How labelling is concealing common ground on climate, COVID and indigenous issuesJan 25, 2024
You’re either a climate realist or you’re a climate sceptic. You’re either pro COVID vaccines or you’re a vaccine sceptic. You either voted ‘no’ in the recent ‘indigenous voice to parliament’ or ‘yes’. On too many issues, the labels that Australians are using are confrontational. Australians are being led to see just two camps and no common ground.
Some climate sceptics argue that climate change is caused wholly by natural fluctuations, whilst other sceptics argue that the impacts of climate change on humans are exaggerated. Both types of sceptics conclude that humans therefore don’t need to reign in our carbon emissions.
However, many of these climate sceptics are still in favour of broader environmental sustainability steps to provide urban green spaces, reduce pollution, protect biodiversity, enhance agricultural sustainability, and mitigate risks of landslides and droughts. Climate activists can find common ground with many climate sceptics if they discuss broader environmental sustainability steps without the polarising labels of ‘climate realists’ and ‘climate sceptics.’
COVID vaccines have been another ‘black and white’ issue that would benefit from some ‘grey’. Some COVID vaccine sceptics argue that the number of vaccine-related injuries and deaths worldwide is much higher than is publicly acknowledged. Other COVID vaccine sceptics believe that the line ‘getting vaccinated reduces transmission to your family’ was invented by pharmaceutical marketing experts or bribed scientists rather than being scientifically truthful. Those who are pro-vaccines view such sceptics as ‘conspiracy theorists’ and ‘anti-vaxxers’.
But many people from the two camps can come together on the need to clean up aspects of health care systems that have contributed to scepticism. For example, perhaps there should be a reduction in pharmaceutical industry funding for – and therefore influence over – Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (currently around 93% from the pharmaceutical industry). Australia’s TGA, in its role of regulating the pharmaceutical industry, needs to be seen as independent. Perhaps mass media and government officials should, when quoting from scientific studies, be clearer about whether these are funded by pharmaceutical companies. Calculations of the proportion of medical research funded directly by the pharmaceutical industry seem to range from 40% to as high as 66%. Vaccine sceptics and those who are pro-vaccines may be able to agree on more than they realise, if the polarising labels don’t get in the way.
In Australia, another issue where people were pushed into two opposing camps was in the October 2023 referendum on an indigenous voice to parliament. People could either be ‘yes voters’ or ‘no voters.’ The referendum campaign caused much division and the eventual no vote caused much hurt amongst many ‘yes voters’.
Yet many ‘no voters’ care about increasing living standards amongst indigenous Australians. It’s just a matter of finding measures that can bring such ‘no voters’ together with ‘yes voters’. Part of the solution may be initiatives aimed at indigenous economic empowerment, like an initiative to support retention of indigenous female workers in NT workplaces and an initiative to develop an Indigenous-owned fishery in the Kimberly.
Some may think this polarising approach to key social issues has been brought about by recent media developments, like a newly saturated media landscape where the moderate voices receive less attention, or by a social media landscape where people only tune in to those who share the same views. Some may think other factors are more influential in polarising people. But we don’t need to split into two camps about the causes of polarisation. We can just agree to focus harder on the search for common ground.