The biggest environment and energy stories of 2020 remind me of a line from “Pogo,” the classic comic strip that ran from 1948 to 1975: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Scientists widely agree that COVID-19, like HIV and Ebola before it, emerged from the global trade in wild animals. Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities heated the Arctic to its warmest level in 3 million years. Even Asian giant hornets, which seemed like something out of science fiction, probably were transported to North America in a shipping container.

What gives me hope in the face of news like this is work by researchers nationwide to understand our planet’s intricate systems and find ways to live on it more lightly. One of readers’ favorite stories from 2020 described how scientists trapped bacteria to analyze cloud formation around Antarctica. I was equally impressed by scientists who have spent a decade mapping how oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill permeated the Gulf of Mexico. And if you’re starting to wonder whether there was any pure good news about the environment this year, I recommend our article explaining how urban composting can reduce waste, slow climate change and improve our soil – all starting with food scraps.

Jennifer Weeks

Environment + Energy Editor

Government officers seize civets in a wildlife market in Guangzhou, China to prevent the spread of SARS in 2004. Dustin Shum/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

The coronavirus emerged from the global wildlife trade – and may be devastating enough to end it

George Wittemyer, Colorado State University

Wild animals and animal parts are bought and sold worldwide, often illegally. This multibillion-dollar industry is pushing species to extinction, fueling crime and spreading disease.

Readers' picks

Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia japonica) drinking sap from tree bark in Japan. Alpsdake/Wikipedia

What are Asian giant hornets, and are they really that dangerous? 5 questions answered

Akito Y. Kawahara, University of Florida

Are 'murder hornets' from Asia invading North America? A Japanese entomologist who's been stung by one and lived to tell the tale explains what's true about these predatory insects.