The coronavirus pandemic has done little to slow down two curses bedeviling the U.S. caused by our own doing: global warming and gun violence.
Evidence suggests that human actions that gave rise to global warming, burning of fossil fuels and destruction of forests, have declined during 2020. But the heating of the environment was already moving so quickly that 2020 is on track to be one of the hottest years ever. We have had record high daily temperatures in a number of places in the world. The highest was in mid-August in Death Valley—130 degrees. That may be the highest temperature ever recorded. The previous record, 134 degrees in Death Valley on 10 July 1913, is now considered of doubtful accuracy. The world, in short, is getting hotter by the year.
And our gun violence hasn’t slowed because people are sickened and dying as a result of the spread of the coronavirus. Thus far this year, the U.S. has suffered over 30,000 deaths by guns. We have more guns in the U.S. than we have people. And as is clear from world-wide statistics, the more guns a nation has, the higher its death toll from gunfire. We suffered 4.43 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017 (the most recent year for which I can find statistics)—a far greater death toll than in other western democracies.
What does it take for us to learn from our own mistakes? As a nation we failed miserably to confront the covid-19 pandemic, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths we could have prevented. We continue to burn fossil fuels at record rates, assuring global warming will increase. We refuse to control the number of firearms in the hands of citizens, guaranteeing thousands of gun deaths.
U.S. exceptionalism has changed its meaning. It now refers to our unique national failures to meet challenges. If we are fortunate enough to have a new president and a new Congress in 2021, we must push for restoration of our ability to take on challenges and win.