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Climate Change

On climate and diversity, slow progress must not deter us from our goals

by Bibiana Campos-Seijo
November 8, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 43


The US is officially out of the Paris climate agreement. As of Nov. 4, the day after the 2020 US presidential election, the nation is no longer part of the group of countries pledging to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and mitigate the effects of climate change.

On June 1, 2017, President Donald J. Trump announced he was withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement, a nonbinding agreement among 189 nations around the world to curb their emissions. On Nov. 4, 2019, his administration filed the paperwork to kick off the withdrawal process, and exactly 1 year later it is complete. The US joins the list of countries—now 8—that have not adopted the agreement; they include Angola, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, South Sudan, Turkey, and Yemen.

Of course, any president at any time can decide to rejoin the agreement, and it would take just about 30 days to do so. The main hurdle is that there would be catch-up work to do, but it is not insurmountable. New targets would need to be established and measures put in place to make up for time lost while the country drifted away from the goals that had been set by prior administrations.

But it definitely would be the right thing to do. While some people still doubt the merits of a global, green-power agenda, it is clear to most that climate change is a real and significant threat to the global economy, health, and environmental welfare.

The American Chemical Society’s public policy on climate change is unequivocal, noting that “climate change is real, is serious and has been influenced by anthropogenic activity. Unmitigated climate change will lead to increases in extreme weather events and will cause significant sea level rise, causing property damage and population displacement. It also will continue to degrade ecosystems and natural resources, affecting food and water availability and human health, further burdening economies and societies.”

In other news, the latest Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity (OXIDE) data are now out. Turn to page 22 for analysis of the representation of racial and ethnic groups among US chemistry professors.

C&EN has collaborated with OXIDE for a decade to publish statistics on the gender and racial and ethnic diversity of chemistry faculty in the US. OXIDE surveys the 50 or 75 US universities with the greatest chemistry research expenditures according to the US National Science Foundation. Its survey on race and ethnicity focuses on people who are underrepresented among faculty compared with their proportion in the US population; this group includes American Indian and Alaska Native; Black and African American; Hispanic, Latino, and Latina; and multiracial people.

The most recent survey found that the percentage of chemistry professors from these groups grew less than 1 percentage point from the 2011–12 to 2017–18 academic years. So the news is, frustratingly, that there is no news.

The events of 2020 and the commitment to action against racial discrimination pledged by individuals and organizations may prove a turning point, but it is too early to tell. As with the Paris Agreement, creating and maintaining a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture in academia—and elsewhere—is the right thing to do, and the slow pace of progress must not discourage us from our goals.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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