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!