Former US president Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA
Former US president Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA

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 US’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 learnt 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.)

The same kind of fact-based, science-based approach is 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 burning of fossil fuels, are higher than the earth has seen in at least 800,000 years. Last year (2020) tied 2016 as the hottest years on record within the hottest decade ever recorded.

President Joe Biden was elected on a platform that included prioritising the fight against climate change. Among his first actions were rejoining the Paris climate accord and rolling back Trump-era deregulation. A crucial next 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 cancelling 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. /Tysons, Virginia, January 27

USA Today

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