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To Combat the Climate Crisis, We Need a Government-Wide Mobilization

Hopefully Biden will nominate leaders who understand the severity of the climate crisis and the environmental injustices that burden communities of color and low-income communities.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks on November job numbers at the Queen Theater December 4, 2020 Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks on November job numbers at the Queen Theater December 4, 2020 Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The climate crisis isn't a single issue: It's an everything issue. To solve it, we'll have to change how we get around, how we grow food, how we heat and cool our homes, how we create electricity, and much else. We'll need an economy-wide, and society-wide, transformation that will create millions of family-sustaining jobs in clean energy, energy efficiency, and more.

To achieve that economy-wide transformation, we need every part of our government working toward it, as well as a powerful movement pushing officials to be even more ambitious and inclusive. Thankfully, many of President-elect Biden's first few cabinet picks show that he understands the necessity of a whole-government approach.

Chief among them is John Kerry, who was named to the new post of special presidential envoy for climate. Kerry is a longtime climate champion who played a key role in negotiating the Paris agreement in 2015. His cabinet-level position sits in the National Security Council, which isn't known for its focus on the climate crisis. But this foreign-policy role offers Kerry, and Antony Blinken, Biden's climate-conscious pick for Secretary of State, the opportunity to mobilize the global community toward climate action.

After years of fossil-fuel boosterism by the Trump administration, they'll have their work cut out for them. As Kerry well knows, just rejoining the Paris agreement is not enough to take U.S. off the path of planetary destruction. We'll have to go well beyond those goals, and phasing out the use of coal worldwide is a good place to start. Communities from South Korea to South Africa have documented the destructive health impacts of mining and burning dirty coal while showing how clean energy will save lives and money and create millions of jobs. One key opportunity for international climate diplomacy is to share technologies and pathways to an accelerated transition to 100% clean, renewable energy.

Our own country is in the middle of a painful recession, and Biden understands that our best way out is through a green stimulus that creates millions of family-sustaining jobs in clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and cleaning up pollution in communities of color and low-income communities. And his pick for Treasury secretary, former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, will be a central part of making such a plan reality. Yellen can help ensure that we spend public money to create jobs that revitalize our communities and stave off climate catastrophe. And luckily, she's long been a proponent of using financial tools to address the risk climate change poses to this country and our economy.

Yellen's engagement on the climate can—and must—go beyond a green stimulus. After all, as Treasury Secretary, she will have profound influence over government spending, development finance, and risk management in our financial sector. Climate change is one of the greatest risks to our economy, but the largest U.S. financial institutions are accelerating the crisis by pouring more money into fossil fuels. Yellen and other financial regulators in the Biden administration have the power to carry out a managed decline of fossil fuels, and to ensure that financial institutions zero out their climate impact.

Biden still has many roles to fill in his administration, including the heads of the EPA, Department of the Interior, and the Department of Energy. And I hope that for each one, he'll nominate a leader who understands the severity of the climate crisis and the environmental injustices that burden communities of color and low-income communities. Good policy starts with good people—and good movements that push them to make the most of the power voters have granted them.

Michael Brune

Michael Brune

Michael Brune is the executive director of The Sierra Club. His book "Coming Clean: Breaking America's Addiction to Oil and Coal "was published by Sierra Club Books in September 2008.

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