Evidence

How much evidence is enough?

A coastal town has encroaching tidal floods with every full moon, along with more severe storms. The townspeople want action – raise the level of the roads that are flooded, improve the drains, hire consultants from the Netherlands to look at the possibility of building dams and floodgates. But they know in the end that it will not be possible to hold back, mitigate or even adapt to the rising sea and the wetter weather.

Raising a coastal road by 18 inches in Norfolk, Virginia. nytimes.com

This is Norfolk, Virginia, at the mouth of the Chesapeake. The middle of the US eastern seaboard. As one resident is quoted: “No one who has a house here is a skeptic”.

Everyone who lives in the Arctic also knows with certainty that the climate is warming. They see the evidence every day.

Is that it? Do we have to live it to believe it?

Other evidence exists. 2010 is likely to come through as the warmest year yet – remember the colossal heat waves of last summer? – though we won’t know for sure until the data for November and December are included. We do know already that the past decade was the warmest on record.

Altogether, the evidence is overwhelming. Clearly associated with increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, the planet gets warmer, the seas rise, the glaciers retreat, Arctic sea ice melts, permafrost melts, coral reefs bleach, ecosystems shift, oceans acidify, and droughts, forest fires, floods, and storms intensify.

Another year passes, and it just gets worse. We still have no global action – the extraordinarily weak agreement of the UN Conference on Climate Change last week in Cancun is another serious disappointment, despite the positive spin it has received. There will be no action on carbon emissions taken by the next US Congress, China doesn’t intend to reduce its total emissions, while in Canada, despite the views of most of its people, the government once again also plans to do nothing but follow what the US does.

Canadian Environment Minister John Baird tells the UN Climate Change Conference that Canada rejects responsibility for leadership in reducing emissions (nupge.ca)

Why it is that we, especially in North America, so easily dismiss the reality of global warming, or are so reluctant to take action? The usual explanations – rejection of the science, manipulation by oil companies, conspiracy theories, commitment to economic growth – are just not sufficient. Clearly, overwhelming evidence is not the issue. There is something more, something deeper.

In the US, people are less likely to accept the evidence now than just several years ago, (people-press.org/report/556/global-warming)

We have identified our species as Homo sapiens, wise and rational. We assume that our collective actions should be based on evidence and rational negotiation. But are they, ever? There is a countering irrationality, immune to evidence, that most of us know lies within us, often difficult to control or even recognize. We may underestimate its influence in all our affairs.

Perhaps we are at best Homo pseudosapiens.

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