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The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

The weird world of climate change denial

The weird world of climate change denial

Credit: sxc.hu

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Climate change denial has gone into overdrive. In the latest tirade, British politician and climate sceptic Lord Monckton has compared Ross Garnaut to Hitler. An absolute wingnut but he’s taken up a lot of space in the media. He is also speaking at a conference organised by the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies next week. So he has a following.

As Stephan Lewandowsky, Australian Professorial Fellow, Cognitive Science Laboratories at the University of Western Australia and University of New South Wales Astrophysics professor Michael Ashley pointed out, climate denying scientists say they want to participate in the debate but they avoid getting their work published in peer reviewed literature or presenting their ideas at any of the many international scientific conferences, open to anyone, where these issues have been explored for decades. As far as most scientists are concerned, the debate on climate change is over.

Speaking at the National Press Club, Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb says too much public air time has been given to unproven and untested climate change scepticism, and the focus of the media on trivia and quick grabs is marginalising science. The media, he says, is giving undue focus on the deniers. “'Unfortunately we seem to be living in a world where sport, celebrity and the 24-hour news cycle, or more accurately, a 24-hour commentary cycle sprinkled with news, seem to dominate relentlessly,’’ Chubb says.

Still, it continues. There have been some alarming reports that climate scientists have been getting death threats. It’s nasty stuff. The Australian National University has been forced to move several high-profile climate scientists, economists and policy researchers into more secure buildings, following explicit threats to their personal safety while scientists at universities in NSW and Queensland have been moved to high security building. Now, their names do not appear on staff directory lists or on their office door. Some have even switched to unlisted phone numbers after threats that their cars and homes would be damaged.

What exactly is in these emails? Graeme Readfearn at Crikey’s Rooted has all the details. Be warned. The language is very strong and offensive. “You could consider that threats like this are heard in playgrounds every lunch time across the world and this might be so,’’ Readfearn writes. “But those are children trying to win a playground argument. The senders of these emails are, presumably, not juveniles. This is not just friendly banter or sledging at a cricket match. This is not a playground argument.” More to the point, these threats are very real.

Clive Hamilton makes the point they did not come out of the blue. They mirror the way the issue has been turned into a cause célèbre by Tony Abbott and the virulent attacks on climate science, climate scientists and people campaigning for a carbon price perpetrated by papers in the News Limited stable. “The virulence of the recent attacks on Cate Blanchett, who did no more than publicly back a carbon tax, is precisely the kind of rhetoric that encourages threats of violence from climate deniers,’’ Hamilton writes. “No matter how much journalists and commentators protest that they do not support threats and violence, if what they write repeatedly incites those kinds of attack then they have to take responsibility. And there is no doubt that when some commentators go after a climate scientist, a torrent of abusive and threatening emails immediately follows … Despite the steady accumulation of scientific evidence, and the failure of climate deniers to land any significant blow on the corpus of climate science, Australians with conservative politics views are now much more likely to reject the science. Like those whose opinions they value – shock jocks and television demagogues – climate deniers are disproportionately older, white, male and conservative; those who feel their cultural identity most threatened by the implications of climate change. While the debate is superficially about the science, in truth it is about deep-rooted feelings of cultural identity. This makes deniers immune to argument. Their influence will wane only as they grow old and die.”