PD Editorial: Heading the wrong way on climate change

On Monday, six days after the United Nations issued a bleak assessment of international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, leaders from more than 200 countries convened in Madrid for their annual climate change conference.

President Donald Trump wasn't there. Neither was any other senior administration official.

Their absence, less than a month after the administration affirmed its intention to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, wasn't surprising. But the snub is another frustrating reminder that, under Trump's stewardship, the United States is enacting policies that could undermine efforts to avert a global catastrophe.

The new U.N. emissions gap report concluded that the world is further off course than ever in pursuing the primary goal of the 2015 Paris accord: ensuring that the average global temperature doesn't climb more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

“Deeper and faster” reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be necessary to make up for lost time, the report says. If we don't act soon, and act decisively, there will be even higher temperatures and more extreme weather - devastating hurricanes, ferocious wildfires, crippling heat waves - than we're already experiencing.

“We stand at a critical juncture in our collective efforts to limit dangerous global heating,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at Monday's opening session of the COP25 conference. “By the end of the coming decade we will be on one of two paths. One is the path of surrender, where we have sleepwalked past the point of no return, jeopardizing the health and safety of everyone on this planet.

“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?”

The U.S. retreat from sound climate policy isn't the only threat to global efforts - China and India are headed the wrong way, too - but the outcome of the 2020 presidential election will go a long way toward answering Guterres' question.

Younger generations - the teenagers and young adults who will live with the results of our success or failure - are pushing for bold action by governments and individuals alike. Although the Trump administration is largely MIA, at the U.N. conference and on climate change itself, the youthful activists have allies in Washington and across the country.

The House passed legislation that would keep the United States in the Paris accord (though the bill has been buried in the Senate), and many states are stepping in to make up for the Trump administration's failures. Here in Sonoma County, the nonprofit Climate Center is working to build support for large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through such steps as carbon sequestration and phasing out fossil-fuel-powered vehicles.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 14 other lawmakers, including Rep. Jared Huffman, traveled to Madrid for the COP25 conference as a show of American, if not presidential, support for sound climate policies.

“The task ahead is difficult, but not impossible,” Huffman, D-San Rafael, said on Twitter. “We are still committed to fighting against the #ClimateCrisis & protecting our planet for future generations.”

That commitment must be matched with action to spare our children from the world described in the U.N. report. The tipping point is drawing near, and Nero is tuning his fiddle.

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