Have we seen enough yet?

There are times, in life, when the evidence seems to be so overwhelming that the answer is obvious – yet, when it suits, humans have an incredible ability to obstinately refuse to acknowledge the obvious.

Confirmation bias plays a huge role in the way we see the world. We buy a new red car and suddenly we notice that the ‘majority’ of cars on the road are red. The percentage of red cars didn’t actually change but we are more conscious of the red cars. Our bias is confirmed every time we see a red car but we ignore the white; silver and black ones despite the fact they make up 22; 20 and 19 per cent of the cars on the road and red only sits at 8 per cent.

Let me digress.

As a cricket fanatic I was incredibly disappointed that Andrew Symonds was chosen in the Australian Cricket Team for the 2003 World Cup. Symonds made his debut in 1999 and, after a spectacular start, his times in the middle had been a mixture of brilliance and frustration. In my mind, with all the expertise of a couch commentator, it was time to move him on.

The selectors saw it differently.

The first game of the World Cup was against Pakistan. As the current Champions, it should have been an easy game for Australia. I remember it well. I was at my normal weekly Rotary Club meeting. No smartphones back in those days so you couldn’t have a sneaky look at your phone to see the score. We finished the meeting and walked out to the bar. Australia was 4 for 86 with Symonds just walking to the crease. I said to all within earshot that it would soon be ‘5 for’ as Symonds shouldn’t even be in South Africa. When Ricky Ponting – our last real hope – departed with the score on 126 it was looking like an easy win for Pakistan. By the end of the 50 overs, Symonds had scored his maiden ODI century and left the ground on 143 not out. Australia had made a great total of 310 and went on to win the match easily – along with the next ten matches to take them to a World Cup victory.

Symonds averaged 163 for the tournament at a strike rate of 91 and took 2 for 7 in the final to help wrap up the trophy. Despite only averaging 23.8 across his first 54 matches, he went on to average 45.1 across his next 144 matches at a strike rate of 92.

Friends of mine who knew my opinion asked me after the breakthrough century if I had seen enough yet to reconsider my opinion of Symonds? No – it was just one match. They asked again after the World Cup. No – it was just one tournament. Again, the question was asked after his second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth centuries. His five wickets in a match. His naming in the ICC World ODI XI – twice. His highest vote count for ODI Player of the Year in the Allan Border medal. His rise to Number 8 in ICC rankings. His naming by ESPN in the greatest ever Australian ODI team. No, I repeated over and over – blinded by my confirmation bias of the occasional low score or pride that possibly my initial impressions of Symonds were wrong. When he managed a hat trick of ducks it definitely confirmed my negative bias – conveniently ignoring the unbeaten 175 runs he scored in the two previous innings at a strike rate of 117!

In hindsight it appears to me that the experts – otherwise known as selectors – seemed to know exactly what they were doing and, as much as armchair experts might disagree, we should have some faith in their expertise.

Back to my point.

We are having record days of heat in Australia at the moment. 16 December 2019 was the hottest ever day on record averaged across all of Australia which beat the previous record from 2013. That record lasted precisely one day with 17 December even hotter including the maximum temperature recorded at any single location with 47.7°C logged at Birdsville.

Big deal I hear many people say. We have had hot days before. It was 112 years ago when Dorothea Mackellar wrote her poem about a sunburnt country so a hot day is nothing new.

2019 was officially the hottest year on record in Australia with the temperature 1.52°C above the long-term average and globally the six hottest years on record have occurred in the last six years and the twenty hottest years on record have occurred in the last twenty-two years.

Yeh sure – that might look bad at first but are you sure about that data? Temperatures have only been recorded for approximately 140 years. Surely there were some hotter years prior to 1880 but they were simply not recorded and human history goes back a lot further than 140 years.

We currently are experiencing some of the worst bushfires ever with a record 6 million hectares of bushland destroyed this season so far – and we haven’t even reached February which is typically the worst month for bushfires.

I hear the counter argument. Whilst unfortunate, bushfires have long been a part of the Australian landscape. Australia is a tough country and who can forget the Black Saturday bushfires on 7-8 February 2009 where we lost 173 people and 2,000 homes or the Ash Wednesday fires on 16-18 February 1983 where 75 people died and we lost 1,900 homes?

While Australia is burning, Thailand is flooding. The New Year saw Jakarta experience 377mm of rain in a single day – the highest level since records began. 21 people have died and 30,000 have been displaced.

Well Jakarta has had heavy rainfall before – in 2007 and 2015 for example. The country’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said this is “not ordinary rain” but surely it is just one of those freakish acts of nature.

We could use some of that rain in Australia. The national average rainfall total for 2019 was 277.6mm. Is that low, I hear you ask? The previous record low was 314.5mm so this year was 11.7 per cent lower than the previous all-time record.

Ha! This is just way too easy for the deniers. Not even a challenge. “This is simple high-school science. When it is hotter there is more evaporation. If the planet is warming then more evaporation will lead to more rainfall. QED!”

2019 saw another record high for the daily average CO2 level with 415.70ppm recorded in May – but this will be a record held for only a short period with CO2 rising at almost 3ppm annually. This is up from 291ppm in 1880.

That CO2 thing I hear some say. That is completely covered. That is just a natural cycle of ebbs and flows of CO2 in the atmosphere. Nothing to see here. We have lots of examples in our history where the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere varied by 100ppm. Sure, it took 100,000 years for that change to take effect but this one is just a faster cycle. Next!

I can keep going with many other data points but hopefully you see my point. Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, if you don’t want to believe the data, if you don’t want to believe the facts, if you want to ignore the experts, you can always come up with some way to justify your position on anything. Whether it be red cars or Andrew Symonds, you can pull out selective data to make yourself feel comfortable with any position you take.

The problem with Climate Change though is that the earth doesn’t care about your justification. It doesn’t care what you think. It doesn’t care about your ‘belief’. The earth will follow scientific laws and respond to the inputs it receives. It has been doing just that with Climate Change since the Industrial Revolution and will continue to do that until…

Have we seen enough yet?

…until leaders across our nation, leaders across our world, finally say they have seen enough, seen enough of the indisputable data, to start to take action. Real action.

It took an unreasonable amount of evidence on Andrew Symonds before I finally admitted that I had been wrong about his contribution to Australian cricket. Sorry Andrew!

With the greatest respect to Andrew Symonds, the issue of Climate Change is of slightly more importance than my opinion on his contribution to Australian cricket. The evidence we have on Climate Change is more than overwhelming. It is irrefutable and cataclysmic if we ignore it yet that is exactly what we seem to be doing. Ignoring the mountain of evidence.

Surely it is time for our leaders to say that they have seen enough and take action. For the sake of our future, I hope so.

Have you seen enough yet?

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