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America turns its back on the world

By exiting the Paris climate accord, the United States imperils the entire planet and its inhabitants, present and future.

The historic wildfires in California this fall were just one of many climate disasters erupting around the globe.
The historic wildfires in California this fall were just one of many climate disasters erupting around the globe.ERIC THAYER/NYT

As Americans and observers around the world anxiously awaited the results of the presidential election, the United States quietly turned up the thermostat on the planet.

By exiting the most significant international agreement ever forged to fight the climate crisis, Donald Trump for once actually kept his word, or at least close to it: In 2016, he had pledged to “cancel” the Paris climate accord when he was still just candidate Trump. On Wednesday, the United States officially left the 2014 agreement, even though for now the deal itself lives on.

The United States has just over 4 percent of the world’s population yet is responsible for 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions; our country is the second-largest contributor of climate-warming emissions to the atmosphere after China. Our exit, which effectively means the US is no longer bound to report progress in meeting voluntary emissions targets set in 2014, undermines the agreement itself, setting a precedent that other countries may follow. It makes American products vulnerable to tariffs that may be imposed by the European Union. Most important, it renders the United States formally unaccountable on the global stage for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and dramatically undermines our ability to influence other nations to cut emissions.

It’s not the only way the Trump White House has imperiled the planet and threatened the lives of millions. Over the last few years, the president and his political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency have gutted critical climate policies, including those that curbed emissions from vehicles and from natural gas sites and, most significantly, the signature initiative of the Obama administration: cutting carbon emissions from the electricity sector. The EPA has changed its rules under Trump to exclude critical scientific studies on the public health risks of pollution from informing policy. The White House also recently removed the chief climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and instead populated the agency with a coterie of climate deniers and industry hacks.


What Donald Trump cannot eviscerate or exit from, however, is reality. On his watch, climate disasters, from record wildfires burning in the West to severe storms hitting the Midwest and Gulf Coast, have cost the country billions of dollars a year, and the planet is heating up at an ever-more alarming rate.


But just as it was with the White House’s horrifying response to the pandemic, this president and his party ignored the warnings of scientists and rejected reality, refusing to take the necessary and cost-saving steps to prevent climate catastrophes here and around the globe.

The good news is that a President Biden (yet to become a fait accompli as of this writing) can get us out of this mess. He can reenter the Paris agreement with the blessing of the United Nations, something he pledged to do on the campaign trail. And he can restore American leadership on climate change, proving that the United States is not a country that turns its back on the greatest threat the world has faced and will face for generations to come.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.