Clive Hamilton and the Global Change Institute: It’s all in your head

Dr Linda Tonk and I attended a seminar on Wednesday night- actually the inaugural seminar of the “Insight Seminar Series” organized by the UQ Global Change Institute– given by Clive Hamilton about his new book, Requiem for a Species. I found myself nodding and sometimes laughing at his description of the exact emotions that I had felt over the last few years in dealing with climate change. I was so happy to finally understand the natural human response to “death”. Of course, it starts with denial. I went through this stage as an undergraduate student whilst writing critical essays which looked at both sides of the argument. As an amateur scientist with little climate change knowledge, it was easy to be swayed after reading a handful of peer-reviewed articles for my assignments and I always liked to argue for the sake of arguing (just ask my dad).

Towards the end of my undergraduate degree I did start to see the bigger picture and I had read quite a few more papers at this stage and so I moved to the next stage, Maladaption. Maladaption is a dangerous place to be and it is probably where most of the population sits at the moment. Depression leads to the inability to do anything so I had to pull myself out of that one. Blameshifting also gets you nowhere. Even if China is building a coal power plant every week, we can’t pretend we don’t play a part when we sell them the coal. Australians can lead by example. Up until last night, I was using a part of this Maladaption phase where I would just change the subject whenever climate change was brought up. I cannot answer every question on climate change but ask me specifically about ocean acidification and corals and I can talk all day. So now I am going to move to the final phase where you control your emotions and act. I am no longer going to change the subject in these conversations (but I’ll probably still steer the conversation to my area of expertise).

The other great part of the seminar was the description of the driving force behind the climate scientists (science) and the skeptics (power, money and not the least politics). Even if you can’t understand all the climate science enough to critically dissect the arguments, it makes it easier to pick a side if you understand their motives. Climate scientists are simply presenting their work and understanding of the forces of nature. Climate skeptics, on the other hand, are ultimately annoyed that humankind cannot conquer nature and that unrestrained capitalism does not lead to sustainable living. Linda also liked this part of the seminar:

“My main concern is the widening divergence between the actual climate science and the way it is perceived by the general public. Clive Hamilton’s lecture reminded me about this topic.

As a scientist, I also get confused about all the information and misinformation that exists on climate science. All I want is to know the truth. However, on more than one occasion, my efforts to find simple non -biased answers to my questions on the web has led me straight into the hands of climate denialists propaganda. Not knowing what I’d stumbled upon I feel confident to claim I read these documents with an open mind and I am not ashamed to admit they even had me going in the wrong direction for a few sentences. Because they are good! And this is what scares me the most. It’s all about taking advantage of situations, twisting words and even blatantly lying, but it looks very professionally done!

Of course the general public is confused. On the one hand we have the climate scientists, who by nature just aren’t the best in explaining complicated things and more importantly not prepared for the rules of the game turning dirty. On the other hand there is a seemingly well-organized and professional movement who are obviously very willing to play dirty.

Now we have to rely on media to provide us with neutral information. But how can we when it all just seems to shift towards the opinions of the people with the money and the power. This is the driving force behind climate skeptics and denialists and it IS very powerful. So during last night’s seminar I was reminded by all this and once again confronted with the difficulties of getting the truth out there for the public to understand and establish a well-informed opinion. The one question I was left wondering is who will to step up to the plate and provide the missing link.

My little moment of hope sprung from the realization that by providing clarity on the psychological issues of dealing with climate change and moreover providing insight in the driving forces behind both sides (climate science and denialists) we are a step closer to uncovering true motives and therefore a step closer to understanding the real climate science.  Now all that’s left is to find papers and people that are willing to inform the public.”

Afterwards there was a great Q & A section. My favourite part from this section was discussion about the Emissions Trading Scheme and specifically the buying of carbon credits overseas (For example, by saving a rainforest in Papua New Guinea). Hamilton’s response was that this scheme has “loopholes so big that you could drive a hummer through it.” However, when looking to alternatives we need to consider the time and lobbying that will occur before a new idea reaches parliament.

There were so many important concepts brought up at this seminar. It was a great free, public event and I recommend that people attend the future seminars in this series. There is only one thing left to do now: act!

4 thoughts on “Clive Hamilton and the Global Change Institute: It’s all in your head

  1. Thanks for the report and your insights. The observation on how effective the “confusionists” have been is true. They now have so many websites they’re can scramble and spin new science developments in real time. And once one of them does that, the link is immediately forwarded to hundreds of empty-headed political sites.

    I have a long perspective on the issue and that helps me debunk claims and red-herring arguements.
    Here is a book by a historian-physicist that can help you do the same. It is the story of the many stops, starts and sidetracks to understanding global warming. It is available free online, with a nice search-engine.

    by Dr Spencer R. Weart

    It is well worth owning in paperback.

  2. It is true that Alicia did like to argue just for the heck of it when she was at school and as such was an excellent debator, but I don’t believe there is any room for that in this field and as a scientist the evidence must point to the truth. Keep up the good work Alicia and maintain your focus and the truth will come. There is a lot of misinformation on this subject and there is a large amount of the public opinion still waiting for this truth and clarity on what is proving to be a very complicated and intertrwined subject. Love Dad.

  3. Nice sharing from a younger generation like you, it is very touching, indeed.

    I think it is us,scientists, to produce those “climate skeptics” and “denialists”! We can not deny it!

    Take coral reef research as an example, some researchers working on the issue of response to heat-stress induced bleaching and symbiont diversity are very very careful in addressing the question how hosting a heat-resistant symbiont clade can help coral holobionts to acclimatise or even adapt to the rising temperature. Ove is the leader of this camp, I believe. That is, before we can unlock the mystery of coral-symbiosis relationship, which we still dont know most of it! We have to be very careful in conclude what we are doing, and transform information to the public. I believe this is why and how Climate Change Institute is established in UQ— transform “scientific language” to “public language” for the public! Give them right “information”, not “answer”!

    So, since rising SST and climate change is a “hot” issue in this field, it is a way to attract attention, or catch the spotlight of media by putting “bold” prediction in the research articles. Some depth transplantation study of corals showed light effect, but using good English writing skill to link to thermal stress and therefore implications for climate change. Some articles based on study of ONE coral species, then come to a statement like this, ” heat-resistant Symbiodinium clade can give coral hosts 1-1.5C degree of thermal tolerant increase. This is an ecological significance to MANY coral species in the absence of other mechanism of acclimatisation or adaptation. However, it may not be sufficient to survive climate change under predicted sea surface temperature scenarios over the next 100 years, but it may be enough to ‘buy time’ while CO2 reduction measures are put in place.” This kind of title and conclusion is very sexy and attractive! However, if you are “climate skeptics” and “denialists”, when you saw these articles, what will you do? If you are general public outside the coral research field but do care about the GBR’s future, what will you think? believe it or not, some of these scientific articles will be/ or might have been used as “scientific evidence” in the public hearings in United States congress or Australian parliament for the debate of CO2 emission reduction or climate change to support the view of skeptics.

    I have to say that I have NO intention to say good or bad for peoples’ research work, all of them are great! however, by saying something “overstated” can get the attention of scientific community, but it is going to mislead the public taxpayers who just need some simple, quick, and clear “information” to their puzzle of climate change. In return, this kind of stress is back to people like Ove who has a public attraction, insists his good science, and passion to his beloved coral reefs, WASTES his time to explain and fight to those skeptics! It wastes time to do it, but he must do it. I think that is the reason why he is still not finishing his review paper-:)

    You are asking who will step up to the platform and provide the missing link—- the answer is very clear to me, as an overseas observer to this blog, you people in the Climate Change Institute and Coral Reef Ecosystem lab! The good old day of living in the ivory tower to do whatever science you like is over! You got to learn the communication skill, know what media want, etc. This is what traditional science did not teach scientist! But we have to learn if you want to do something about it. This is the concept of “Dr. of Earth”. You will one of the PhD Drs to help treat this sick planet. The young generation like you should look into what your director have been trying so hard in the last 20 years!

  4. Thanks everyone for these informative and insightful comments. I hope I can be “Dr of Earth” one day soon and I will make sure effective communication is one of my traits!

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