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Leonard Pitts: Truth about climate change has long been clear

By Leonard Pitts

With apologies to Stevie Wonder, for whom it was once an album title, nothing is “hotter than July.” July was the hottest month.

Maybe you’re waiting for that sentence to be qualified: “hottest month of the last 20 years,” let’s say. But it turns out July of 2019 was the hottest month, period — hottest in the history of record keeping, hottest of all time. The previous record holder was another July, just three years ago.

This, according to European scientists at the Copernicus Climate Change Service. Their findings were confirmed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which, before it allowed itself to be pressured into supporting Donald Trump’s bushwa about Hurricane Dorian striking Alabama, was considered an authoritative source on climatological matters.

News of July’s hotness lends a certain urgency to a related story from just a few days ago. It seems a new poll by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation finds rising levels of public concern over climate change. According to the study, nearly eight in 10 of us now believe the planet is warming and human activity is the cause. Even 60 percent of Republicans concede this. And nearly four in 10 of us call global warming a “crisis,” up from less than 25 percent just five years ago.

One is tempted to say it’s about time Americans realized these things, but that would be incorrect. “About time” was 20 years ago.

Instead, we’ve filled 20 years with Republicans lying and obfuscating, pretending science is not science and consensus not consensus. They’ve been abetted in that by human nature itself. Meaning our hardwired tendency toward confirmation bias, believing what we want to believe and disregarding that which challenges it.

Worse, according to 40 years of behavioral science research, we are predisposed to double down on false beliefs when presented with evidence proving them wrong. That’s how you get people still insisting Barack Obama was born in Kenya even after seeing his birth certificate from the state of Hawaii.

Our tendency to believe the lie makes any exercise involving human judgment — which is to say, just about any exercise — fraught with the possibility for mishap. But it becomes exponentially more dangerous when the thing one is judging is the health of our one and only planet.

The truth, you see, doesn’t have a political agenda. It doesn’t care what you believe. It doesn’t change to suit your needs. The truth simply is.

And the truth of climate change has long made itself painfully clear. How many “500 year” floods must we endure, how many storms of the century have to batter us, how many sweltering Junes — and Octobers — do we have to sweat through, how many times must Miami Beach flood at high tide on a sunny day, before all of us admit that our planet is overheating like an old car with a bad radiator? And before there is a bipartisan consensus requiring — not asking — lawmakers to treat this with the moon mission urgency it demands?

The Post/KFF poll suggests we are creeping closer to that day. Unfortunately, scientists say we have no time for creeping.

To save ourselves, we must defeat the hardwiring that leads human beings to prefer the comfort of the lie to the challenge of the truth. In the ruins left by Katrina, Harvey and Dorian, in the heatstroke deaths of a blazing summer, in the flooded subways of New York City, in the burned-out place that was once a California town called Paradise, our planet testifies to that truth.

If we are wise, we will listen — and act. Right now, nothing is hotter than July.

But just give it time.

Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Email him at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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