Climate change debate has moved on

ACCORDING TO THE Lowy Institute’s annual poll, Australians are losing their conviction on climate change. The last poll, published in June 2011 showed that just 41 per cent of those polled agreed with the statement, “Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs” down from a whopping 68 per cent in 2006.

Anna Rose and Nick Minching meet Marc Morano, who runs the Climate Depot website.

Meanwhile, support for the statement, “Until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs” has risen over the same period from seven per cent to 19 per cent.

So a documentary, I can change your mind about climate, which attempts to pit the evidence for climate change against the evidence that everything will be just fine must have seemed like a good idea. It would seem Australians are not clear on the science and a telly special could help present the two sides of the ‘debate’.

Of course, as has been said repetitively, there is actually very little debate. Scientists actively working in the area of climate change are busy debating the extent and impact of climate change, not whether it is occurring.

But the program being aired this evening attempts to examine whether climate change is happening, or not.

Already, the people who are not convinced by the climate science they have read about – usually described as ‘sceptics’ or ‘deniers’ – have taken to their keyboards. The two pieces we have already run on ABC Environment about the show (here and here) have been flooded by their strident assertions of conspiracy, lies and cover-up.

The Q&A special later this evening is an opportunity for more of their comments to be aired on the national broadcaster.

Let me be clear: these people have a right to their views. If they choose to believe, as some do, that the majority of scientists working on climate change are part of some vast, international plot to bring about a single world government with totalitarian powers, it’s their own business.

If they choose to believe, against all available evidence, that the world is not getting warmer, who is to say they can’t hold that belief?

If they decide to disregard physics and chemistry and say that CO2 levels are stable, are irrelevant, or are not caused by the burning of coal and other carbon-containing fossil fuels, it’s their right to hold those unorthodox views.

But those views are not based in fact. And as such, they should not be used to hold up the genuine debates that are needed on climate change.

Should we attempt to prevent climate change from happening (mitigation), or should we marshal ourselves to prepare for its effects (adaptation)? How much of our limited funds should be spent on mitigation rather than adaptation?

Should we attempt a market-based instrument to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of our homes and businesses, or should we opt for a more straight-forward tax? Should we instead attempt direct action and target the most easily prevented emissions?

Should planting trees be allowed to offset the emissions from humans? What if the trees don’t survive? Who is to say how much carbon dioxide a tree definitely absorbs? Not all trees are the same.

Should taxpayer funds be withdrawn from coal-fired electricity generation to fund renewable energy technologies? Are renewables reliable enough? Will low-income Australians be able to afford to turn on the heater if electricity costs rise as a result of increased renewable energy use?

These are the debates Australia needs. Not the tired tedium of whether climate change is occurring.

As I have blogged in the past, rational thought doesn’t inform people’s views on climate change. Presenting Australians with facts on climate change, as this show tries to do, and as numerous scientific papers and reports on climate change have done, demonstrably does not change people’s minds on climate change – less people that ever before support immediate action on climate change.

Naomi Oreskes, who was on the list of advocates for Anna Rose’s side of the argument (her segment was cut), has written in her book with Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt, that dragging the debate away from the next steps for climate change, and back to first principles is in fact playing into the hands of the sceptics.

She argues that rehashing the same discussion of whether or not climate change is occurring so confuses and bores the public that they simply switch off from the issue.

This perhaps could be driving the drop in support for immediate action on climate change.

Sceptics would argue that the drop comes from a greater number of people looking at the science for themselves and being unconvinced by their reading.

Whatever the true cause for the loss of conviction on climate change, the airing of this program on the ABC puts the national broadcaster in an invidious position. Around one fifth of people in the Australian community genuinely believe that we don’t need to act on climate change. That’s not an insignificant number and these people have a right to a voice.

On the other hand, by airing their non-factual views, it lends legitimacy to them. And it further alienates the majority of Australians who just want to get on and address the problem.

With every report from scientists and economists further emphasising the increasing urgency of acting on climate, and with our political leaders in agreement on the need for action, the time for ‘debate’ is past. Even though they may be opposed, climate sceptics must accept the inevitability of the world moving on climate change.

Author: Sara Phillips
Source: ABC Environment



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