As the residents of Texas, Arizona and elsewhere are finding out, a problem of enormous magnitude doesn’t go away just because you want it to.

Just as new cases of COVID-19 are spiking in places where gathering rules have been relaxed, our reliance on carbon-based fuels continues to warm the planet to dangerous levels.

And just like the novel coronavirus, climate change is a reality that we have to confront whether we want to or not. We can only look the other way for so long before nature makes it impossible to ignore.

That happened on June 20, when the temperature in Russia’s western Siberia hit 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, likely a record.

High temperatures are not unheard of in the Arctic, but the intensity and duration of the heat over the last few years is alarming, and directly attributable to human-caused climate change caused by the use of fossil fuels.

Carbon emissions from human activity are raising temperatures all over the globe. But in the Arctic, as in the Gulf of Maine, temperatures are rising particularly fast. Higher base temperatures mean any heat wave is going to be stronger and last longer, straining its surrounding ecosystem.

Prolonged high temperatures throughout the Arctic over the last several years have caused wildfires and melted permafrost, which in turn release heat-trapping gas and further dry out the soil, leading to more fires and melting. The winters are no longer enough to repair the damage.

The warming of the Arctic is not a local event, either. The gases released raise temperatures everywhere, and as the differences in climate shrink between the Arctic and lower latitudes, it will cause all sorts of negative consequences, including an increase in duration of the worst storms.

The Arctic also offers a preview of the catastrophic changes that will happen elsewhere across the world if the warming continues.

As one expert told the Associated Press, “Alarm bells should be ringing.”

Instead, the United States is moving backwards. In addition to announcing its intention to remove the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, which includes pledges to reduce carbon emissions, the Trump administration has reversed dozens of rules and regulations also aimed at reducing emissions, including the rolling back of Obama-era fuel economy standards. The effort has continued amid the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same time, the pandemic has shown what the work ahead looks like when it comes to climate change. Because of fears over the virus, millions of people began driving and flying less – just the kind of choices we’re asked to make to fight climate change. And under widespread lockdowns, global emissions in the first quarter of 2020 fell about 17 percent from last year.

But because of the cumulative effect of carbon emissions, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere still went up, reaching its highest point in human history. In any case, such lockdowns are not sustainable.

That’s not meant to be demoralizing, but to show how we need to do more than make better decisions as individuals – we need ambitious policies that allow people to live their lives without relying so much on carbon-based fuel. We need investment in clean energy and infrastructure that matches the size of the problem posed by climate change, as well as the speed with which it is overtaking us.

And we need the U.S. to reassert itself as a world leader on climate change, by committing itself to widespread change – and demanding it of other countries as well.

 

 


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