Commentary

For our future, Pa. needs a robust Civilian Conservation Corps | Opinion

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By Mary Collier

My name is Mary, and I recently  trekked 105 miles from Harrisburg to  Washington D.C. because I love Pennsylvania.

I was born and raised in eastern Pennsylvania, but now I live in central Pennsylvania after moving here to attend college. I just graduated in May, but I’ve decided to stay in the central part of the state because my partner and I have found a really wonderful community and dignified, meaningful work here.

As a kid, I remember playing and getting lost in the woods around my home. I loved discovering the mysteries of the woods, the way the light fell between the branches, and discovering where different paths led. The woods captivated me for hours at a time, as I found different nests and holes in logs made by the animals who called these woods home.

I fell in love with the mystery and the beauty of Pennsylvania forests, and I carried this love with me to college. It’s a two hour drive from my hometown to the town my college is in.

When I first started doing this drive, only a few years ago, I would drive past full, green, luscious forests filled with wildlife. These forests stretched on for miles beside me, and even in the car I could see the light filtering through the branches. It brought back that urge to explore them again like I had when I was a kid.

But now, more and more Pennsylvanian forest land is being cut down to make room for fracking, drilling, pipelines, and lumber. The forests that used to stretch out for miles on my drive are now barren, dead patches with stumps where trees used to be.

The trucks driving all around me are carrying the trees that once stood tall, and the air is polluted and thick. The mystery and wonder of all that Pennsylvania wilderness is fleeting. Animals no longer have a myriad of choices to build homes. The light doesn’t filter through anywhere; it just burns up the surface of the ground. Pennsylvania is beautiful, but that beauty is being destroyed.

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This doesn’t mean I’ve lost hope in regaining Pennsylvania’s beauty. I have hope because I know a better world is possible.

It’s a world where the frontline workers who rely on fossil fuel and lumber industry jobs are transitioned into clean energy jobs that pay them dignified wages doing meaningful work to combat the climate crisis. I’m fighting for a world where no one has to choose between doing a job that destroys our planet and paying their bills.

That’s why I led a group of young people from across the state of Pennsylvania on an 105-mile trek from our state’s capital, Harrisburg, to the federal capital, Washington, D.C. to demand that our representatives in Congress and the White House pass a robust Civilian Climate Corps as part of the American Jobs Plan to put millions of people to work fighting climate change.

Pennsylvania needs a federal CCC because we need to close all our orphaned mine wells, replant all our trees, and transition our energy and transportation infrastructures.

Those working in the lumber and fossil fuel industries should be the first to get access to this important, well-paying work. A lot of federal decisions come down to our state, and Pennsylvania youth realize that. We turned out in the hundreds of thousands last November to phone-bank, text-bank, canvass, and vote for Joe Biden until our fingers were blue and our voices were raw.

We didn’t do all this work because we were all in for Biden, but we knew our communities and planet stood a better chance with him in office.

Now it’s time Biden listen to us, the people who put him in that office, and stop negotiating our futures away. A federal Civilian Climate Corps will transform millions of lives and transform our country’s infrastructure and landscape to ensure a livable future for generations to come.

Mary Collier writes on behalf of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-centered environmental advocacy organization. 

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