Tag Archives: climate change denial

Coal and the Coalition: the policy knot that still won’t untie

The Conversation

Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

As the Turnbull government ties itself in yet more knots over the future of coal-fired power, it’s worth reflecting that climate and energy policy have been a bloody business for almost a decade now.

There was a brief period of consensus ushered in by John Howard’s belated realisation in 2006 that a price had to be put on carbon dioxide emissions. But by December 2009 the Nationals, and enough Liberals, had decided that this was a mistake, and have opposed explicit carbon pricing ever since.


Read more: Ten years of backflips over emissions trading leave climate policy in the lurch.


The resulting policy uncertainty has caused an investment drought which has contributed to higher energy prices. Now, with prices a hot potato, there are thought bubbles about extending the life of coal-fired power stations and a new effort to set up a Conservatives for Conservation group.

But the Liberal Party’s tussles over climate and energy policy (as distinct from denying the science itself) go back even further – some 30 years.

Early days and ‘early’ action

It’s hard to believe it now, but the Liberal Party took a stronger emissions target than Labor to the 1990 Federal election. Yet green-minded voters were not persuaded, and Labor squeaked home with their support. After that episode the Liberals largely gave on courting green voters, and under new leader John Hewson the party tacked right. Ironically, considering Hewson’s climate advocacy today, back then his Fightback! policy was as silent on climate change as it was on the price of birthday cakes.

In his excellent 2007 book High and Dry, former Liberal speech writer Guy Pearse recounts how in the mid-1990s he contacted the Australian Conservation Foundation, offering to to canvass Coalition MPs to “find the most promising areas of common ground” on which to work when the party returned to government. The ACF was “enthusiastic, if a little bemused at the novelty of a Liberal wanting to work with them”. Most Liberal MPs – including future environment minister Robert Hill and future prime minister Tony Abbott – were “strongly supportive” of the idea. But others (Pearse names Eric Abetz and Peter McGauran) were “paranoid that some kind of trap was being laid”. Nothing came of it.

Elected in 1996, Howard continued the staunch hostility to the United Nations climate negotiations that his Labor predecessor Paul Keating had begun. Not all businessmen were happy. Leading up to the crucial Kyoto summit in 1997, the Sydney Morning Herald reported how a “delegation of scientists and financiers” led by Howard’s local party branch manager Robert Vincin and Liberal Party grandee Sir John Carrick lobbied the prime minister to take a more progressive approach. Howard did not bend.

Howard stayed unmoved until 2006 when, facing a perfect storm of rising public climate awareness and spiralling poll numbers, he finally relented. Earlier that year a group of businesses convened by the Australian Conservation Foundation produced a report titled The Early Case for Business Action. “Early” is debatable, given that climate change had already been a political issue since 1988, but more saliently the report tentatively suggested introducing a carbon price. And Howard finally relented.

The carbon wars

The ensuing ten years after Kevin Rudd’s defeat of Howard don’t need much recapping here (go here for all the details). But one interesting phenomenon that has emerged from the policy wreckage is the emergence of some very unusual coalitions to beg for certainty.

In 2015, in the leadup to the crucial Paris climate talks, an “unprecedented alliance” of business, union, environmental, investor and welfare groups called the Australian Climate Roundtable sprang briefly into life to make the case for action.

Then, after the seminal South Australia blackout last September, a surprisingly diverse group of industry and consumer bodies – the Australian Energy Council, Australian Industry Group, Business Council of Australia, Clean Energy Council, Energy Users Association, Energy Consumers Australia, Energy Networks Association and Energy Efficiency Council – called on federal and state energy ministers to “work together to craft a cooperative and strategic response to the transformation underway in Australia’s energy system”.


Read more: Who tilts at windmills? Explaining hostility to renewables.


It’s in this light that the new Conservatives for Conservation lobbying effort should be seen. Its spearhead Kristina Photios surely knows she has no chance of converting the committed denialists, but she can chip away at the waverers currently giving them comfort and power.

Questions on notice

Of course, there are always cultural (or even psychological) issues, but you’d think that conservation would be a no-brainer for conservatives (the clue should be in the name).

There are a few questions, of course (with my answers in brackets).

  • Where were all the people who are now calling for policy certainty back in 2011 when Tony Abbott was declaring his oath to kill off the carbon tax? (They were AWOL.)
  • Will any business show any interest in building a new coal-fired power station? (No.)
  • Is renewable energy technology now advanced enough for them to make serious money? (We shall see.)
  • Can we make up for lost time in our emissions reductions? (No, and we have already ensured more climate misery than there would have been with genuinely early climate action.)
  • Will the Liberals further water down the Clean Energy Target proposal? (Probably.)
  • What will Tony Abbott say to UK climate sceptic think tank the Global Warming Policy Foundation when he gives a speech on October 6? (Who knows –
    grab your popcorn!).
  • What will happen to the Liberals in the medium term? (Who knows, but Michelle Grattan of this parish has some intriguing ideas.)
  • Are there reasons to be cheerful? (Renewable energy journalist Ketan Joshi thinks so.)

Perhaps the last word on this issue should go to John Hewson, who noted last year:

The ConversationThe “right” love to speak of the debt and deficit problem as a form of “intergenerational theft”, yet they fail to see the climate challenge in the same terms, even though the consequences of failing to address it substantively, and as a matter of urgency, would dwarf that of the debt problem. The “right” is simply “wrong”. It’s political opportunism of the worst sort, and their children and grandchildren will pay the price.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts is in denial about the facts of climate change

The Conversation

John Cook, The University of Queensland

The notion that climate science denial is no longer a part of Australian politics was swept away yesterday by One Nation Senator-Elect Malcolm Roberts.

In his inaugural press conference, Roberts claimed that “[t]here’s not one piece of empirical evidence anywhere, anywhere, showing that humans cause, through CO₂ production, climate change”.

He also promoted conspiracy theories that the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology are corrupt accomplices in climate conspiracy driven by the United Nations.

His claims conflict with many independent lines of evidence for human-caused global warming. Coincidentally, the University of Queensland is releasing a free online course this month examining the psychology and techniques of climate science denial. The very first video lecture addresses Roberts’ central claim, summarising the empirical evidence that humans are causing climate change.

Consensus of Evidence (from Denial101x course)

Scientists have observed various human fingerprints in recent climate change, documented in many peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Satellites measure less heat escaping to space at the exact wavelengths at which CO₂ absorbs energy. The upper atmosphere is cooling at the same time that the lower atmosphere is warming – a distinct pattern unique to greenhouse warming. Human activity is also changing the very structure of the atmosphere.

Human fingerprints in climate change. Skeptical Science

Not only do these unique fingerprints confirm humanity’s role in recent climate change, they also rule out other potential natural contributors. If the Sun caused global warming, we would expect to see days warming faster than nights, and summers warming faster than winters.

Instead we observe the opposite: nights are warming faster than days, and winters are warming faster than summers, which is a greenhouse pattern predicted by John Tyndall as long ago as 1859.

Similarly, if global warming were caused by internal variability, we would expect to see heat shuffling around the climate system with no net build-up. Instead, scientists observe our climate system accumulating heat at a rate of more than four atomic bombs per second.

Climate patterns confirm human causation and rule out natural causes. Skeptical Science

Our scientific understanding grows stronger when many independent lines of evidence all point to a single, consistent conclusion. In the case of climate change, the “consensus of evidence” has led 97% of climate scientists to agree that humans are causing global warming.

The scientific consensus on climate change has also been endorsed by many scientific organisations all over the world, including the national science academies of 80 countries.

National Academies of Science endorsing human-caused global warming. Skeptical Science

Is it a conspiracy?

How does one dismiss a global scientific consensus built on a robust body of empirical evidence?

There are five characteristics of science denial. These common traits are seen when people reject climate science, the benefits of vaccination, or the research linking smoking to cancer.

The techniques of denial are: fake experts; logical fallacies; impossible expectations; cherrypicking; and conspiracy theories. This is summarised in the acronym FLICC.

The five characteristics of science denial (from Denial101x course)

Climate science denial and conspiratorial thinking are often found together. A well-known example is that of Donald Trump, who has dismissed climate change by blaming it on a Chinese conspiracy.

Tweet by Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

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.

Malcolm Roberts’ conspiracy theories have been well documented and were once again on offer in yesterday’s speech. He espouses a conspiracy that encompasses the CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology, international banking families, the United Nations and Al Gore.

Unfortunately, I am not optimistic that the evidence for human-caused global warming will persuade Malcolm Roberts. The scientific evidence from psychology tells us that scientific evidence is largely ineffective on those who dismiss climate science with conspiracy theories.

My own research found that communicating the science of climate change to those who exhibit conspiratorial thinking can even be counterproductive, activating their distrust of scientists and strengthening their denial of the evidence.

Furthermore, conspiratorial thinking is self-sealing. When conspiracy theorists are presented evidence that there is no conspiracy, they often respond by broadening the conspiracy to include that evidence. In other words, they interpret evidence against a conspiracy as evidence for the conspiracy.

Our course on climate science denial will be much more useful to those who are open to scientific evidence and curious about the research into the causes and impacts of climate change and the psychology of climate science denial.

The ConversationJohn Cook, Climate Communication Research Fellow, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Why would anyone believe the Earth is flat?

The Conversation

Peter Ellerton, The University of Queensland

Belief in a flat Earth seems a bit like the attempt to eradicate polio – just when you think it’s gone, a pocket of resistance appears. But the “flat Earthers” have always been with us; it’s just that they usually operate under the radar of public awareness.

Now the rapper B.o.B has given the idea prominence through his tweets and the release of his single Flatline, in which he not only says the Earth is flat, but mixes in a slew of other weird and wonderful ideas.

These include the notions that the world is controlled by lizard people, that certain celebrities are cloned, that Freemasons manipulate our lives, that the sun revolves around the Earth and that the Illuminati control the new world order. Not bad for one song.

Even ignoring that these ideas are inconsistent (are we run by lizards, the Freemansons or the Illuminati?), what would inspire such a plethora of delusions? The answer is both straightforward, in that it is reasonably clear in psychological terms, and problematic, in that it can be hard to fix.

Making our own narratives

Humans are, above all things, story-telling animals. It is impossible to live our lives without constructing narratives. I could not present a word pair such as (cage, bird) without you joining them in a narrative or image. Same with (guitar, hand) or (river, bridge). Even when we read seemingly unrelated word pairs such as (pensioner, wardrobe), our brains actively try to match the two (and you’re still doing it).

The stories that define us as a culture, a group or as a species are often complex and multifaceted. They speak of many things, including creation, nature, community and progress.

We create stories for two reasons. The first is to provide explanatory power, to make causal sense of the world around us and help navigate through the landscapes of our lives. The second reason is to give us meaning and purpose.

Not only do we understand our world through stories, we understand our place in it. The stories can be religious, cultural or scientific, but serve the same purpose.

Our stories make sense of the world.
The Elders/flickr

Scientific narratives

In science, our stories are developed over time and build on the work of others. The narrative of evolution, for example, provides breathtaking explanatory power. Without it, the world is simply a kaleidoscope of form and colour. With it, each organism has function and purpose.

As the Ukrainian-American geneticist and evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky said in his famous essay:

Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.

Through evolution, we have developed an understanding of how we fit into the scheme of life, and the vast and deep history of our planet. For many of us, this knowledge provides meaning and an appreciation of the fact of our existence.

Similarly, the story of our solar system’s formation is rich and compelling, and includes the explanation for why the Earth is, in fact, more or less spherical.

So why would someone reject all this?

One reason might be that accepting mainstream scientific findings necessitates rejecting an existing narrative. Such is the case for evolution within fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible.

For the literally religious, accepting evolution necessitates rejecting their world view. It is not about weighing scientific evidence, it is about maintaining the coherence and integrity of their narrative. The desperate and unsuccessful search for evidence to contradict evolution by young Earth creationists is a manifestation of this attempt at ideological purification.

Another reason to reject scientific narratives is that we feel we do not have meaning within them, or we do not belong to the community that created them.

As I’ve said elsewhere concerning conspiracy theories, in a world in which there is so much knowledge, and in which we individually hold so little of it, it is sometimes difficult to see ourselves as significant.

What’s more, science, it turns out, is hard. So if we want to own this narrative, it might take a bit of work.

Freedom from rationality

It is therefore tempting to find a way of thinking about the world that both dismisses the necessity of coming to grips with science, and restores us to a privileged social position.

Rejecting science and embracing an alternative view, such as the Earth being flat, moves the individual from the periphery of knowledge and understanding to a privileged position among those who know the “truth”.

In BoB’s lyrics, he calls himself “free thinking”. In this phrasing we see a glimpse of the warrant he gives himself to reject science, considering it a “cult”.

He appeals instead to his common sense to establish that the Earth must be flat. The appeal to common sense is a characteristic way of claiming to be rational while denying the collective rationality of the scientific community (and a typical argument in climate denial).

It’s also about recapturing a feeling of independence and control. We know from research that there is a correlation between feeling a lack of control in your life and belief in conspiracy theories.

If we can rise above the tide of mainstream thinking and find a place from which we can hold a unique and controversial view, we might hope to be more significant and find a purpose to which we can lend our talents.

Coming back from the edge

So how could we engage someone with such beliefs, with view to changing their minds? That’s no easy task, but two things are important.

The first is to have both the facts and their means of verification at hand – after all, you need something to point to. Sometimes, if the narrative is weak or in tension, that might do the job.

The second thing, because facts are often not enough, is to understand the style and depth of the narrative an individual has developed, and the reasons it’s developed as it has. It’s only from that point that progress can be made against otherwise intractable opposition to collective wisdom.

But why bother? Why not let rappers rap, preachers preach and deniers deny? It might seem that we are just dealing with a fringe on the edge of the rational (or literal) world. But, of course, in the case of things such as vaccination and climate change, the consequences of inaction against these views are potentially damaging.

Either way, we should at least stand up for knowledge that has been hard won through collective endeavours over generations and individual lives dedicated to its pursuit.

Because if all views are equal then all views are worthless, and that’s something none of us should accept.

The ConversationPeter Ellerton, Lecturer in Critical Thinking, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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