NOEL TURNBULL. Hope despite climate change denialists indefatigability

Jan 30, 2020

There is no doubt about climate change denialists – they keep shifting shape and keep manoeuvring to cast doubt on scientific reality – irrespective of whatever events make their arguments look ridiculous.

While it is easy to be distracted by buffoons such as Liberal backbencher, Craig Kelly, and the Nationals Leader, Michael McCormack who is a self-proclaimed expert on inner-urban lunacy the real problem is the subtle, relentless, constantly evolving long term campaign to deny and cast doubt on the science or distract attention from the issue.

We all know that for many decades energy industry companies and others have been running sophisticated denial campaigns although now the talking points and diversionary tactics are morphing into new forms – less sophisticated but still very effective given the capacity of social media to spread disinformation.

Indeed, it is easy to despair when we are told it is not the time to talk about climate change while wildfires are burning up much of Australia; when the Murdoch media keep pleading we should just move on because there is nothing to see here and it’s been worse in the past; that they have all been caused by arson; and, that the current bushfires are just a product of evil inner urban Greenie lunatics preventing us from back-burning in forests.

Ironically, some of those arguing most strongly for back-burning claim they are just promoting the wisdom of our Indigenous peoples and their fire stick techniques almost as fervently as they deny the very same people the right to a Voice in the Constitution.

Having been overseas for much of the recent events it has been amazing to see the coverage there of Australia’s bushfires and the unrelentingly negative coverage of our climate change policy pretensions. The Economist, widely hated by the current government and the Murdoch media for telling the truth about the country and its government, has now been joined by the Financial Times and a variety of international organisations which have highlighted our appalling rankings on both policy and performance measures.

Even conservative TV hosts such as Piers Morgan are gobsmacked by the idiocy of our backbenchers let alone their ignorant and sexist attacks on scientists more qualified than someone who rose to a parliamentary seat from a career as a furniture salesman. This is not to denigrate furniture salespeople, most of who probably know more about the issue than Craig Kelly does, but rather to contrast his qualifications to those of the scientist he dismissed as just a ‘weather girl’.

Nevertheless, there is hope both here in Australia and around the world. Investors, central banks and others are worried about a more powerful issue – money – than they are worried about supporting climate denial. Even Prince Charles has joined the fray although none of the royalists in the Coalition seemed to have commented on his views.

First, Australia. While the Minister for coal, climate denial and dodgy grasslands dealings, Angus Taylor, was embarrassing us in Madrid the Monash University Climate Change Communication Research Hub Changing Climates Project Manager, Remy Shergill, gave a well-received presentation to the Madrid conference on the group’s TV Weather presenters project ‘Climate Communicators’ at a Communication Event: Climate Emergency: Public Awareness and Action.

In a sort of unacknowledged legislators of the world program David Holmes, Director of the Monash University Climate Change Communication Research Hub, writes in an annual update on its activities that: “we are very pleased to launch the work of Amanda Anastasi who has been commissioned by the Hub to write poetry that brings in the science, the politics and the impacts of climate change.”

“Amanda has just completed three longer form poems and 17 one-line poems which can be viewed here The one line poems, have been set with images that makes them very easy to share on social media, so please post them to your networks. Whilst poetry is traditionally published in small circulation anthologies, we plan to drive attention to these through social and legacy media in a way that follows the Hub’s approach of short, visually engaging messages, repeated often, by trusted sources to large audiences,” he said.

And on the subject of the climate emergency, bushfires and poetry a new, and massive Collected Poems of Bertolt Brecht translated by David Constantine and Tom Kuhn is out. Its publication is a reminder of Brecht’s An die Nachgeborenen (To Those who Follow in Our Wake) – “What times are these, in which/ A conversation about trees is almost a crime/ For in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing.” (BTW this translation is by Scott Horton rather than Constantine and Kuhn). The multiple ways of construing the lines – whether in the context of their origins in 1939 or now in 2020 – are all apposite.

Second, some good news from the US where there are continuing signs of changing public opinion.

George Mason University’s 4C group undertakes ongoing altitudinal research on US opinion and its most recently finding was that “Our polling continues to show a strong upward trend in Americans’ concern about global warming. Nearly seven in 10 Americans are worried about global warming, and increasing numbers say they’ve personally experienced global warming and that the issue is personally important to them.”

“More than four in ten registered voters (45%) say a candidate’s position on global warming will be very important when they decide who they will vote for in the 2020 presidential election, an increase of 7 percentage points since April 2019. This includes 72% of Democrats (+8 points), 41% of Independents (+7 points), and 13% of Republicans (+1 point).

“Of 29 issues asked about, global warming is the 11th most important voting issue for registered voters, up 6 ranks since April 2019. Among liberal Democrats, it is the 3rd most important voting issue, and it is the 7th most important issue for moderate/conservative Democrats.

“When registered voters were then asked to choose their single most important issue when voting for a candidate, however, global warming is ranked #5 overall. Among liberal Democrats global warming is #1, and among moderate/conservative Democrats it is #5. Global warming is not a top 10 issue among Republicans.”

It should be noted, however, that even those most deeply involved in the US in addressing the climate emergency, like 4C, still tend to use the phrase ‘global warning’ but this is probably for tactical reasons in an environment vulnerable the side-tracking efforts of deniers and trolls rather than unawareness of the nature of the crisis.

Meanwhile one of the Mason 4C faculty members, Executive Director of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health and on behalf of 20 other leading health organizations including the American Medical Association, Dr Mona Sarfaty, has released a public letter to President Trump urging him to keep America in the Paris Climate Agreement, for the sake of the health of every American; and urged people to retweet it in the hope that he might see it.

The letter said: “Americans often welcome in the New Year by making resolutions. In that spirit, many of us are committing to taking steps to improve our health. We’re resolving to move more, eat better and get more fresh air. We’re trying to improve our financial health as well, by spending more wisely. Mr. President, with one action, you could help us achieve all of these things: Stop our withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Unfortunately it will have about the same impact on Trump as the appeal by Australian firefighting experts had when they tried to get to meet Scott Morrison.

Noel Turnbull is retired and blogs at

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