President Joe Biden campaigned for office with a message of healing and unity over political divisions. That may seem like a just another vague, warm-and-fuzzy emotional appeal. However, after just a few days in office the real meaning of his unity message has become crystal clear, especially in the area of climate action. Biden’s support for climate action provides business leaders with a fresh opportunity to cultivate and amplify their decarbonization plans.
However, although President Biden intended his unity message to resonate, evidently he did not intend it to smooth the way on compromise with fossil energy stakeholders. Far from it. Biden sent a clear signal when he summarily revoked the permit for the notorious Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline and announced that the U.S. would rejoin the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, mere hours after his inauguration ceremony last week.
With these actions, Biden affirmed that his definition of unity means unifying public policy with prevailing public sentiment on matters of fundamental concern, and one of those concerns is climate action.
In case there were any doubts, Biden affirmed his definition of unity last Friday, when he announced more than a dozen appointees to lead various offices in the Department of Energy.
The Biden appointees reflect the growing pool of top talent attracted to environmental and social action. That in and of itself is a signal to corporations that are losing the talent race because their business model does not align with the concerns of a new generation.
The Biden appointees come from climate-aware backgrounds including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Federation of American Scientists, the America’s Pledge initiative, the administrations of former President Barack Obama and Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and the Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment at Berkeley Law, among many others.
Even the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy will get a makeover, indicating its role in transitioning fossil energy know-how for use in a decarbonized economy. The new Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Chief of Staff of the office come to the job with resumes highlighted by experience with the World Resources Institute and the carbon removal group Carbon180.
The Friday announcement came in addition to Biden’s previous nomination of former Michigan Governor and electric vehicle fan Jennifer Granholm as Energy Secretary. Last December Biden also appointed former EPA chief Gina McCarthy as the first-ever National Climate Advisor, which follows on the heels of her one-year stint as President and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
If there are still any more lingering doubts about the nature of unity under the Biden administration, last week Reuters reported that the President has been preparing another round of climate action orders.
Details are not available as of this writing, but according to Reuters the new round involves an “‘omnibus’” climate change order that kicks off a “‘series of regulatory actions to combat climate change domestically and elevates climate change as a national security priority.’”
The focus on national security is especially interesting from a unity perspective. For many years, “support our troops” sloganeering has engineered and reinforced a partisan political split. By pulling national security into the sphere of climate change, the Biden administration reshapes that slogan into a call for unity on climate action.
That may seem to be a heavy lift, but it is not. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is already fully engaged in climate action as a matter of national security.
DoD took steps to decarbonize during the Obama administration, partly as a matter of logistical and tactical advantage over fossil energy. In 2014 DoD also included climate change as a leading threat to national security in its official Quadrennial Defense Review. Despite the Trump administration’s support for fossil energy, some signs of a bipartisan climate-aware posture on national security nevertheless continued to emerge after the previous president took office in 2017.
Meanwhile, DoD’s purchasing power was an important factor in driving the market for clean energy during the Obama administration, and DoD continued to exercise its supply chain impact throughout the Trump administration. DoD has pushed the market for further developing more renewable energy and innovative technology, supported foundational renewable energy research, and engaged with powerful new financial instruments that accelerate decarbonization.
DoD also signaled its decarbonization commitment to both presidential candidates in the days leading up to Election Day. At the end of October, the U.S. Air Force articulated the vision of a carbon-negative Department of Defense and issued an open crowdsourced challenge to reach that goal.
This leadership on decarbonization provides U.S. business leaders with a powerful nonpartisan opportunity to engage their employees on climate action — and their clients, customers and communities, too.
After all, many corporate citizens have already amassed an impressive portfolio of engagement activities on environmental issues as well as support for veterans and active duty military. If decarbonization is a matter of national security, then unifying the public on climate action shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
Image credit: The White House/Wiki Commons
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.