There are so many ways that you could attempt to explain the Federal Government’s decision to shelve its emissions trading scheme (ETS), which is being described variously as a flip flop and a backflip.
You could seek to understand it as a failure of politics, policy, and/or advocacy, amongst other things.
One piece of the explanation may be the language we’ve been using in our public debate. According to Peter Tait, Convenor of the Environmental Health Special Interest Group of the Public Health Association of Australia, it’s well past time that we stopped using terms like “climate skeptics” and “climate deniers”.
“Since mid 2009, action on Climate Change in Australia has faltered. People publicly casting doubt on the need for climate action have dominated the public discourse.
One important contributor to the domination of the contrary view is in the language we use to name the opponents of climate action. I suggest that calling them skeptics or lumping all together as deniers has problems.
A more nuanced approach to naming opponents may help the public and ourselves understand their mindset and what some of them are doing. It may also then help us restart the necessary action.
Firstly, calling all opponents of climate change action skeptics is dangerous. It affords them an unwarranted scientific legitimacy and suggests their opposition is based on scientifically reasonable grounds.
When the debate truly is over key uncertainties in the science carried out in the peer reviewed literature, then the tag skeptical is warranted. By and large however, skepticism is not relevant to discussion in the context of opposition to climate change action. It should be avoided.
Secondly, I propose another way of naming climate action opponents. Any individual will have a cluster of beliefs and opinion about climate change. A person’s personality profile incorporating social and economic beliefs, risk aversion, opportunism and psychological defense mechanisms will all contribute to their response.
I have classified the outcome of this complex of factors into five ‘types’ of response. One individual may hold to more than one response type particularly where psychological defenses are at work.
The types, in no particular order, are:
Deniers: believe that there is no climate change, or deny it is anthropogenic. (see distressed and doubt sowers)
Disinterested: don’t care one way or another.
Distressed: recognise climate change and some may be responding appropriately. Others if using psychological defence may appear as disinterested or deniers. They may need help to engage and act.
Doubt sowers: may or may not accept the reality of climate change but publicly deny its reality or effects in order to avoid or delay responses as they are protecting vested interests. Their action needs to be publicly named.
Deluded: accept the reality of climate change but argue that it will be beneficial, effects are overstated, action is too costly and the time is not right. They also need to be publicly named.
By naming opponents of climate change action according to these types we can expose what is happening and explain the way vested interests or psychological distress are working against our common interest.
By publicly naming what is going on, we can reassert our interest in ensuring a safe climate for humans and all other species. High profile public opinion leaders opposing climate change action probably fall into one of the latter response types. Our silence leaves them credible.”
Croakey wonders if perhaps the Government’s recent acrobatic announcement deserves the creation of another category… Suggestions anyone?