Should we engage climate deniers?

I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I can’t even bear to watch it on iView – an hour and forty minutes of Nick Minchin and Anna Rose debating climate science, followed by another hour of Q&A panel discussion.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the ABC should be commissioning such a documentary, certainly not in such a format. But if the ABC are going to persist in indulging climate deniers, climate activists like Anna Rose are faced with a choice – should they engage?

Rose makes the case for engagement, on the basis that climate denialists haven’t gone away:

For a long time, many environmental groups and scientists tried ignoring the climate sceptics. The argument had traditionally been: ‘If we tackle them head on, they’ll get more airtime.’ Others had been willing to challenge sceptics by exposing their sources of funding and the dirty tactics they used, such as the sending of threatening emails to climate scientists and activists. But that strategy only worked for so long and, by 2011, climate sceptics and deniers were dominating talkback radio, the daily tabloids, and our national newspaper, The Australian. The “ignore them and they will go away” strategy had clearly failed. In many cases, sceptics were getting media attention whether or not environmentalists responded. Perhaps it was time to try a new approach.

It was a flawed format, for sure. But it was still an opportunity to reach those Australians who still had questions about climate change science – people who many environment groups had struggled to communicate with for years. This was a chance to highlight to them both the strength of climate science and the weakness of those who refused to accept the evidence.

Ultimately, what convinced me was the fact that the program was going ahead anyway. It was clear that the production team would find someone willing to debate Nick if I said no. If the show was going to happen, it may as well be me. I’d changed the minds of sceptics before in one-on-one conversations, and I’d try my hardest to do it again on this larger scale.

I’ll concede the point in the last paragraph.

But, on the earlier point, I think a better strategy is to engage on the question of “what should we do about climate change” rather than “does human-induced climate change exist”.

Let’s note that, despite lots of wink-wink-nudge-nudge from the Coalition, their official policy is still to make a 5% cut in Australia’s emissions by 2020. Yes, this is a manifestly inadequate target, but it indicates that they concede that there is a problem, or at least a risk that must be managed.

Then the question is not “is climate change a problem”, it’s “what should we do about it”.

And the success of Tony Abbott’s attack on the carbon price isn’t really, I suspect, deep-down skepticism about the science in most cases. It’s the the fear – inadvertently aided and abetted by climate activists who want far faster and costlier action than what the government is proposing – that the carbon tax will send us all broke. Get over that threshold fear, which will almost certainly happen once the carbon price is introduced, and my bet is that a lot of “climate skepticism” will evaporate.

So where does that leave us?

For what it’s worth, I reckon that we should all just wait for July 1, and when that momentous day comes around, note that the sky hasn’t fallen in, and then start the push for more ambitious action by pointing out not only are those opposing action wrong on the science, they’re wrong on the economics as well.

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4 Responses to Should we engage climate deniers?

  1. Mortisha says:

    I watched unfortunately. Sigh.
    Minchin dragged Anna Rose around to meet some internet paranoids; Rose dragged Minchin around to meet some climate scientists.

    Minchin treated Rose with plenty of patriarchal head pats, Rose beheld Minchin with the same type of politeness/dismay reserved for the racist old relative at the family BBQ.

    The Q&A afterward was amusing. Apparently Clive Palmer only signed $800billion worth of coal contracts so miners can afford to give their kids xmas presents, and also there are people starving in India somewhere. So if we don’t want to dredge up the Great Barrier Reef for his coal boats we are all racists. So there.

    Given Gina’s, Clive’s, Abbott’s push for more 457 visas. Guessing the new political push to avoid investing in renewables will be “look at how wonderful we are looking after these poor brown people with jobs in our mines – anyone who disagrees is racist”.

    Wonder how supportive Australian miners will be when they are replaced with lower cost employees.

  2. wilful says:

    It wasn’t that bad. I have the greatest respect for Anna Rose, while my views on Nick Minchin haven’t changed, the patronising, hypocritical old fool. I couldn’t bear to watch Q&A (I never can).

    Were my views changed one iota? Nope. Were anyone’s? I suspect not.

  3. duggy47 says:

    Nick Minchin still claims the world is not warming and if it were anthropogenic CO2 would not be the cause. In his Age article (They tried to change my mind but I’m still a climate sceptic, 27/4) he says he supports research into renewable energy to make it price competitive with fossil fuel based power. Good news Nick, according to McKinsey & Co solar is now, or soon will be, cheaper than fossil fuels in four out of five key global consumer markets. Utility-based solar will also soon be cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives. More research is just another delaying tactic. Why aren’t we pouring resource into increasing solar power now?

    In last week’s ABC and Fairfax moments in the spotlight Minchin of course omitted to mention the real basis of his ‘skepticism’. To him climate change is a dastardly ploy of the political left with which to attack the sacred ‘free market’. In an interview a couple of years ago he said:
    “For the extreme left [climate change] provides the opportunity to do what they’ve always wanted to do, to sort of de-industrialise the western world. You know the collapse of communism was a disaster for the left…and really they embraced environmentalism as their new religion.”
    At that time one Age opinion writer said of this that it “would be funny if he didn’t mean it and didn’t hold such a senior position in our parliament.” (The Age 12/11/09) Two years later Minchin is out of parliament but he still isn’t funny.

  4. BilB says:

    My approach is to point out that there is only one climate future. Opinion has nothing to do with it. There are not two or three climate futures which vary in intensity depending upon how the debate is going. No, there is only one future, and we must all decide individually what that holds, for our own survival. In that quest, here is the best Enso explanation that I have found so far

    http://www.climas.arizona.edu/feature-articles/january-2010

    and here is the long term evidence

    http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/soi2.shtml

    The Climas conclusion that the Walker cells may be weakening is the opposite to what I would have thought, so more evidence required. The other complication has got to be the amount of cold water flowing off the Antarctic ice as its melt rate increases. How does that fit in with the picture, where does it go?

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