This Earth Week, Let’s Put Care at the Center of Climate Action

“Care is crucial low-carbon work that must be centered and uplifted in a just transition to a green economy.”

—Yifat Susskind, executive director of MADRE and member of the Feminist Green New Deal Coalition

This Earth Week, Let's Put Care at the Center of Climate Action
The Feminist Green New Deal Coalition makes the case for investment in high-quality jobs in the care sectors of our economy as part of a climate and infrastructure package, as well as climate policy more broadly. (Chris Yakimov / Flickr)

This Earth Week 2021, let’s finally and fully recognize the central role that care plays in the well-being of both people and planet.

In the lead up to Earth Week, the Feminist Green New Deal Coalition (the FemGND, for short)—a broad coalition of organizations and individuals in the U.S. working towards climate, gender, racial, economic and reproductive justice and who together advocate an intersectional feminist response to the climate crisis—released an exciting new landmark resource on the intersection of care and climate. The issue brief, “Care & Climate: Understanding the Policy Intersections,” makes the case for investment in high-quality jobs in the care sectors of our economy—including child care, residential care and home health care—as part of a climate and infrastructure package, as well as climate policy more broadly.

In order to transition from a fossil-fuel based economy to one that is healthy and sustainable for people and planet, there will need to be massive public investments in creating and supporting dignified, high-quality climate jobs for all—particularly those who have been economically marginalized, including people of color, women and gender non-conforming folks, and especially Black and Indigenous women.

For many, the phrase “green jobs” brings to mind hard hats and construction sites, where (overwhelmingly men) workers will be retrofitting buildings, and constructing and building solar panels. This is valuable and necessary work that we must invest in, while also intentionally building stronger structures to bring women and people of color into fields like renewable energy and construction. However, at the same time, we must recognize that green jobs means so much more. 


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“Care is crucial low-carbon work that must be centered and uplifted in a just transition to a green economy,” said Yifat Susskind, executive director of MADRE and member of the FemGND.

Care work, which is the life-sustaining and life-giving work of child care, elder care, disability care and more, is devastatingly undervalued and underresourced. Many have pointed to the ways that care work—both paid and unpaid—forms the backbone of our economy, and subsidizes every sector, “green” or otherwise. It is, as the brief states, “the unrecognized cost of maintaining our national infrastructure, performed overwhelmingly by women, particularly women of color. Focusing on unpaid care work illuminates the policy supports necessary to sustain all social and economic production.”

We know that half of all home health and personal care aides—who often care for the elderly and disabled—are women of color, and that the de-valuing of their care work is a result of white supremacy, capitalism and patriarchy intersecting. Momentum is growing to recognize care infrastructure as key to an equitable, green recovery from not only the COVID-19 crisis, but from the interlocking crises of white supremacy, patriarchy and economic inequality. 

This Earth Week, Let's Put Care at the Center of Climate Action
Filipino television host and actor, Miriam Quiambao, calling for gender justice in climate change in October 2008. (Mongkhonsawat Luengvorapant / Oxfam)

“This brief articulates the connections between two of the greatest crises facing our country, showing that care work is climate work, and vice versa. We need to ensure that the future is grounded in gender and racial justice,” said Julie Kashen, senior fellow and director of women’s economic justice at The Century Foundation.

“Home care workers are essential to our care infrastructure—investing in making home care jobs quality jobs will create millions of low-carbon jobs for women, immigrants and people of color, and support a workforce that is often at the front lines of climate crises,” said Ilana Berger, New York director of The Domestic Employers Network and campaign co-director of NY Caring Majority.

For climate action and investments and an economic recovery that prioritizes racial, economic and gender justice, focusing on care infrastructure is the place to start. 

The brief was co-authored by a powerhouse duo of climate and economic policy experts. Rhiana Gunn-Wright, director of climate policy at the Roosevelt Institute and one of the authors of the Green New Deal, and Lenore Palladino, assistant professor of economics and public policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, built together on the growing momentum around expanding and investing in national care infrastructure, from President Biden’s inclusion of elder care in his infrastructure plan to Congressman Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) recent release of the Care for All Agenda.

Upon the release of the FemGND issue brief, Congressman Jamaal Bowman noted:

“To build the world our kids deserve, and to deal with the climate crisis we’re facing, we need a paradigm shift in how we treat care work. We need an economy that values and prioritizes healing, not the current system of plantation capitalism that is destroying the planet and our people in order to concentrate obscene amounts of wealth in the hands of a few. Let’s treat care work as what it is—infrastructure—and invest in those jobs and workers so that we can build a truly sustainable economy.”

The FemGND hopes this resource brings new analysis to the discourse around climate investment and infrastructure, arguing that policy design must be attentive to the role that care infrastructure must play in just economic recovery and for gender and racial justice.

This Earth Week, read the new FemGND brief and commit to putting care at the center of climate policy and action.

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About

Mara Dolan (she/her) works on climate and gender justice research and advocacy at the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, focusing on policy change envisioned by the Feminist Agenda for a Green New Deal. As a journalist, her work focuses on climate justice and women’s rights, and has been published in The Nation, Teen Vogue, Bitch Media and other outlets. She is currently based out of Rhode Island but calls central Illinois home.