Fighting Government-led Climate Change Denial
The Abbott Government in Australia has previously stated it does not believe in climate change and it has significantly withdrawn funding for this line of research in its latest Budget (along with funding for most non-medical scientific research). A recent change on the Department of Environment’s website has removed a reference to the link between extreme weather conditions and climate change. The Department says this change reflects the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is incorrect.
The IPCC has actually produced a series of reports documenting the effect of climate change on extreme weather. The IPCC note that the impact of extreme weather events depend not just on changing weather conditions but also on “exposure and vulnerability.” Socio-economic patterns, such as age, health, disability, location and education can impact on the ability of communities to prepare for extreme weather events (http://goo.gl/tejXk4).
The IPCC further notes that the connection between climate change and extreme weather significantly impact sustainable development amongst local communities, with global consequences:
“Climate extremes, exposure, and vulnerability are influenced by a wide range of factors, including anthropogenic climate change, natural climate variability, and socio-economic development… The interactions among climate change mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk management may have a major influence on resilient and sustainable pathways.”
Misinforming the public has real consequences for how communities deal with and prepare for extreme weather events like bushfires.
Climate Change Denial as Ideology
One of the first decisions that Prime Minister Tony Abbott implemented during the first 24 hours following his political win was to abolish the Climate Change Commission (http://goo.gl/ivHBtG). It’s now operating as an independent not-for-profit organisation as The Climate Council. Their Chief Executive, Amanda McKenzie, has spoken out against the decision to remove the Department of Environment website’s link between extreme weather and climate change. She says:
“There is a common misconception that Australia has always had extreme weather so we should not be concerned now, but we are already seeing more forceful, extreme weather. Bushfires have increased in south-east Australia in the past 30 years, and we’ve just had our hottest 12 months on record. The evidence is absolutely unequivocal on the link. We know bushfire conditions are getting worse. We have to take the government on its word that it takes climate change seriously but there have been inaccurate statements made around extreme weather and it’s critical the public is provided the right information on these matters.” (http://goo.gl/j49BHf)
A major issue is that the Abbott Government is positioning its environmental policies through an anti-science ideology. Economic growth is pitted against sustainable practices. Climate change becomes something to be rejected on the basis of personal belief (“we believe that human-caused climate change is not real”). This short-term view on environmental policies will cost Australia’s future highly over the long-term. As I’ve noted previously, “belief” in science is a value-laden position guided by personal world-views and political feelings, not by scientific evidence (http://goo.gl/hY0Zqd).
The IPCC propose a model of effective action that includes reducing exposure and vulnerability to extreme weather risks and increasing community resilience (the knowledge, resources and planning necessary to deal with extreme events). In this case, a big part of resilience is public awareness about climate change and its impact on extreme weather. Shying away from educating the public about this connection is dangerous. The idea that Australia has always had bushfires does not take into consideration our changing population over time, and how the changes in the way we now live impact on our landscape. The Government’s failure to educate on these shifting dynamics encourages citizens to be complacent about changing conditions in our environment, rather than encouraging communities to be ready for these extreme weather shifts.
Want to learn more about the IPCC’s scientific review and the connection between climate change and extreme weather? Check out Noah Diffenbaugh’s discussion with Science on Google+. See the video and my summary here http://goo.gl/6B1xaD (Video from 45:50 minutes or scroll to the third section of my write-up titled Thunderstruck).
Image: via Flickr http://goo.gl/7zTd0O.
#science #sociology #socialscience #climatechange #australia