Climate Change, an Analysis of Advocacy and the Public Silence

Perhaps climate change was a bad dream! Those expressing anxiety about its impacts and the future of humanity before the meeting in Copenhagen have awakened after the meeting and prefer not talk about their bad experience. The clamour of environmental groups has ceased like that of birds in a solar eclipse, scientists and their organisations are left reeling from fearsome attacks on their integrity, and governments are rapidly backsliding in response to polls showing that the public is increasingly disinterested in the topic.

The meagre commitments from nations in response to the Copenhagen Compact will result in a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees and if inadequately delivered will lead to a 4 degree rise. How can we be silent when emissions continue to slowly accelerate and virtually all scientific data demonstrate increasing effects on the physical and biological status of the planet?

This silence is not attributable to any one factor. Rather there is an alignment of forces which has left concerned scientists and organisations bewildered and  wandering leaderless around the battle field like a defeated army.

These events will be reviewed here for those who wish to read further.

Many now assume there is a concerted attack on the science of climate change to neutralise the fundamental scientific facts. The few errors unearthed in the IPCC report are regrettable but are only a tiny fraction of the bulk of evidence. The East Anglia email theft seems to have been a sophisticated cyber break-in timed for the lead up to Copenhagen. Simultaneously, well organised meetings of deniers and their touring spokesmen engaged the press. Contributors to the IPCC have been subjected to a shower of derogatory and sometimes threatening emails and many have questioned their origin and indeed the resources to conduct and coordinate such a campaign. It has inhibited many. To receive one of these emails makes one ask whether society is worth the effort. To read more on this issue:-
A series of 5 articles by Clive Hamilton.Click here
A Review from the Guardian  Click here
A Review from World Watch  Click here

The press and indeed the balance of the media have moved decisively away from accepting climate change science. Many of our members have written asking us to do something about the biased reporting in The Australian. Click here for an earlier comment. We can do little, for this is part of the dominance of one media organisation in the English speaking press with a unified agenda in North America, UK and Australia. A review of The Australian’s performance on one issue published in The Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media  Click here

Government resolve has weakened in English speaking countries. Clamour from the press, public opinion polls and vigorous action to oppose a wide range of legislation by right of centre governments has had significant impacts. In Australia it is being asked if indeed there are any runs on the government’s tally apart from signing Kyoto. Initiatives on renewable energy and energy conservation have become a fiasco and there is increasing recognition that the government’s CPRS is no more than a statement of intent neutered by gifts to polluters.

In this regard, read the critique of Richard Denniss  Click here  and the article by Mark Diesendorf  Click here and the views of Professor Clive Splash who was dismissed by the CSIRO for criticising the Government’s CPRS. In a recent interview Splash said

 Economists assume emissions trading is the most efficient approach to regulating greenhouse gasses. In actual fact this is built around a myth of market efficiency. In the economist's model there's no oligopolies or monopolies or power interests and there's no real means of addressing the relationship between very powerful companies and the government. When you then go for a system which is based around the model of competition, and competition doesn't exist, you don't get the market efficiency that you're claiming. Also there's problems then with the way in which compensation is negotiated, producing massive wealth transfers to the polluters; so rather than having a polluter pays principle, you have a polluter gets paid principle

The Australian Government has now accepted delay of debate on the CPRS and business organisations have moved away their meagre climate change commitments into a wait and see policy

Unfortunately one is driven to the unfortunate possibility that there is a cultural barrier to solving these problems. Power, ideology and accumulation are the drivers. Perhaps a decade of neo-liberalism has rubbed off on all of us? In government there is always an inherent conflict between self interest and community need. The historical balance is there no longer, for as we see with the Republicans in the US, opposition to everything is seen as a means of regaining power- by rendering government incapable of providing needs.

So those who see the climate debate founder wonder if we have the capacity to bring about any of the changes necessary for sustainable human life on the planet. This inner worry probably explains best why we are silent.

There have to be some positives. Firstly it is clear after Copenhagen that new more efficient international mechanisms must be found to address climate change. Leadership when it emerges will have to deliver this. There are those who are glad that Copenhagen failed because its premises were flawed. James Hansen is in this category and presents his arguments well. The political manipulation of emissions trading schemes suggests that we should look again at a simple carbon tax. Meanwhile our job is to activate a medical voice for our institutions have seemed even more moribund since Copenhagen. It is a leading US scientist who has said Coal-fired power stations are death factories. Close them.  With justification we could ask why the medical profession has not said this.

Again, there may be a cultural problem but this time within our profession which may relate to the clinician’s perception of threats to community health. This problem is explored by Tracey Woodruff MPH, Director of the Program for Reproductive Health at the University of California. She finds it difficult to understand why, after around 1,000 studies, there is still so little action on bisphenol-A an endocrine disruptor in plastics. Indeed there is no action on many other toxic substances. A major part of the problem is the perception that environmental health science is irrelevant to clinical practice, and is based on a misunderstanding of the differences in how environmental health and clinical research are conducted. For example, in the clinical arena randomised controlled trials are considered the “gold standard” of evidence for medical action. However, in environmental health this standard is almost impossible to attain for it is not possible to conduct controlled trials to determine the health effects of environmental chemicals. We can extrapolate these thoughts to many of the climate change and health issues we would like to be taken seriously by our colleagues. Woodruff’s article is summarised:-  Click here

David Shearman