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On COVID-19 and climate change, denialism is deadly

The Editorial Board, USA TODAY
·3 min read
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You’re reading Our View, one of two perspectives in Today’s Debate.

For the Opposing View, read “America doesn't need a government-centric approach.”

If there were any lingering doubts about the undermining of science as the COVID-19 crisis erupted last year, Dr. Anthony Fauci has horror stories to prove otherwise. In a series of recent interviews, most notably with The New York Times, the nation's leading infectious disease expert revealed how his informed advice for grappling with a growing pandemic was all but dismissed by a White House flirting with denialism.

"We would say things like, 'This is an outbreak. Infectious diseases run their own course unless one does something to intervene,' " Fauci recalled. "(President Donald Trump) would get up and start talking about, 'It's going to go away, it's magical, it's going to disappear.' "

A year and more than 424,000 dead Americans later, grim lessons have been learned about the costs of downplaying research-based measures such as mask wearing, social distancing and testing. (Science is also riding to the rescue in the form of safe and effective vaccines.)

Hottest years in hottest decade

The same kind of fact-based, science-based approach is also needed to tackle climate change, the other crisis threatening humanity.

Levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, produced in large part by the burnings of fossil fuels, are higher than the Earth has seen in at least 800,000 years. Last year tied 2016 as the hottest years on record within the hottest decade ever recorded.

Battling a wildfire in Riverside, California, on Dec. 3, 2020.
Battling a wildfire in Riverside, California, on Dec. 3, 2020.

Mega-blazes across America last year incinerated towns and forests made tinder dry by prolonged drought. Warming ocean waters helped transform storms like Hurricane Sally into slow-moving, water-deluging behemoths.

New research this month reveals that freshwater frozen on Antarctica is melting into the oceans at a rate six times faster than 40 years ago, a clear sign of a warming planet and a harbinger of a precipitous sea rise in the decades to come.

Although climate change is already a here-and-now problem, scientists say it's still possible to slow the rise in global temperatures and mitigate the most catastrophic effects. This will require reducing greenhouse gas emissions and even extracting gases from the skies, if science can find a way to do it at scale.

New oil, gas leasing moratorium

President Joe Biden was elected on a platform that included prioritizing the fight against climate change. Among his first actions were rejoining the Paris climate accord and rolling back Trump-era deregulation. On Wednesday, he's expected to announce a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal land.

In the weeks ahead, Biden will seek hundreds of billions of dollars in clean-energy investments, including projects such as installing vast numbers of electric vehicle charging stations.

We continue to believe that a crucial step should be a refundable national carbon tax (about which Biden is silent) to make renewable sources and carbon-capture schemes more competitive with fossil fuels. And, in our view, Biden's quick canceling of the Keystone XL pipeline is a largely symbolic move unlikely to keep oil from being extracted from Canadian oil sands.

Nonetheless, with Biden's election, the nation and Congress can begin the crucial and necessary debate over how best to attack this crisis.

Denying that the crisis even exists — as Trump did with the coronavirus, and many still do with human-caused climate change — kills debate and ensures nothing is accomplished until it's too late to avert calamity.

USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff and the USA TODAY Network. Most editorials are coupled with an Opposing View, a unique USA TODAY feature.

To read more editorials, go to the Opinion front page or sign up for the daily Opinion email newsletter. To respond to this editorial, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19, climate change: Denialism is deadly. Joe Biden knows this.