A New, Greener Deal
"We usually talk about New Deal programs in terms of their effect on the mood of Americans--they restored hope, they gave people back their dignity and so on. Sometimes we talk about how they helped get the economy afloat again. But there was another result: the hundreds of thousands of actual projects that were built in those years. Hiking trails, city halls, bridges, park gazebos, public plazas, dams, and on and on. For my money, that's the kind of work that needs doing now, as we face a crisis even greater than the Depression: the quick unraveling of the planet's climate system in the face of our endless emissions of carbon dioxide.
Many people have used the Apollo Project (or the Manhattan Project) as the template for how we can quickly wean ourselves off fossil fuels and replace them with renewable sources of energy. That's good as far as it goes--we do need new technologies. But in a sense our task is almost the reverse of the Apollo Project. Instead of focusing our resources to land a few people on the moon, we need to spread them out to affect everyone. It's as if we've got to get the whole nation into orbit, and fast. And for that, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the CCC (and the industrial thrust to gear up for World War II) may provide a better analogy.
The people hired by these agencies went out and did things, and did them in large numbers--the CCC planted 3 billion trees (which would be no small help with global warming). Imagine an army of similar size trained to insulate American homes and stick solar photovoltaic panels on their roofs. They could achieve, within a year or two, easily noticeable effects on our energy consumption; our output of carbon dioxide might actually begin to level off. And imagine them laying trolley lines back down in our main cities or helping erect windmills across the plains. All this work would have real payoff--and none of it can be outsourced. You're not sending your house to China so they can stuff it with cellulose."