hottest_year_66441619.jpg

The sun sets beyond visitors to Liberty Memorial on July 21, 2016, as the temperature hovers around 100 degrees in Kansas City, Mo. For the third straight year, Earth set a record for the hottest year, NOAA and NASA announced. NASA says 2016 was warmer than 2015 - by a lot. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Editorial: Climate change a growing challenge for a new president

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In what amounts to blockbuster news in the field of climate change, scientists confirmed Wednesday that the Earth set a new record in 2016 — the third year in a row — for warmth.

We await word of what President-elect Donald Trump plans to do about that.

Climate change, and the threat it poses to our environmental, safety and the natural world, will be a more pressing challenge than ever during Trump’s presidency. The stakes grow only higher. The new president will be tasked with taking on this great global challenge, even if Republicans in Congress continue to live in a state of denial.

So where exactly does Trump stand?

Five years ago, he infamously tweeted that the Chinese invented the idea of global warming to hurt U.S. manufacturers. Last year, he said “nobody really knows” if climate change is happening. And to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he has nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who in the past has been a climate change denier. Equally worrisome, Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of the Interior, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), has claimed climate change is not “proven science.”

But in November, Trump backed off a campaign promise to scrap last year’s 190-nation Paris agreement to slow the progress of global warming, saying he has an “open mind” about it. And in testimony before Congress on Wednesday, Pruitt said he does not believe climate change is a hoax.

EDITORIAL

Follow @csteditorialsIs there a change in the prevailing wind here? Or are the past statements of Trump and his nominees the tip of a dangerously melting iceberg, signs that America in the future will be struggling with ever greater weather and environmental catastrophes?

Already, coastal areas are suffering increases in tidal flooding, coral reefs are dying, and polar ice is melting. Intense storms are more likely and are stronger. Unchecked, climate change will be a threat to humans.

The new heat record set in 2016 — boosted by a continued El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean — broke the earlier record by the largest margin ever, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. It is the first time the record has been broken in three straight years since 1939-41.

In its own independent analysis, NASA said 16 of the 17 warmest years have happened since 2001 and most of the warming has happened in the past 35 years. NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt says it’s been 125,000 years since the world was as warm as it was in 2016. Almost all climate scientists believe human activity is the major cause of climate change.

About 70 percent of Americans believe global warming is happening and that the United States should stand by the Paris agreement to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, a major source of the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet.

The question now is whether Trump is among that well informed and responsible 70 percent.

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