Americans wouldn't know it from this record-setting cold snap, but the Earth is heating up like a cauldron. New data shows 2020 was roughly tied for the hottest year on record. The 10 hottest years ever recorded have all occurred since 2005. And the frigid temperatures across the country this week are actually a symptom of that problem.
The Biden administration must move quickly past the wanton climate vandalism of its predecessor to position America once again as a global leader in this existential fight.
Several major scientific sources, including NASA, recently reported that 2020 averaged 1.2 degrees Celsius above average global temperatures since the late 1800s. It may not sound like much, but in climatological terms, it edges toward an average rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) that scientists widely consider to be an inflection point for loss of Arctic ice, the devastation of coral reefs and irreversible sea-level elevation.
By now the basics of global warming should be familiar. But given the Trump administration's years of lies on the subject, it's worth reviewing: Burning fossil fuels creates greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, which trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere and raise global air and water temperatures. Greenhouse gas levels remained generally constant for most of human history, but have risen dramatically in the past century as ever-increasing industrialization and fossil-fuel use have poured those gases into the atmosphere. The sudden rise in annual global temperatures tracks that sudden rise in greenhouse gas concentration.
The anti-science crowd has always used brief deep freezes like the recent one in the U.S. to try to claim global warming is overstated. In fact, when the polar vortex breaks out of its normal pattern, it's because of Arctic warming — just one of many warning signs of worse times to come.
Last year saw unprecedented devastation from wildfires in California and Australia, a record hurricane season, continued Arctic ice loss and continued rising sea levels. Only the most blinkered ideologue could look at this evidence and deny what's happening right in front of us.
America has a special responsibility on this issue, as the U.S. is home to just 5% of the world's people but accounts for 15% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions — more than any nation but China, which has four times the U.S. population. Yet one of Donald Trump's first acts as president was to announce the U.S. was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, the global effort to set goals for greenhouse-gas mitigation. Trump then spent four years eroding U.S. environmental standards aimed at reducing the nation's carbon footprint.
It's imperative that President Joe Biden not only follow through on his promises but that he position America once again as a global leader on climate change. America owes that to itself and to the world.
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