We can't fix climate without care work

Today’s original art for The Phoenix is by Laila Arêde.

We are in a climate emergency. And you were born at just the right moment to help change everything.

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It’s been more than a month since President Biden first announced his multi-trillion dollar infrastructure package, the centerpiece of his initial push for transformative climate legislation. Progressives in Congress have countered with a proposal – the THRIVE act – that’s at least five times more ambitious.

The two plans agree on one super important thing: Care work is infrastructure.

Here’s Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, who was instrumental in developing both proposals:

This infrastructure plan is a historic step forward that would not have been possible without us, and so much more is needed to reach the scale of what is necessary to truly transform this country to stop the climate crisis.

We should celebrate this. And we should be outraged that Biden’s plan is nowhere near enough. Both of these can be true simultaneously.

It’s huge

Over the past month, Biden has traveled the country to promote his plan, and we’ve learned a lot more about the details.

The best part of Biden’s proposal is that it redefines care work as an essential part of America’s critical infrastructure. On the table:

  • Universal Pre-K

  • Subsidized child care

  • Paid family and medical leave

Only 21% of Americans have access to paid family leave, and all together his plan would create 10x as many jobs as were lost during the COVID recession – mostly through a huge expansion of the “care economy”.

It’s nowhere near enough

The worst part of Biden’s plan is that it won’t work. In its current form, the plan is too small and risks squandering the last remaining decade before we lock in warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius — kickstarting a tailspin of climate chaos. It’s not “building back better”, it’s tiptoeing towards catastrophe.

I didn’t want to be a downer, but the science on this is perfectly clear: Even after Biden’s Earth Day summit of world leaders, the climate emergency is still barreling full speed ahead, on pace for a deadly 2.9°C of warming by the end of the century under the policies the world currently has in place.

The part I was most excited about, the Civilian Climate Corps (which I’ve written about before at The Phoenix) could have been a centerpiece of a literal renaissance in American public works but instead, it’ll be funded at just $10 billion — enough to employ only about 20,000 people, just 2-3% of the scale of FDR’s New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps that it’s modeled on.

And his investment in care work, an idea that was one of Elizabeth Warren’s plans and made even more urgent during the pandemic, is important for many more reasons than just as a safety net for a struggling economy.

It’s time to fight for our future

Care work is important not because it helps us survive, but because helps us thrive. Valuing care work appropriately bends society toward the day where we all care about each other and the Earth as if we are all we have.

As Ai-Jen Poo writes in Jezebel, care work has always been infrastructure. Care work is a transformative window into a world worth fighting for. And if we engage in the climate fight at the scale that science says is necessary, there’s going to be a lot of caring to do.

Remember the climate strikes? Well, we might need to bring those back. On a huge scale.

After all, 2020 — a year of pandemic and fires and floods and heartache and injustice — was also the hottest year in human history. Methane emissions are soaring again in oil country and we’ve already surpassed pre-pandemic CO2 levels and crossed over above 418 ppm, higher than at any level in human history.

Remember all those terrifying climate reports, the ones saying there’s only a few years left of business as usual before the effects of climate change become irreversible?

The clock’s ticking.

According to Harvard political scientist Erica Chenoweth, it only takes 3.5% of the population to change the course of history. Right now, the President has climate on the mind. This platform proves he’s open to voices demanding bold change for a better world. Now, it’s time to make sure he hears us.

I’m hopeful. I’m angry. I’m hopeful-angry. And that feeling is the exact sweet spot where radical change can happen.