemic, racial injustice, economic inequality, and climate change. Solutions must have the scale and scope of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. But this time, frontline communities and communities of color must be at the center. They have too long been left out of or, worse, excluded from the country’s discussions about jobs, infrastructure, and prosperity.

Senior Democrat joins calls for new conservation corps

Emma Dumain, E&E News reporter September 10, 2020

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced legislation this week to create a Civilian Conservation Corps. 

France launches €100 bn coronavirus recovery plan

Almost a third of funds will go towards green investments, including hydrogen energy

Victor Mallet, Financial Times
How the Green New Deal Saved a Senator’s Career, By Michelle Goldberg
New York Times

My Green Manufacturing Plan for America

Elizabeth Warren unveils plan to fight climate change and create jobs. 

Senate Blocks Green New Deal

But Climate Change Emerges As Key 2020 Issue                              By Susan Davis, NPR

McConnell aims to use Green New Deal to divide Democrats, but party is unifying against his show vote

by Paul Kane, The Washington Post

Senate will vote on the Green New Deal

ByAnthony Adragna, Politico

Republican lawmakers challenged Democrats to back up their support for the “Green New Deal” on Tuesday, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying he plans to bring the ambitious resolution to the Senate floor and conservatives in the House pressing for a vote in their chamber.

AOC discusses the GND Resolution

“From the New Deal to the Green New Deal”

by Richard A Walker, Director of the Living New Deal

Richard A Walker has written a new essay on how the New Deal provides a solid foundation for thinking about policy today in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic collapse. Read or download the essay here.


For a brief introduction to our ideas, here is a set of ten pointers for thinking about a Green New Deal in light of the lessons of the original New Deal of the 1930s.

Crafting a Green New Deal by Learning from the Original New Deal

by Richard A Walker, Director of the Living New Deal

The greening of America in the face of intense climate change is absolutely necessary. But if such a program is to succeed it needs to be based on some key lessons from the original New Deal. That’s where the Living New Deal can be of use in reminding policy makers of what made the original New Deal capable of revolutionizing American politics, government and civil society.

FDR and the New Dealers never set forth a list of principles because they were responding in the heat of a national emergency and were notoriously pragmatic. Their genius lay in a willingness to experiment on every front, launching dozens of programs to aid farming, industry, housing, education, workers, elders, and many more. Some of their innovations failed, but most succeeded and some were quite brilliant.

Here are ten principles that explain the success of the New Deal:

  • Create Universal Programs. The New Deal succeeded by initiating universal programs like pensions for all elders, work relief for all unemployed, and investment in all corners of the country. In so doing, it gave income, hope and voice to millions of Americans.
  • Reduce Inequality at Both Ends. Inequality is a plague that drags down the economy, breeds resentment, and rots the foundations of democracy. The New Deal dramatically reduced inequality by heavy taxes on wealth, curbs on speculation and lifting the fortunes of workers through the right to organize, fair wages from contractors and a federal minimum wage.
  • Modernize the Economy. America has suffered from industrial closures, financial speculation and sluggish investment. The New Deal was the first to use fiscal stimulus to spur growth, while pushing modernization through research, investment, and education.
  • Think Big. America’s foundations are crumbling, leaving unsafe water, potholed roads, and failing electric grids. The New Deal made a priority of investing in modern infrastructure and in so doing laid the foundation for prosperity far into the future.
  • Think Small. Not all public works need to be large. The New Deal built every kind of small project that local communities wanted, whether parks, schools or water systems, using the labor of local unemployed workers and jobless youth.
  • Invest in Lagging Places. The gulf between rural areas and big cities has to be addressed, just as the New Deal did through programs such as rural electrification, soil conservation and roads — bringing work, income and hope to forgotten places.
  • Let the People Serve. Americans want to work for a higher purpose than personal gain, and the New Deal gave them the means to rebuild their communities and reconstruct the nation through public works, social service, education and the arts.
  • Restore Faith in Government. Too many people feel that government does not serve them. The New Deal proved otherwise, making FDR the most popular president in US history. It showed that leadership must be based on high morals and personal honor.
  • Build a Greener America. Conservation was a pillar of the New Deal and a reason for its popularity. It showed that environmental improvement and social justice are the same thing by bringing clean water, free parks and reforestation to every corner of the country.

Combating climate change is a worthy centerpiece of a new New Deal, but it must be part of a program of national reconstruction and renewal for all. This great nation can rise to the challenge if it has the right vision and good leadership. We did it before and we can do it again.

On Oct 30, Richard A Walker Talked about the “New Deal To Green New Deal” at the Commonwealth Club SF

The Green New Deal has raised hopes for a major push to address climate change and social injustice. Is it just pie in the sky? Not at all. The original New Deal of the 1930s brought a revolution in conservation and public health, worker rights and wages, income and regional equality, and public investment for the common good—all during the worst depression in history. A Green New Deal is possible because we have done it before. Learn more about this initiative.

With all the current interest in the Green New Deal, it is important to remember that the first New Deal of the 1930s was very much a “green” program. Franklin D. Roosevelt was an ardent conservationist who was proud to assume the mantle of his uncle, Teddy Roosevelt, and other turn-of-the-century Progressives who sought to protect and manage the nation’s natural resources. Progressive reformers sought to heal a continent after the onslaught of 19th century expansion and industrialization, and the New Deal faced a similar challenge in the mid-20th century.

A look back at the programs of the Roosevelt Administration, 1933-1942, can help American visualize the range of environmental challenges the country faced in the past and aggressive government response under the New Deal. This may inspire Americans today not to despair over global threats to oceans, forests, and wildlife, and to come together under a broad green tent to promote sensible policies to protect our nation’s future.

Forest planting and protection. The leading program for forest conservation was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), created by Executive Order in 1933. The CCC worked with the US Forest Service and the states to plant some 3 billion trees in national forests and on spent farmland abandoned during the Depression. CCC men also built firebreaks, fire roads and fire lookouts across the country and fought major pest outbreaks. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) planted millions of street trees in cities. 

Soil conservation. Farm and grazing land across the country had been abused for decades, leading to the disaster of the Dust Bowl, billions of tons of topsoil washing away in floods, and widespread soil exhaustion. The Soil Erosion Service was launched in 1933 and made permanent as the Soil Conservation Service in 1935 to work with farmers to improve their practices and restore damaged land. The CCC and WPA contributed to erosion control with check dams, wind breaks and fencing, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act (1933/1938) reversed the expansion of marginal farmland. The Taylor Grazing Act (1933) and US Grazing Service (1939) brought the first oversight of federal grazing lands.

Flood control and water management. In response to massive floods on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in the late 1920s, the New Deal ramped up federal support for dams and levees under the Army Corps of Engineers. Bureau of Reclamation irrigation and flood control projects in the West were also greatly expanded. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), created in 1933, was a revolutionary attempt at multiple-use management of a major river basin, which transformed the upper South. Although water projects were immensely popular in the 1930s, after World War II there was a revolt against overbuilding because of the loss of free-flowing rivers, destruction of fish runs, excessive irrigation of marginal lands and over-reliance on flood control works.

Clean water. The nation’s rivers and lakes had been fouled by a century of mostly unregulated discharges by factories and cities. The New Deal addressed the problem of polluted water in two ways. On the one hand, the Public Works Administration (PWA) funded hundreds of new water supply and treatment systems to bring the people clean drinking water. On the other, the PWA paid for new sewers and major upgrades in sewage treatment, as in Washington, DC. and New York City. Better soil management also reduced sediment runoff into rivers around the country.

Public health. The New Deal enlarged the US Public Heath Service’s efforts on several fronts and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was revitalized.  The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was tasked with the first Food Stamps program (1939) and the USDA launched a major public education campaign to improve family nutrition, which was promulgated with the help of the WPA’s poster division. WPA and National Youth Administration (NYA) workers made over a million lunches for school kids.

Parks and recreation. The New Dealers fervently believed in the value of public recreation for the health and happiness of the American people. In the cities, tens of thousands of playgrounds and parks were built or improved, along with pools, ball fields, tennis courts, golf courses, and more. Several national parks and monuments were created or expanded, including Shenandoah NP, Olympic NP and Canyonlands NM. All across the country, the CCC and WPA built facilities like campgrounds, hiking trails and picnic areas to make national, state and local parks usable for decades to come.

Wildlife protection. The slaughter of wildlife as the continent was conquered is legendary. Efforts to address the problem began in the late 19th century and Teddy Roosevelt created the first National Wildlife Refuge at the turn of the century. The New Deal added well over a hundred new refuges, thanks to presidential actions and major improvements in funding. The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act of 1934 brought the revenues to buy back abused and marginal farm and ranch land for refuges (especially in the Dust Bowl); others were carved out of national forest and grazing lands. Federal refuge management was dramatically upgraded under the Bureau of Biological Survey (1934), later folded into the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Department of Interior (1940). The CCC was called upon to build the waterworks and roads that make the refuges functional and accessible to the public, and stocked over 1 billion fish in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams.

In sum, the New Deal was a halcyon period for natural resource conservation and public health improvements, initiating a broad spectrum of programs to solve the environmental and health challenges facing the United States at the time. Given advances in resource management, ecology and other sciences, and the hard lessons of past failures, a Green New Deal today would do many things differently.  On balance, however, the federal response in the 1930s was extremely positive for the nation, both raising awareness of the problems and setting in motion concrete efforts to solve them. The moral of the story is America’s capacity to take dramatic action when confronted with challenges as great as the Dust Bowl, World War II, and climate change.  

A brief bibliography on New Deal conservation

Oil painting titled Your Forests-Your Fault-Your Loss by James Montgomery Flagg.
Your Forests – Your Fault – Your Loss!” was an oil painting by James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960), created ca. 1937. (Wikimedia Commons)
WPA Museum Extension Project created posters in Pennsylvania. Courtesy of the Broward County Library.
Your Forests – Your Fault – Your Loss!” was an oil painting by James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960), created ca. 1937. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “President accepts fire prevention poster. Washington, D.C. June 10. President Roosevelt today accepted for the government the painting made by James Montgomery Flagg to be used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on posters throughout the country. It shows Uncle Sam as a forest ranger in a forest with the slogan ‘Your Forests–Your Fault–Your Loss.’ L to R: behind the president are James Montgomery Flagg, the artist; Sec. of Agriculture Henry Wallace; Earle H. Clapp, chief of the U.S. Forest Service.” Photo by Harris & Ewing, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.”
WPA posters were a call to action to preserve and conserve our natural resources. Courtesy of the Broward County Library.