President Biden is taking a series of actions on climate change today, his seventh in office. Biden has appointed John Kerry to be the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and Kerry was responsible for announcing the Executive Order on Climate, which will kick off the process for the U.S. to establish its new and more ambitious goal for a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 (which exceeds the Paris Climate Agreement goals, which many feared fell short.) Biden has also appointed former EPA chief Gina McCarthy as White House Climate Czar.

As I listened to Secretary Kerry and Climate Advisor McCarthy announce President Biden’s Executive Order on Climate today I thought to myself “This is big!” and then McCarthy echoed those very words. It is a very big day for climate. Here’s why:

Biden turns the issue of our time on its head

Under the Biden agenda, climate is not being viewed through the lens of business, environment, or security. Instead, business, environment, and security are being viewed through the lens of climate change to determine the appropriate actions suggested by science. The administration has turned a key issue of our times on its head. Note that Kerry’s official role links climate and national security.

I’ve been in the green building business industry for more than two decades, and I’ve learned that you need to follow the money. “Who benefits?” is the only question to ask if you want to change a system controlled by people. A major pillar of the climate agenda addresses the money: jobs, community redevelopment, even the fees paid to states for energy extraction. The answer to “Who Benefits?” starts with the end goal – economic prosperity must be equitably distributed across our country and across the political spectrum.

McCarthy spoke of a task force looking at coal communities as an abundant workforce for new kinds of work in their own communities. These communities will not be treated as a broken thing that must be fixed – they are treated as an opportunity for new prosperity. I admire the Biden administration’s acceptance of responsibility to address both the environmental trauma caused by coal and the need for opportunities for coal communities. Kerry and the administration are not hiding behind some policy to save the planet. They are declaring their responsibility on camera in the briefing room. Every energy community in need now knows who is on the hook to create movement – and that’s Biden.

McCarthy stated that this climate Executive Order is a “signal effort”. I appreciate this position. The agenda signals the reality of science and the seriousness of the climate crisis. The agenda signals that renewable energy costs are dropping faster than we ever imagined. The agenda signals the inevitable shift in investor preference for climate action to reduce risk.

I like the signal concept – it’s like a flagger at a road project – go this way if you want the smooth road around the bump. Great leaders paint a vivid picture that attracts followers. She’s a leader!

What I most like about the Biden climate agenda is its focus on the future we want – and a systematic attack on the root climate issues. It’s a classic Level 5 leadership strategy. Both Kerry and McCarthy exhibited their indomitable will and passion for action. And they also acknowledged the magnitude of the problem and the limits of their personal ability to drive the solution. It’s not about them as the heroes – it is about us, solving our problem through a national effort.  It takes a strong leader to admit their limits and ask for help.

It’s a very big day!

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