Gillard: we need community consensus on climate change

Whether you like it or not, Australia got a new Prime Minister yesterday — and climate change is a big part of the reason why.

Julia Gillard, from the seat of Lalor in Melbourne’s West, is now Australia’s first female Prime Minister, after Kevin Rudd took a tumble in the polls in the last few months.

Rudd was undermined significantly by his failure to push through an Emissions Trading Scheme, after garnering record support for his ‘tough stance on climate change’ in the lead up to the last election. He had announced that climate change was the ‘great moral challenge of our time’, then he effectively back flipped on the issue by shelving action until 2013. As a result, his popularity fell to an all time low.

So what is Gillard offering that is any different? In her interview yesterday evening with Kerry O’Brien for The 7:30 Report she had this to say;

“I believe climate change is real. I believe that it is caused by human activity. I believe that we have got to therefore change the way we do things and that this nation will in the future need a price on carbon.

I also believe that if we are to have a price on carbon and do all the things necessary for our economy and our society to adjust we need a deep and lasting community consensus about that. We don’t have it now.”

That’s why I said today if elected as Prime Minister at the forthcoming election then I will take the time to reprosecute the case with the Australian community to develop that deep and lasting consensus.”

My interpretation of this is that Gillard is referring to is the fact that recent poll numbers indicate that currently only 46% of Australians consider climate change to be a serious and pressing issue, requiring urgent action. That figure has dropped more than 20% since 2006.

From an education and scientific literacy standpoint, that is an intellectual disgrace. The science of climate change is clear, and it is our job as skeptics committed to evidence and the scientific method to help our fellow citizens understand how and why science works, while at the same time dissecting the myths, distortions and half-​​truths perpetrated by those who seek to undermine it. And this includes the media, who as we all know often fail in their duty to report accurately and appropriately on many scientific issues.

Whether or not you agree that a community consensus is essential before effective action to tackle climate change can take place, you have to admit it wouldn’t hurt. So this is where we come in.

If Gillard wants to educate the public on the reality of human induced climate change, tackle the confusion and paralysis caused by deniers head on, and motivate us out of complacency to achieve a community consensus for action, then this is a noble task. As Young Australian Skeptics we should do our part to assist in this battle.

Learn the facts, and get yourself out there as an advocate for science and reason, whether in the blogosphere, on Facebook, on Twitter or just in conversation with your friends and family. Learn the science behind climate change, and become familiar with the arguments, tactics and motives used by climate change deniers.

Here are some resources I can recommend to you start off. The first is RealClimate, a website run by working climate scientists devoted to reporting on the science behind climate change for the public and journalists, and also responding to inaccurate coverage when necessary. The second resource are two recent interviews by Chris Mooney on Point of Inquiry, one with Michael Specter, author of Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives (2009) and the other with Naomi Oreskes, co-​​author of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010).

Finally, do check out the fantastic YouTube series ‘Climate Crock of the Week’ produced by Peter Sinclair — on par with the equally brilliant ‘Why People Laugh at Creationists’. Below is one of his videos, entitled ‘What Do We Know About Climate Change’ including references to peer reviewed journals. A good way to begin.

Now over to you, the YAS community. What resources do you find useful in discerning the facts about climate change? What are the common arguments you come up against? In what way can we help reverse the growing trend of scientific illiteracy in our country on this matter? Is it a battle we can win?

Jason Ball is the President of the Freethought University Alliance