On any day of the week, a cursory glance at a letter to the editor page of any major Australian newspaper will reveal the confusion and anger felt by some members of the public regarding the Federal Government’s proposal for a carbon tax.
While some writers may contribute letters expressing their concern about the impact of this tax on cost of living pressures, a vocal minority not only dispute the effectiveness of a carbon tax, but dispute that global warming is a problem caused by human agency.
While robust debate concerning climate change policy is certainly welcome, one has to wonder upon what foundation climate change scepticism can be based?
In December 2004, an analysis of peer reviewed scientific literature found that in the last 10 years there were 928 articles concerning climate change, of which a grand total of 0 were found to dispute the global consensus that greenhouse gas pollution has caused most of the global warming of the last 50 years (1).
Likewise, at least 34 national academies of science from across the globe believe that anthropogenic global warming is occurring, along with numerous other reputable scientific institutions (2). Clearly, the weight of scientific opinion errs toward the sense that climate change is real, and is being driven by human activity.
A recent article by academic Andrew Hoffman looked at the cultural drivers behind climate scepticism (3) and found that climate change denial often stems from a political belief system that values personal liberty and small government, laissez faire economic models and a distrust of scientific peer review.
Climate change science is refuted as any actions taken to reduce climate change would require active government intervention in social and economic life and increase regulatory mechanisms that would limit the operation of ‘free’ markets.
Finally climate change sceptics often distrust the science, treating the academic fraternity as a group of co-conspirators pursuing their own interests and agendas.
An equally impressive point made by Hoffman is that to date academic studies of climate change have largely been confined to the economic and engineering fields. Taken further, this implies that for the public, debate concerning climate change is focused squarely on technology and economics, or cost.
While both are important for their capacity to offer solutions to halt climate change, these areas alone cannot account for the whole range of social and cultural problems that may develop if some of the worst case scenarios for climate change come to fruition.
Understanding that climate change scepticism can be founded upon a range of values that have little or nothing to do with science, or the likely impact of climate change upon human activity, is in itself important.
Likewise, addressing the silences that exist around climate change and food security, public health, water shortages and social disadvantage will go someway to raising awareness of the full impact of climate change, and a long way to silencing climate change scepticism.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. All articles are published in a spirit of improving dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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