By the Times Editorial Board
As the nation deals with the tragic drama of President Trump’s final days in office, and the world reels under a now-year-long assault by a virus, the Earth continues to evolve into a dangerously inhospitable environment. And it is our collective fault.
This past year was, in essence, in a statistical tie with 2016 for the hottest on record, with temperatures driven upward by the warming effects of human activities that spew carbon and other greenhouse compounds into the atmosphere.
Temperatures breached 100 degrees in, of all places, Siberia, setting a record for north of the Arctic Circle. Climate change-driven wildfires scorched the Earth’s surface from Australia to the American West — the August Complex fire in Northern California became the first in the state to burn more than 1 million acres — to the Arctic, all adding yet more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
It is telling, some climate scientists argue, that the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2005 — including each of the last seven years — suggesting a steady pace upward that could push the average global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within the decade. That, notably, is the level at which scientists believe nature will deliver even more dire consequences than what we’re already experiencing.
So what is the world doing about this? Hardly much of anything at levels sufficient to address the problem. Part of the drag has been the Trump administration’s abject opposition to efforts to reduce our production and use of fossil fuels, an immoral and arrogant policy of prioritizing short-term (and short-lasting) profits above the health of the planet and everything that lives on it.
But other nations have been slow to act as well, something we hope will change with President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to once again make the U.S. a global leader. He already has named John F. Kerry who, as the Obama administration’s secretary of State, was instrumental in reaching the 2015 Paris agreement to combat climate change, as an international envoy on the issue, and is creating a White House office to address climate change domestically to be led by Gina McCarthy, Obama’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Both will be working within the framework of Biden’s ambitious climate-change agenda.