Changing The Conversation

All parties have in common a failure to frame climate change as a “wicked problem”. Fostering an emotion of hope is the only way to truly move forward, writes Ray Ison

Many Australians go into this election disillusioned with what is on offer. Staring them in the face is the systemic failure of governance that I alluded to in my chapter of More Than Luck, “Governance That Works: why public service reform needs systems thinking.’ For example, both major parties have “copped out” of meaningful policies for climate change. Prospects for the Greens in effecting change in the next parliament remain an open, if hopeful question.

But all parties have in common a failure to frame climate change as a “wicked problem”that demands both systemic understanding and practices for moving forward. I will go further and say that collectively, and here I mean globally, we are in the wrong conversation.

What do I mean by this? Well it became apparent to me after CoP15 in Copenhagen that an unintended consequence of the climate change conversation was that its scientistic framing, especially through the activity of the IPCC, had released a global emotion of fear. In making this claim I am not criticising climate scientists, climate activists, academics and the like. I do not question the science but I do offer a critique of how the doing of science — scientism — operates in our society. We will do well to learn lessons from this example about how scientific explanations function in social systems.

What is unpardonable about this election is that Tony Abbot and those who follow him have deliberately set out to foster an emotion of fear throughout the country. It is fear politics matched only by George Bush and John Howard. The emotion of fear reduces our behavioural choices – the hatches are closed, and, ultimately we create an unethical manner of living together because we reduce the choices we have as individuals, as a nation and as a society.

In contrast Julia Gillard, knowingly or not, in her rhetoric offers an emotion of hope. Under the circumstances it seems the only choice.

The next government should abandon the current conversation about climate change and turn to a conversation of transformation, to a post carbon society, built on an emotion of hope accompanied by investment in transforming practices, institutions and technologies as responses to “peak oil”, biodiversity loss, the global water crisis, and, yes, greenhouse gas emissions. ClimateWorks Australia’s Low Carbon Growth Plan for Australia which provides the first comprehensive economy-wide blueprint for how Australia can achieve an ambitious reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, whilst also building a growing low-carbon economy, exemplifies the transformations we have to imagine and deliver.

Conversation is more than talking – it is how we frame situations, shape and enact policies, build discourses about our circumstances and possible futures and, above all, address the type of society we wish to be.