Feature

Climate citizens

G Magazine

Are we a nation of misinformation?

Climate citizens

Credit: iStockphoto

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I recently found myself spending a large sum of money buying an energy efficient appliance. As I handed over my credit card, I was feeling rather content about the eco-credentials of my purchase. The warm glow left me, however, when the salesman gave me the benefit of his ‘expertise’ on climate change.

“I don’t believe in this climate change stuff,” he said with a knowing look. “There’s no way that humans can influence the climate.” He then rattled off a range of ‘facts’ all of which I recognised from viral emails and talkback radio. His uninvited lecture about climate issues left me both amused and flabbergasted. The PR people behind the climate misinformation campaign would have been proud of him. So committed was he to their cause that he was willing to risk a sale to someone he knew was an environmentalist.

Many people have said that it’s not the enhanced greenhouse effect we should be worried about. Their worry has been the Dunning-Kruger effect. In layman’s language, it’s the scientific way of describing someone who’s too ignorant to realize they’re ignorant. You may be thinking that this is a good way to describe the salesman.

However, he then started talking about his kids. He went to great lengths to describe his concern about the world our kids are growing up in. He knew about peak oil and fully supported electric cars. He talked about the problems that population growth creates for the planet. Many of the changes he wanted to see were the very solutions that we need to minimise our contribution to climate change.

The conversation ended up leaving me with a different concern. How could an informed father of young kids be so taken in by climate misinformation? Blaming it on the PR campaigns of industry would give them more credit than they’re due. The simple fact is our politicians must take a key part of the blame.

Most people are like the salesman. They’re concerned about the environment but they need to be shown that the facts on climate change stand up to scrutiny. Unfortunately the Federal Government and Opposition have done a very bad job explaining climate science. Every time a politician tries to explain it they leave people more confused. When the discussion about a carbon tax was launched, no plan was in place for protecting low-income families from energy price rises. For me that summed up everything that was wrong with how we’re tackling climate change. It loses support for action on the issue.

It struck me that the salesman was the type of person who we cannot afford to lose. He was such a nice guy, I completed the sale and wished him luck. He was left with more money in the till. He left me with a determination to better engage ordinary Aussies on climate issues.

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Jon Dee is the founder of Do Something! and Planet Ark (www.dosomething.net.au). Follow him at www.twitter.com/jondeeoz.