Pauline Hanson’s running mate, Malcolm Roberts, is a climate denialist of some fame, but in joining the Senate he is merely a noisy addition to the climate denialists already there, raising the question of how we deal with the phenomenon in the political sphere. We know that scientific information doesn’t work.
There was a similar problem in the Brexit campaign. John D has passed along to me a fascinating link from Climate Outreach about what they learnt.
- There are many curious parallels between the climate change and referendum debates. Following the language of social theorist Horst Rittel both issues are “wicked” problems: complex, multifactoral, and contradictory. Both issues struggle through the same cognitive landscape of bias, fear and group loyalty. And campaigners for both issues have failed to understand the way that people form their opinions.
They found that facts alone will not win an argument, and expert and elite opinion was portrayed as self-serving and out of touch with ordinary people.
Words and slogans can be powerful, and fear motivates, but:
- messages dependent on anticipatory fear are often rejected. Those disposed to believe them may actively ignore them in order to defend themselves against anxiety. People who are more sceptical see them as fear mongering…
There is a need to go beyond fear to a story, and better if it’s positive. The Brexit campaigners used fear, but incorporated fear within a more positive narrative of independence, national strength and renewal.
Fatally, the Remain campaign could not wax enthusiastically about the virtues of the EU.
Learning from Brexit, Climate Outreach argues that:
- political change requires mobilising support across boundaries of class and politics. Top down information-driven media cannot compete with personal contact and peer-to-peer communication.
Secondly, Climate Outreach emphasises the importance of peer-to-peer communications for complex technical issues. The Leave campaign was able to reach deep into neighbourhoods and communities where it could initiate conversations.
Thirdly, the referendum itself provided the focus that broke public silence or inattention to the issue. In a poll just two months before the referendum scarcely 15% of people rated “Europe” as a major issue facing the country. The referendum itself galvanised attention on the issue.
In a survey back in March, after the spectacular coral bleaching:
- 47% of people agreed or strongly agreed that “climate change and renewable energy will influence the way I vote at this year’s federal election”.
That was more than twice as many as the 22% who disagreed with the statement…
Climate change should have been a red hot issue in the election, but it didn’t grip, as Graham Readfearn reported just before the election. The title of his story has the message, there was a “tragic lack of leadership”. Climate change remained a second tier issue. The Climate Institute charted the party policy effects by 2030:
It is noteworthy that Xenophon and the Glenn Lazarus Team made an effort.
There is work to do, on the Nationals and Liberals in particular – 59% of Labor voters believed climate change was caused by humans, compared to 28% of Liberals, 22% of Nationals, and 76% of Greens. Internationally we are towards the back of the pack in belief in human causation.
The CSIRO also looked at what opinions were based on:
In addition they looked at how the opinion groups felt about their opinions:
Clearly science plays a significant role in climate change opinion. Skeptical Science has an excellent post on the human fingerprint of global warming.
The degree of certainty with which people hold their views is strong.
Nevertheless, nearly 30% of opinions are less strongly held and presumably susceptible to change.
I would be interested in research on those who do change their views, how and why.
The CSIRO authors believe that climate opinions are embedded in deeply held world views, which of course scaffold their identity, their view of who they are and how they relate to the world.
John Cook, as well as dealing with the scientific arguments, looks at the techniques of denialism:
- fake experts; logical fallacies; impossible expectations; cherrypicking; and conspiracy theories.
Hard core denialists usually claim that science is on their side; Malcolm Roberts repeatedly claims that our views must be based on “empirical evidence”.
- Several studies have linked climate science denial and conspiratorial thinking. If a person disagrees with a global scientific consensus, they’ll typically believe that the scientists are all engaging in a conspiracy to deceive them.
Conspiracy theories, he says, tend to be self-sealing, evidence against a conspiracy is taken as evidence for and the conspiracy is widened to include that evidence. Roberts espouses a conspiracy that encompasses the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, the IPCCC, Al Gore, international banking families, and the UN Agenda 21, where the voluntary plan for sustainable development coming out of the Rio 1992 Earth Summit is seen as a campaign for global governance.
There is also a bizarre letter to Julia Gillard written in the punctuation style of the “sovereign citizen” movement.
Politicians like Roberts and others who want no action on climate change are not susceptible to change. Malcolm Turnbull as PM and leader of the Liberals has two problems. One is that National Party politicians want no realistic effort on climate change.
Secondly, 65% of Liberal voters either think climate change is not happening or is natural, not caused by humans. That’s actually worse than National voters, where the number is 60%.
Turnbull could work around One Nation and do deals with Labor and/or the Greens, but his voters are not clamouring for change, and indeed seem confused, to put the best face on it. The CSIRO found voters strongly favouring adaptation measures even if they thought climate change was not happening:
The report did not look at mitigation strategies. Back in 2014 an Essential poll found that 33% favoured replacing the carbon tax with nothing at all, nearly as many as the 38% who either wanted to keep it or replace it with an emissions trading scheme.
Realistically we won’t get change from the conservative side of politics until there is generational change in National Party politicians. There is work to be done at all levels in politics, in business and the community, but we badly need leadership at the national level, as I outlined in Climate change: reconnecting politics with reality:
- a clear and unequivocal public commitment by the Prime Minister that the Australian Government’s highest priority is to achieve an emergency speed transition to a just and resilient post-carbon economy.
And action to match as outlined there by Professor John Wiseman, Deputy Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne.
The necessary action should be linked with transition and renewal of the economy.
We don’t have time to wait for a Green PM, so can we expect that from Labor? It’s more likely if Hillary Clinton gets a chance to implement Democratic Party policy.
One Nation has cut off the possibility of the Government doing anything at all on climate change with the cross bench, making Xenophon and others also irrelevant. Whatever the LNP does will have to be acceptable to the Nats and then signed off or waved through by Labor and/or the Greens.
Finally, the Brexit people were mightily encouraged by their work and much the same people have now formed Clexit. They share the same dominant demographic – white, male, older.