Building the World

Year 2020: Climate Conservation Corps


Regional Civilian Climate Conservation Corps (4C) – a response to rising seas? Image: “Continental North America,” wikimedia.

Preservation of natural resources and human resources were the goals of the original CCC, founded by American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt just days after taking office as the 32nd president of the United States. The idea: putting the nation’s youth to work in forests, parks, and range lands. It was first called the Emergency Conservation Corps, but soon became known as the Civilian Conservation Corps.

In this new decade of 2020, it may be time to consider a new CCC: Civilian Climate Conservation Corps ©. Call it 4C and you’ll hear “Foresee.”

Like the original organization, the goals are to preserve natural resources and human resources. Like the original organization, membership would be voluntary. Like the original organization, emergency response should be one of the critical purposes. Like the original organization, service could provide training that leads to jobs of the future.

Climate change affects regions, not nations. Rising seas will not stop at the Maine border, but will laps contiguous shores of Canada. Flooding shores of the Gulf of Mexico will reach both the USA and Mexico. The new regional trade agreement USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), CUSMA (Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement/ ACEUM (Accord Canada-Etats-Unis-Mexique), and Tratado enter Mexico, Estates Unidos y Canada (T-MEC) may provide a framework. Other regions would have a similar focus on their joint shores and joined missions. Perhaps in Europe, students in the ERASMUS (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) program linking many universities throughout the continent might participate in a service learning climate response. Will the Belt and Road Initiative provide common ground for youth climate conservation service in areas now joined in the world’s biggest infrastructure project, linking land and sea?

Differing from the original organization, the new CCC might go beyond national boundaries to address the regional reality of the environment and climate change.

Civilian Climate Conservation Corps (4C): regional response to climate crisis. Image: North America from space: NASA.

The climate crisis calls for action in this decade. It is the youth of the world who most clearly see the dangers, protesting across the world, assembling at official gatherings like COP25 in Madrid, Spain demanding governments take faster action to stop climate change. What will happen in Glasgow, November 2021? Now, while there is still a chance to respond, the proposed new 4C, Civilian Climate Conservation Corps, could harness the energy, idealism, action-commitment, and innovative thinking of the very generation that must face, and solve, the climate crisis. It is the rising generation that will plant the new world.

“Reforestration: Lexington, Kentucky, USA, by CCC, 1935.” Image: FDR Presidential Library and Museum, 74-20 (1051).

To explore how the new 4C, Civilian Climate Conservation Corps, might develop, let’s take look at some case examples of mobilizations both ancient and modern. In this year-long topic, we’ll consider the Dycken Waren (Volunteer Dike Army) of the ancient Netherlands, peacetime Roman army, medieval guilds, militia companies organized by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636, Civilian Conservation Corps, Peace Corps, VISTA, AmeriCorps, City Year, Teach for America, Gap Year, Erasmus, FridaysForFuture, World War Zero, and Anagarikas.

All mobilization models might build in four stages: purpose, structure, resourcing, guidance. As we explore ways in which people have moved forward together throughout history, we may find ways to mobilize a successful response to climate change.

Overview Sources:

Belt and Road Initiative.

Brooke, Kathleen Lusk. “Water, Energy, Cities, Transport, Space: Using your Capstone to Build a Better Future through Science and Service.” Seminar. February 2019, International School Yangon: ISY, Myanmar.

Davidson, Frank P. and George S. Viereck, editors. Before America Decides: Foresight in Foreign Affairs. Harvard University Press, 1938 and Harvard/De Gruyter, edition, 2014. ISBN: 9780674594852.


Gates, Bill. “My Plan for Fighting Climate Change: Electricity, Agriculture, Manufacturing, Transportation, Building.” 17 October 2018. Blogpost.

James, William. “The Moral Equivalent of War.” Speech delivered at Stanford University, 1906.

Kennedy, John F. “Peace Corps Act,” Executive Order 10924, March 1961, authorized by United States Congress 21 September 1962.

Litwin, George, John J. Bray, Kathleen Lusk Brooke. Mobilizing the Organization: Bringing Strategy to Life. London: Prentice Hall/Pearson, 1996. ISBN: 0131488910.

Marks, David H. “New Directions in Engineering Education.” International Conference on the Future of Engineering Education. National University of Mexico. School of Engineering Alumni Association, Mexico City, Mexico, January 15-17, 1992.

Roosevelt, Franklin D. “Greetings to the CCC,” 8 July 1933. The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Volume 13. Contributors: Franklin D.  Roosevelt, author, and Samuel Irving Rosenman, author. New York City: Random House, 1938-1950.

Rosenstock-Hussy, Eugen. “Modern Industry as a Restoration of Nature.” 11 January 1935. Harvard University, Lowell Institute.


World War Zero.


DYCKEN WAREN + Rijkswaterstaat – DIKE ARMY + Water Management

Without dikes, the Netherlands would be flooded to this extent. Map by Jan Arkesteijn, 2004. Image: wikimedia.



Spring rains and flooding plagued the lowlands of the Netherlands. Bishop van Zuden, ruler of West-Friesland commanded: “Everybody shall come to work at the dike on instruction of the bailiff or dike reeve.” (“ende alman sal ten menen werke comen op den dijc, dares hem die Baeiliu, of die Dijcgrave vermaent.”)

  • Letter from the Water Board of the Lekdijk Benedendams, 1405.

Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century C.E., saw and described the peoples who, for half a millennium, had inhabited much of the present terrain of the Netherlands. Pliny recorded what had been established a hundred years before the traveler’s arrival: inland farmers had begun to construct dams in the tidal creeks to protect their land against high water. Pliny may have observed the Caninefates or Batavians who settled along the western coast; the Frisians lived in the northern portion along the Rhine and Meuse Rivers. About the time Pliny wrote, the Frisians had established something called “the dike peace,” a strongly enforced consensus that whenever a dike was endangered, family feuds and civil disturbances must cease forthwith so that all available people could be mobilized to reinforce the dikes Anyone who failed to respond was forced to renounce their property forever. Every family was allowed to keep one able-bodied person at home in times of response. In addition to those allowed to remain to defend the family’s home, also excused were the infirm, the clergy, and the bakers – people have to eat. It might be noted that maintaining a fire is easier than starting one, as the vestal virgins of ancient Rome learned. Bakers, who tended the village fire, may be said to be descendants of Prometheus.

Local communities came together to form Water Boards, which had, by common consent, wide powers of inspection, discipline, and governance. Examples of agreed stipulations of these water boards were the power to call out the local dike army whenever needed. The water board, a democratic organization, took root and remains even today a basic element and defense of the Netherlands. The water boards slowly received formal charters from the rulers of various districts. Because each village contributed to the upkeep of the dikes, the local committees were an efficient instrument of self-taxation.

God created the Earth, but the Dutch built the Netherlands – Proverb. Polders are pieces of land in low-lying areas that have been reclaimed from water by building dikes and drainage canals. Polders are found in coastal areas, and also near inland lakes and rivers.  Polder shown here is in an area otherwise below sea level. Image; wikimedia

Not all flood disaster response was local. Over time, the seven provinces of the area found the lack of a common river policy could be improved by establishment of a central water authority. In 1798, the Rijkswaterstaat, or water authority, became the planner and builder of macro flood-protection infrastructure consisting of dikes along shores and main rivers. The Rijkswaterstaat also managed land-reclamation projects. One of such achievements was the reclamation of the Lake of Haarlem. The lake had steadily increased in size over the centuries, threatening and sometimes flooding the nearby cities of Amsterdam and Leiden.

“Amsterdam at dusk.” Image: wikimedia commons.

In 1836, storm surges once again flooded Amsterdam and Leiden, causing deliberations about what kind of response would be most effective. In 1852, the Lake of Haarlem was finally drained using three steam-driven pumps. Today Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is situated on the very site of the former lake. The name Schiphol, meaning “ships’ hell” was used because of the many ships wrecked at this spot.

The hydrodynamic security of the Netherlands has been a continuous and intricate process. The two chamber of the States-General, the supreme legislative authority, continue to oversee the budget for water management, which requires one percent of the national income in an average year.

Netherlands’ budget for coastal flooding protection. Image: wikimedia commons.

The Netherlands may serve as an example for people living in low-lying coastal areas – totaling at least 60% of the world’s population. Rising seas will make coastal management an increasingly difficult matter. Will climate change require all coastal nations to allocate one percent to manage sea rise? Some estimate the costs will be higher. All the engineering masterpieces that protect coasts – dikes, dams, storm-surge harriers, pumping stations – must be designed, built, maintained, and sometimes rebuilt. Beaches and dunes must be conserved by replenishing and nourishing the sand, giving the coast its natural protection. And that is just maintaining.

Disaster response is very different from maintenance. Rising seas will cause periods of flooding that may call for temporary armies. Coastal communities could form Dike Armies, as part of a Civilian Climate Conservation Corps (4C), for disaster response to sea rise. Should schools and universities in coastal locations encourage students who study water as an aspect of their capstone or thesis to strengthen knowledge by service learning as part of a water militia?


Cunniff, Shannon. “What we can learn from 1,000 years of Dutch flood management.” 19 August 2015. Environmental Defense Fund.

Huisman, Pieter, Frank P. Davidson, and Kathleen Lusk Brooke. “Protective Dikes and Land Reclamation.” Chapter 5, pages 47-62, Volume I, Building the World. Greenwood/ABC-CLIO 2006, ISBN: 0313333548.

Institute of Water Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Rijkswaterstaat, Netherlands. “Two Centuries of Experience in Water Resource Management. ” Alexandria, Virginia, USA, 2014.

“God created the world, but the Dutch built Holland.” Typology of Dikes: Sea, River, Polder, Lake, Canal, Defense, Dams and Storm Surge Barriers, Emergency Dikes.



Rome maintained an army. During peacetime, troops built infrastructure like roads and aqueducts. Pictured here, what Roman soldiers might have worn, displaying the signifier of the Eagle. PhotographerL Matthias Kabel, 2005

Modern military forces around the world represent considerable investment in resources both financial and human. Many attribute the power and strength of the Roman empire to its army. It was large – with 5,000 soldiers per legion, and as many as 50 legions stationed from the Tiber to points as far away as one could march, or ride in chariots or upon horses. Three legions were stationed in what is now the United Kingdom. There were also auxiliaries, recruited from groups of non-citizens that lived within Rome’s stated empire. This was a large pool of applicants: 90% of the Roman Empire’s population in the first century ce  were non-citizens. Finally, ranks included “number” who were allied units that fought as mercenaries, often led by aristocrats from neighboring tribes. The army lived together in settlements called “castra” that became a permanent part of the Roman landscape stretching form Yorkshire, England, to Masada, Israel.

Roman “castrum” army settlement barracks, Masada Roman Ruins, Masada, Israel. Photographer: David Shankbone. Image: wikimedia

With that many troops, Roman had a problem: when not waging war, how could these soldiers earn their considerable wages? Legion members were highly paid, provided with living quarters, benefits, and bonuses. When not at battle, soldiers trained, drilled, and practiced formations. Some served as Rome’s police force, keeping towns and settlements free from crime. But most of their time was spent building the infrastructure that allowed Rome to expand and prosper.

Bridges, canals, docks, aqueducts, roads, theaters – all these essentials of civilization were built by the peacetime army. It wasn’t just building. Soldiers did mining and worked in quarries. Soldiers cleared forests and drained marshes and swamps. They built new towns, temples, public buildings. Many craft-experts were recruited and hired; it was more economical to pay one workforce, the army, and have them do what would otherwise have been the work of private contractors. Because the Roman army could live on job-sites, they really were more of an armed construction crew. After they built the roads, soldiers worked as assistants to the toll-collectors on the public roads. Those who used the roads for commerce were expected to pay a fee whenever crossing a toll line. Military spending amounted to 50% of the government’s budget, so it was important to use human and financial resources to optimum effect.

What can we learn from the ancient Roman peacetime army that may apply to today’s large military budgets? Looking at the United States, numerically it is ranked 1 or 138 of countries in the world maintaining an army. In 2020, the American military budget called at $748 billion. Numbers of soldiers may be segmented into deployed  (210,000) and reserve (845,000). While the USA outspends any other country, China has more military people, with an estimated ground force of 975,000 and a total force of 2 million. China is second in spending. On the other end of the spectrum, the country with the smallest army is Vatican City with 110 who form the Swiss Guard.

Where can we get the human power needed to combat climate change? How will we response to sea rise and other climate disasters? The Dutch Dike Army is one model, voluntary disaster relief teams assembling when needed. Another model is the Roman Peacetime Army, legions of paid military who can function as “armed onsite construction crews.” In countries the have a standing army, and the expense of maintaining such a force, the Roman model might be effective. In the United States, nation that spends the most on military, maintaining a very large army might be a source of response to climate disasters impacting aging infrastructure: roads in need of rebuilding, bridges crumbling, rivers overflowing into flood plains, lakes and reservoirs like Lake Mead shrinking in times of drought. Where will we get the human power to combat climate change? the answer that may come into focus when staring down the barrel of a gun.

Duncan-Jones, Richard. Structure and Scale in the Roman Economy. 1990

Duncan-Jones, Richard.  Money and Government in the Roman Army. 1994.

Holder, Paul. Auxiliary Deployment in the Reign of Hadrian. 2003



Bank on Castle Street, London. Image: wikimedia.

We need a million new ideas to solve the climate crisis. Where will we find these innovations?

What if ideas to solve the future came from the very generation that must face and conquer climate change? Every year, 1.8 million graduates in North America complete a thesis or capstone. These brilliant ideas, some of the best and most refined work achieved as the culmination of an educational success, could be deposited into an idea bank. It would be a database the likes of the ancient Library of Alexandria, said to contain all the greatest ideas in the world at that time. Some of the most significant inventions and innovations were achieved by those consulting the scrolls of Alexandria’s depository. Is it time to create a digital equivalent? An idea bank?

Rising seas: Puerto Escondido, Mexico may lead the way with guidance from the University of the Sea (UMAR). Image: wikimedia.

Graduate students and professors of the University of the Sea, in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, are working with the team of Building the World to develop and launch an Idea Bank. The basic premise is that students would include in their thesis an environmental impact analysis of one of the five key factors in determining the future: water, energy, cities, transport, space. Working with a common text, a new book presenting problems and potential solutions to these five factors for the future, students would explore using a shared framework including case studies, systems models, laws, and research sources. Upon completion of their theses, students would deposit their findings in the Idea Bank, their deposit then becoming a virtual passbook that allows access and networkingwith like minds. The University of the Sea (UMAR) vision includes webinars, streaming conferences, and featured works of the month. There would be an annual prize awarded for the best thesis, its merit determined by its potential impact to build a better world.

Recognition for the Steering Committee of the Idea Bank, with appreciation for their vision and guidance includes: Iris Lissete Zárate Bustos, Juan Francisco Alarcón Hencio, Lourdes Yesenia Angeles Mendoza, Miguel Alejandro Orozco Rojas, Valery Itzxchel Estrada, chaired by Faculty Professor and Department Chair, Professor Charles E. Litwin.



Costa Rica is the location of the Earth Charter Initiative and the University for Peace. Here: “Playa Langosta” wikimedia.

Begun as a conversation and developed over a decade in the “most open and participatory consultation process every conducted in connection with an international document,” and now housed on a mountain top in Costa Rica, the Earth Charter was approved at the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in March 2000 in Paris, France. While some might opine the focus is on the environment, it is both the “what” and the “how” that the Earth Charter addresses, seeing protection of the environment as part of rights, equity, and peace. The environment is the context for a major shift in civilization, a “transition to sustainable ways of living in a global community with the values of respect and care for the community of life.” (

The government of the Netherlands funded the startup of the Earth Charter Initiative, with $1.5 support, but now the Earth Charter Fund receives donation to an Earth Charter Bank Account managed by the University for Peace in Costa Rica.

University for Peace, Costa Rica. Image: wikimedia.

The University for Peace was created by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 35/55, with an alumni population of over 2,000 from 120 nations. UPEACE offers masters and doctoral programs. It’s headquartered in Costa Rica, a country that disbanded its army in 1948. Costa Rica also hosted first permanent international tribunal that permitted individuals to initiate legal action against states, nations, and countries that violated international law and human rights. Discussion of a University for Peace were owned by President of Costa Rica Rodrigo Carazo. In 1980, on 5 December, the United Nations adopted Resolution 35/55/ also known as the International Agreement for the Establishment of the University of Peace and the Charter of the University. University for Peace is located on a mountaintop in Costa Rica.

The University for Peace may be one of the few educational institutions with a dedicated global mission. With only 20 years completed and 2,000 alumni, the University for Peace may become increasingly central to the future, of education and of world sustainability.

How can alumni, students, and faculty of the University for Peace develop increased leadership?




In 2021, one of every three Americans suffered climate consequences. In the West, drought set the stage for devastating fires. Drought also caused rationing of the Colorado River and water from Lake Mead. In the South and East, hurricanes battered the coast; flooding washed out communities. Gushing water damages sewer systems, threatening the safety of water supply. Attendant power outages forced residents to swelter in heat while air-conditioners went dormant and refrigerators lost cooling properties, spoiling food.

More resilient infrastructure is working – after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans built a system of levees and sea walls – holding back the worst of floods in the city during Hurricane Ida in 2021. But nearby communities, not protected by the city system, lost homes and businesses. If the USA were to build coastal protective barriers for every community on the sea, the cost would be over $400 billion.

Infrastructure takes time to build. What can we do, meanwhile? Is it time to consider a Civilian Climate Conservation Corps (4C) to respond to natural disasters that are happening with greater frequency? Could the educational system participate by pairing environmental studies with service learning?



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