“Don’t knows” rising faster than the polar ice caps
The polls on climate change are in and Australia is speaking as one, in a consistent and unwavering voice, sending the government a clear message it ignores at its own peril. That message? “We don’t know”.
Over the past few months ‘Don’t Know’ has emerged from the pack to be the most popular answer to a series of questions around climate change posed in the weekly Essential Report. Where once we were clear on the need for decisive action to stop global warming, now we are all at (rising?) sea. And the source of our confusion can be summed up in the ugly little acronym, ETS. Here’s a snapshot from recent polls:
June 29: Should the Opposition vote in favour or against the Government’s ETS legislation? - 40 per cent Don’t Know
June 22: Is the Government’s ETS strong enough? – 47 per cent Don’t Know
June 15: Should the Greens support the ETS in the Senate? – 37 per cent Don’t Know
This collective confusion represents a victory for the climate change deniers, notably the industry groups who have created their own doomsday scenarios around job losses in carbon-reliant industries.
But for mine, the real culprits are the technocrats who have managed to squeeze all the passion out of the project to save the planet and turned it into something that would be more appropriately meted out as punishment.
Designing an ETS is important work, but it is dull and soul-destroying. It’s a little like building a vision to create the world’s fastest car and thenp spending a year talking about how the engine will work.
We punters are not interested in how the pistons work, we just want to know it will travel where we want to go.
Or put it another way, if the last federal election was fought over a debate over the enforceability of conciliation and arbitration powers of the federal industrial relations commission, there is every chance John Howard would still be PM.
The trick in engaging people politically is to give them something that inspires them, to make the policy work that needs to be undertaken consistent with the bigger picture.
It seems to me it is here that the federal government has lost momentum – as they have dug deeper into the ETS they have been doing little to inspire people about how it will change the way the economy properties.
In fact, the most enduring climate change initiative recalled by people in focus groups is Malcolm Turnbull’s 2006 promise while environment minister to ban light bulbs. (as an inside, the Liberals have now entered the world of mass confusion too, with ‘Don’t Know now topping the list as most popular choice for leader).
An alternate approach to communicating climate change has been championed in the US by the Break Through Institute, the baby of a couple of green heretics, Ted Norhaus and Michael Shellenberger, who published a seminal essay ‘The Death of Environmentalism’ a few years back.
Norhaus and Shellenberger argue that the only way to drive fundamental change is to inspire people; not scare them about environmental disaster; not bore them with technical detail, but to paint a picture of economic opportunity.
At the centre of their agenda are big-bold job-creating initiatives to promote renewable energy, a Marshall Plan for our times, driving markets that do not even exist and creating new jobs not yet imagined.
Their thinking helped drive the Apollo Alliance of environmental and union activists in the US, had a big impact on the Obama climate change policy and is now bearing fruit with an administration investing big in renewables.
The Obama policy is not wrapped up as ‘climate change’ or an ‘ETS’ or even ‘environment’ – it is ‘new energy’ - a position that is both forward-looking and active.
From this position, Obama is able to step into an international leadership role at the upcoming G8 Summit and attempt to broker a meaningful global protocol to reduce emissions.
Will it save the world? Don’t know. Will it quieten the deniers? Unlikely. But it creates momentum for the proponents of change, something that is hard to generate when you spend all your time with your head under the donk.
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