Editorial: America first, climate second?

The record set in 2014 for the hottest year ever on Earth was short-lived. The global temperature in 2015 topped it. As the sports saying goes, records are made to be broken. So 2016 marked the third consecutive record-breaking increase.

The scientific data chronicling the rise in temperature across the planet is indisputable. And the effects could be catastrophic. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon enough.

Last month The New York Times, partnering with a team from Columbia University, published a fascinating series on Antarctica, including virtual reality films, on the impacts of melting ice.

“Because the collapse of vulnerable parts of the ice sheet could raise the sea level dramatically, the continued existence of the world’s great coastal cities — Miami, New York, Shanghai and many more — is tied to Antarctica’s fate,” part one of the Times article states.

It makes President Donald Trump’s decision last week to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord all the more perplexing. At a time when scientists face a ticking clock to combat climate change, our president would prefer to throw a bone to his political base by suggesting that going against nearly every other country in the world benefits his “America first” ideology. The Paris accord hurts jobs and the economy, he argued, without citing much evidence. It’s a short-sighted approach and demonstrates an utter lack of vision for spearheading renewable energy projects that will be vital in the not-so-distant future.

The Paris accord was signed in December 2015 by countries around the globe that committed to reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The United States is well documented as the biggest carbon polluter in the world. Even though China has surpassed the U.S. in its emissions, it has a long way to go to catch up overall. The U.S. has an obligation to become a leader in reducing emissions; withdrawing from the Paris accord sends the wrong message.

It didn’t take long after the president’s announcement for states across the country to take action of their own, starting right here in New York. Last Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the formation of a United States Climate Alliance, comprising states that remain committed to upholding the Paris accord. California and Washington State signed on immediately. By Monday, 10 new members had joined, representing states with both Democratic and Republican governors.

“As the federal government turns its back on the environment, New York and states across the country are picking up the mantle of climate leadership and showing the world it’s possible to address climate change while also creating good-paying careers,” Mr. Cuomo said in a release.

We can all take steps to do our part, however small they may be in the grand scheme of global temperature. We can drive more efficient cars, run our air conditioners less, eat locally grown food.

Saving our planet shouldn’t be about politics.