Who Is Fighting For Hearts And Minds?

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Gillard and Abbott might be convinced that good climate policy is bad news but, as Fiona Armstrong argues, they’re missing the opportunity to tell the story of the benefits of action on climate change

A week in, there has been very little effort in this federal election campaign to capture the hearts and minds of the electorate, or indeed to engage them much at all. It’s so different to the 2008 US election, for example, when Obama traded so successfully on the ‘audacity of hope’. To say this election lacks hope is an understatement to say the least — one week in, the focus of both the major parties seems mainly to dissociate themselves from bad policies and to promise not to do anything much. This is particularly true in relation to climate, on which the ambitions of the major parties are modest — to say the least. Is it because change is frightening, or at least politicians find it hard to explain the rationale behind hard decisions — or simply because not not getting people’s hopes up is a good way to avoid significant scrutiny?

The offerings of both the major parties in relation to climate are modest. It looks like they are intended to enable the ALP and the Liberals to be able to claim the existence of a policy — not really effective, just a policy. Gillard seems convinced that climate is a bad news story and that if she addresses it at all as a policy issue, she will only raise fear and doubt in the community. Abbott — if he thinks about it at all — seems to think that having a policy, any policy, will do, so long as it doesn’t appear to cost anything and won’t upset any electricity generators.

There is another story that the electorate would like to hear however on climate, and it is one which all the political parties would do well to share more widely. That is the story of the benefits of action on climate change and the opportunities being created for early movers in the emerging green economy. There are substantial political opportunities to be gained from shifting the narrative from the problem of climate change to the benefits of action and the opportunities that are being created through effective policy action. People do want action — remember the slump in the polls when the emissions trading was shelved — and hearing a good news story on the topic might help shift the debate.

One of the main points to be made is that there are significant economic benefits of action and the chance for Australia — if we move quickly — to play a leadership role in the development of services, technologies, and industries that are ‘post-carbon’.

This new green economy is growing very rapidly in other parts of the world — the growth in renewable energy is huge (investment in renewables globally has doubled since 2005); China will spend around A$40 billion on clean energy in 2010; the South Korean government will apparently spend around A$100 billion between 2009 and 2013.). It is simply ludicrous that a country that is blessed with possibly the best natural resources in the world for clean renewable energy is not capitalising on that natural advantage and exporting our knowledge and technologies and new industries to the world.

The economic flip side of course is that if we don’t act to take advantage of this opportunity we will become net importers of intellectual property and industrial capital in order to meet our own needs. We will be faced with increasing high costs associated with unmitigated climate change but none of the benefits of action.

It is not the case that if we ignore climate change it will go away. We know the costs will increase exponentially the longer we wait. Nicholas Stern said back in 2006 (and Ross Garnaut said it again in 2008) that costs will inevitably rise as a proportion of GDP the longer we delay. But there in Australia we are doing nothing to mitigate against those costs nor are we creating the new industries that will assist us in offsetting them. The Garnaut report suggests that the costs of unmitigated climate change will rise to 9 per cent by the end of this century, 25 per cent by 2200 and a staggering 68 per cent by 2300. But even those risks seem far off to most, and people want to hear about what can be done now.

One of the obstacles to change is poor climate literacy. Many people are genuinely uncertain about what to believe on climate change as it is so complex. In a time-poor world, there is only so much cognitive space available to comprehend issues like these. But to build public support for effective policy, it is vital that policy makers communicate the scale and urgency of the need for change to the community. Voters cannot be expected to support policies they don’t understand or comprehend the need for. It is time our political leaders made it clear that we do face grave risks, and that it is therefore necessary to develop policies that reflect the scientific evidence. But it is also important that the benefits of taking action are made clear to ensure there is a sense of optimism about the future and to encourage innovation in the development of solutions. Many people may be unaware that effective mitigation is possible — and entreating the community to join in a national exercise that offers optimism and hope for the future may just be a successful political act.


More Than Luck is a collection of ideas for citizens who want real change edited by Mark Davis and CPD Executive Director Miriam Lyons. A to-do list for politicians looking to base public policies on the kind of future Australians really want, More Than Luck shows what’s needed to share this country’s good luck amongst all Australians – now and in the future. Click here to find out more. Like what you’ve read? Donate to help make good ideas matter.

4 Responses to “Who Is Fighting For Hearts And Minds?”

  1. Bro

    The article is an example of the unfortunately common phenomenon: “Don’t mention the Greens”.

    The LibLabs are no longer just off the page regarding vaguely sensible responses to climate change; they don’t even know the address of the library.

    It will take enormous pressure, both inside and outside structured political processes, to shift them at all in the right direction. Neither changing nor retaining the Government will do anything other than promote tipping the climate system.

    Widespread expression of community outrage and replacement of some of the climate cynics in the Parliament with politicians who are serious about acting on climate change (and The Greens seem the only realistic chance over the next few weeks) are only real shots we have at starting to scare the LibLabs towards vaguely appropriate action.

    Reply
  2. Simon

    This artcile goes inthe same rubbush bin as the vitriolic abuse being handed out by Christine Milne. Having identified climate literacy as the key problem the answer is to abuse failing politcial leaders as the cause of the problem.

    Can I remind you that the very language and arguments and debates being demanded were being pursued vigoruosly and Australia had the necessary bipartisan support to move forward. Howver one polictical leader sensed the hesitation and lack of suport in the voting public and seized the opportunity to take the Liberal Leadership and create politcial opportunity for himself.

    Politcics is the art of the possible, strident extremitsts rarely deliver change. It is necessary to go back and take the time and effort to rebuild consensus on the issues and the opportunities of climate change. To do otherwise is to risk a government of rock dwellers in denial. Cooperation generally achives a lot more than perosnal denigration of leaders seeking to the right thing. Those who want change woudl be much better served swaying community opinion than constant blaming and denigration of Labor leaders.

    Reply
  3. Frank Pederick

    Both Simon & Bro mention the Greens.
    I think the ALP could have negotiated with the Greens to get a CO2 reduction scheme through the Senate.
    The problem is that the major parties are wedded to the Emissions Trading System approach. This is a system which can be rorted in many ways and which would make the ethics of the banks and other financial institutions involved in the GFC look to paragons of rectitude, and not reduce actual CO2 output from Australia.

    The Greens proposed carbon tax could achieve this.

    The main problem is any reduction in energy use will result in price increases to maintain dividends.

    The proposal to obtain a consensus of citizens will result in the ignorant conferring with the ill-informed.
    They could be put through a series of brain washing seminars etc to get any desired result.

    Reply
  4. Douglas Jones

    An uninformed electorate, one operating on emotion presumably, as suggested by an assement of scientific literacy in the population. Naturally this raises the question of whether we have a voting public responding to short term problems and dog whistling or a democracy voting from informed knowledge with the sugaring of emotive preference, but surely onebetter than the former.
    It might seem early indoctrination of the young to environmemntal realities is needed, andone article suggests this may be happening equipping at least for a time the plastic brain against the forces of propaganda and partial information recieved in later life. This thought has beenreinforced recently when a friend having little scientific background could not accept amongst other items, that ordinary glass was a poor insulator and hence, shutting windows was adequate response to a cold dull day.
    However I fear the time scale needed is greater than that scientists suggest.
    Maybe the mooted idea following the latest economic implosion, that a command, war footing, economy should be instigated the bail out money spent on environmenta; correction using labour released from enterprises now gone to the wall, banks andfinance traders whose role the government adopts. Sure not a democracy and some, an informed public perhaps,limiting the period of cammand. Yes the usual problem of short term powerful individuals running the shoew for their benifit, but is that different from what we have particularly in America but nearly as common elsewhere.
    Did not happen,will happen when local catastrophe happens. Warm words will satify for the catastrophe already occuring in the poorer countries many more prone to effects of early climate change than us, Strive on Africa and learn to swim in the Maldaves and calcutta, eating fish presumab;y..

    Reply

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