For a landmark moment in the global effort to stave off catastrophic climate change, Joe Biden’s “climate day” at the White House was rather low-key. The US president bumped elbows with his newly appointed climate tsar, John Kerry, who he called his “best buddy”, then gave a short speech before perfunctorily signing a small stack of executive orders, donning his mask and striding out without taking any questions.

The vision laid out in the actions signed by Biden on Wednesday, however, was transformative. A pathway for oil and gas drilling to be banned from public lands. A third of America’s land and ocean protected. The government ditching the combustion engine from its entire vehicle fleet, offering up a future where battery-powered trucks deliver America’s mail and electric tanks are operated by the US military.

Biden may eschew the politically contentious framing of the Green New Deal but there was even an echo of the original New Deal with his plan for a civilian climate corps to restore public lands and waterways. “The whole approach is classic Biden; working-class values, putting people to work,” said Tim Profeta, an environmental policy expert at Duke University.

The dizzying list of actions demonstrated the breadth and depth of the climate crisis. Biden’s administration will spur new climate-friendly policies for farmers while also devoting resources to the urban communities, typically low-income people of color, disproportionally blighted by pollution from nearby highways and power plants. In all, 21 federal agencies will be part of a new, overarching climate body. “This isn’t time for small measures,” Biden said. “We need to be bold.”

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