mixed greens

What leadership looks like

Posted 2/10/21

For the majority of American voters who understand that global warming is real (72 percent) and harmful to future generations (71 percent); who want the President and Congress to do more about it (60 …

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mixed greens

What leadership looks like


For the majority of American voters who understand that global warming is real (72 percent) and harmful to future generations (71 percent); who want the President and Congress to do more about it (60 percent), including funding renewable energy (86 percent), setting limits on CO2 pollution (75 percent) and incentivizing energy-efficient vehicles, solar panels (82 percent) and buildings (88 percent); and who believe all Americans should do more to address global warming (64 percent), the last two weeks have brought a welcome change. The new administration wasted no time, kick-starting a range of directives and policies. In broad terms, these actions establish a coordinated “whole of government” approach to climate change in domestic policy, government operations, infrastructure projects and foreign policy. They restore scientific integrity by directing agencies to make evidence-based decisions, guided by the best available science and data, by re-establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and requiring science advisory boards and science officers in key departments. Federal agencies will once again include the “social cost of carbon and methane”—the real-world economic harm caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—in their cost/benefit assessments of regulations and other projects.

The administration formally recognizes climate change as a national security issue and an essential element of foreign policy. We will rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and commit to a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050. The U.S. will resume efforts to provide global leadership on climate action. John Kerry, President Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate, announced that the U.S. will stop using public funds from agencies such as the Export-Import Bank to fund fossil fuel projects. He also announced the U.S. will use its leverage at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to support international GHG reduction and climate goals outlined in the Paris Agreement. The Biden Administration will seek bipartisan support for international commitments to reduce chemical refrigerants (HFCs) that are potent GHGs.

The President has canceled the federal permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline and issued a moratorium on oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands and in federal waters while accelerating the permitting process for renewable energy projects and setting a goal of doubling our offshore production of wind energy. Federal agencies have been directed to purchase zero-emission vehicles as they update their fleets. And they have begun the process of reviewing and restoring environmental regulations and efficiency targets that were weakened or scrapped by the previous administration.

Help is also on the way for communities coping with the effects of past environmental harm and ongoing, climate-related disasters. These initiatives include helping communities implement resiliency projects and a new, holistic approach to environmental justice and climate justice. Offices in the departments of Justice, Energy, Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency will work to address the disproportionate environmental impacts on disadvantaged communities and communities of color, which have historically suffered the consequences of fossil fuel pollution. A new climate-justice initiative will work to ensure that the benefits of the clean energy transition are equitably distributed to help disadvantaged communities and help displaced oil, gas and coal workers transition to a renewable energy economy. A new Civilian Climate Corps will provide jobs and training while implementing environmental restoration projects.

Public opinion about climate change has evolved dramatically over the past few years. The polling statistics in this column’s opening paragraph come from the latest survey reports released late last year by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Since 2005, the Yale Project has charted progress—and occasional backsliding—in Americans’ understanding of the science of climate change and support for action, including changing their own behaviors. Along the way, Yale has identified strategies for effective messaging and pointed out how political polarization can skew our trust in climate science and suppress our basic ability to discuss the issue with one another. Over the years, their most surprising insight has been that many more Americans are concerned about climate change than most of us realize, while supporting a range of remedies. What we’re divided about is whether we can really make a difference. The Biden Administration has hit the ground running with a comprehensive, aspirational approach that connects science-based climate action with tangible benefits like job creation, resilient infrastructure and a revitalized energy industry. By invoking shared values like justice, hard work and faith in American ingenuity, this plan appeals to us all to create a better, more secure world for ourselves and coming generations. We have no time to lose.

Further reading:

“Here Are All the Climate Moves Biden Took on Day One” 

“FACT SHEET: President Biden Takes Executive Actions to Tackle the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Create Jobs, and Restore Scientific Integrity Across Federal Government”

Yale Project on Climate Change Communication


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