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Dealing with climate change denial, Australian-style

Climate deniers still have their heads in the sand (tropical pete, flickr/creative commons)

Last Monday night at Melbourne University, the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, along with the Centre for Policy Development unveiled their new report: Post Carbon Pathways: Towards a Just and Resilient Post Carbon Future.

The aim of the report was to look at different plans for decarbonisation of economies (some global, some national, some regional) and then interview leading climate experts and researchers to debate how these might be implemented and how we can begin our journey to a post carbon future.

For a climate nerd like me, it was pretty exciting stuff – what does moral leadership on climate look like? It’s 2030 and we got there – how did we do it? Can you envisage a post carbon world and work back to today and the next steps?

However, I somehow managed to pick the wrong side of the lecture theatre to sit in, because a huffy old man sat in the row behind me and started unpacking his climate denier books, reading the report we were given and turning the pages as loudly as possible, dramatically sighing throughout the presentation and muttering things like ‘this is such crap!’ under his breath.

Of course, when the presentation finished and the moderator asked if there were any questions before the panel discussion began, the huffy old man was the first with his hand up.

He got up and started ranting about how real moral leadership was Ian Plimer’s widely discredited book ‘Heaven and Earth’ while waving his copy in the air, to which the moderator calmly said ‘that book has 350 well documented errors in it’.

Undeterred, the huffy old man started on the favourite climate denier myth of ‘it’s water vapour!’ at which point the moderator asked if he had an actual question to ask, and if not, thank you for the comment.

The man continued  his tirade, when a wonderful moment of blunt Australianism happened as another audience member stood up and yelled across the theatre ‘either ask a question or sit down and shut up!’

Oh, Australia – how I miss you and your lack of Canadian politeness sometimes!

From there of course, the climate denier kept sighing loudly and muttering and attempting to heckle the panel members as we moved onto the next part of the discussion, but to the great credit of the moderator, Professor David Karoly from the University of Melbourne, he simply looked over and said ‘thank you, but you’ve had your turn’.

However entertaining the climate denier was (and I pity Professor Karoly who had to listen to the man rant at him immediately after the presentation), it does pose an interesting question as to how we should engage with climate deniers who are the scientific equivalent of ‘flat earthers’.

When people are so entrenched in their own ideology that they simply refuse to see or believe the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, how much time should we give them? Is there any point in trying to ‘debate’ with someone who just wants to shout at you that you’re wrong?

Personally, I try and avoid climate deniers. There’s only so much energy a person has and only so much time in the day, and I’m sure I could spend weeks ‘debating’ with someone like him, or the jovial Texans I met at Whistler a few weeks back who wanted to tell me all about how Obama was a socialist and climate change wasn’t real because it was cold in Washington DC last week.

I feel like there’s a point at which society has passed certain people by, and the scale of change to their worldviews is so great that they can’t be brought along. In the same way that some people have to avoid talking about race with their grandparents to avoid their awkwardly racist comments; some people just don’t want to see the reality of humanity’s climate challenge and refuse to be convinced.

In the mean time, there’s a growing movement of people who are getting out there, rolling up their sleeves, getting involved.  They're helping to find the solutions needed to solve our climate challenge. There’s no time to be wasted trying to convince the unconvincable. The Australian-style response to such denial was surprisingly refreshing for me. 

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