Monday 18 Feb 2019 | 12:51 | SYDNEY
Monday 18 Feb 2019 | 12:51 | SYDNEY

Stop trying to convince climate sceptics



8 May 2015 14:22

So, prominent business figure Maurice Newman says in today's Australian that climate change is a hoax and that 'It’s about a new world order under the control of the UN. It is opposed to capitalism and freedom and has made environmental catastrophism a household topic to achieve its objective.'

As the bio at the bottom of the piece reminds us, Newman is chairman of the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council. And he's not the only one with such views who has the ear of the PM. Here is what Senator Nick Minchin, who masterminded the toppling of former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull because of Turnbull's support for emissions trading, said about climate change in 2009: 'For the extreme left it 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 the, and really they embraced environmentalism as their new religion.' The PM himself, of course, also has somewhat amorphous views on this topic.

The Climate Council's Amanda McKenzie is understandably exasperated:

I'm not sure that's the right question. By now it ought to be pretty clear that climate sceptics are unlikely to be swayed by evidence. In fact, it may be that presenting strong evidence of climate change merely entrenches their views. There may also be strong peer-group reasons why climate sceptics hold the views they do — it would be socially risky to sway too far from their peers, with uncertain benefits. (It's worth remembering, of course, that climate sceptics could apply the same arguments to explain why we are not swayed by their views.)

Also, it's not as if bipartisanship is a necessary precondition for action on climate change. Plenty of major reforms have been enacted throughout Australian history without bipartisan consensus. Nor is the public hostile to the idea of doing something. Annual Lowy polling  since 2006 shows a consistent 40-odd percent rump of Australians agreeing with the proposition that 'global warming is a serious and pressing problem' and that 'we should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant cost.' Major political decisions have been made with less public support than that.

I think a more productive approach is to basically give up trying to change minds and just appeal to people's interests, be they economic or political. On the latter point, events such as last year's US-China agreement and the upcoming Paris Conference may be enough to sway the Government that it must take more serious action on climate change or risk damage to our foreign relations. After all, President Obama says 'there is no greater threat to our planet than climate change'. If Obama makes good on that rhetoric by securing a substantive deal in Paris, then it would be in keeping with the traditions of the US-Australia relationship for Canberra to follow along. Indeed, it would be historically unusual for an Australian government (particularly a Coalition government) to be out of step with Washington on such a major international initiative.

As for economic interests, earlier this week we saw the launch of electric car company Tesla's move into home battery storage systems, a move seen by some as a game-changer for the economics of the energy industry. The jury is out on that claim (read this for the pro case, and read the comments section here for the anti), but it is clear that things are moving rapidly in the right direction, whether it is in battery storage or in the price and efficiency of solar panels. So in time, the financial attractiveness of renewable energy will erode the lobbying power of the economic and political interests arrayed against it. The only question is how quickly this will happen.

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