The representation of climate change science in the media has, up until recently, been rather poor. Far too many engaged in debates and articles that gave the impression there was still 2 sides to the argument when in fact the overwhelming majority of evidence only favours one side. The last few years have seen numerous campaigns to rectify this situation and whilst we still haven’t convinced everyone of the real facts it’s been great to see a reduction in the number of supposed “fair” debates on the topic. However if a recent study around the general population’s knowledge on this topic is anything to go by lack of knowledge might not be the problem at all, it might just be the culture surrounding it.
A recent study done by Professor Dan Kahan of Yale university was done in order to understand just how literate people were on the issues of general science as well as climate change science. The results are rather surprising (and ultimately disturbing) as whilst you’d tend to think that a better general understanding of science would lead to a better understanding of the risks associated with climate change the study actually shows that isn’t a predictor at all. Indeed the strongest predictor of was actually their left-right political affiliation with the amount of scientific knowledge actually increasing the divide between them. This leads us to a rather ugly conclusion that educating people about the facts behind climate change is most likely not going to change their opinion of it.
Whilst the divide along party lines isn’t going to shock anyone the fact that both sides of the political landscape are about as educated as each other on the topic was a big surprise to me. I had always thought that it was more ignorance than anything else as a lot of arguments I had had around climate change usually centered on the lack of scientific consensus. Had I dug further into their actual knowledge though it seems that they may have been more knowledgeable on it than I would first think, even if the conclusions they drew from the evidence were out of touch with reality. This signals that we, as those interested in spreading the facts and evidence as accepted by the wider scientific community, need to rephrase the debate from one of education to something else that transcends party lines.
What that solution would be though is something I just don’t have a good answer to. At an individual level I know I can usually convince most people of the facts if I’m given enough time with someone (heck up until 5 years ago I was on the other side of the debate myself) but the strategies I use there simply don’t scale to the broader population. Taking the politics out of an issue is no simple task, and one I’d wager has never been done successfully before, but until we find a way to break down the party lines on the issue of climate change I feel that meaningful progress will always be a goal that’s never met.
You know why I typically avoid posting about the political issue du jour? Mostly because it angries up my blood but also because it seems that the Australian public’s opinion on most matters is so woefully uninformed that I feel like an angry rant about it on my blog really won’t do anything to help the cause. Of course some issues get enough attention that I feel warranted in straying from my usual cool educative demeanor and instead zip up my flame suit and get ready to unload some napalm on my unsuspecting readers. I know that I’m preaching to the choir for the most part but there are some things that I feel just need to be said.
So as any Australian can tell you the hot button issue right now is the current debate raging over asylum seeker reform triggered by the deaths of 100 people aboard a boat off the coast of Christmas Island. “The Boats”, as the Australian media loves to refer them as, are always something of a topic of contention in Australia with one side furious about the way these people are arriving and the other side equally as angry about the way we treat said arrivals. Whilst I hesitate from making general accusations about how Australians tend to be xenophobic (I certainly have tons of anecdotal evidence to support that, but I digress) it does seem the idea of people coming to Australia via boat is found offensive by no small part of the Australian public and therein is where all the drama originates.
Now before I get into the slightly less ranty section of this post let me give you my opinion as it stood prior to me doing the research for this. I personally don’t have any good answers for what a perfect solution would be as an open door policy isn’t a great idea but neither is the strict mandatory detention and offshore processing arrangement we have right now. I feel that this should be a minor issue, something that’s completely under the purview of the government and should not be receiving so much attention. Whilst I don’t know the exact percentage of refugees and migrants coming to Australia via boats I know it vastly dwarfs that of other migrants who come here on real visas and that’s the reason why I can never understand why people go so ballistic when we find another boat coming to Australia.
I think people would do well to read the Lowy Institute’s report on Responding to Boat Arrivals as there’s a lot of information in there that will make people think twice about their stance on the boats. It’s quite lengthy though so I’ll summarize the more important points.
Firstly the acceptance rate for people arriving by boats when compared to that arriving through official channels is much, much higher. What this means is that the vast majority of people arriving by boat are in fact refugees seeking asylum and the others, the ones who most Australian’s coming in “legitimately”, are more than likely not refugees. This supports my view that we’re far too focused on the wrong kind of immigration, if we should be focused on it at all (hint: we shouldn’t be, at least not in a negative sense).
Probably the major point though is that of the two types of factors that see asylum seekers come to our shores, pull (ones that draw them here) and push (ones that force them out of their country of residence), the push factors are far more influential in someone making the decision to come here. This also explains why Australia saw an increase in refugees when the rest of the world didn’t as the vast majority of our refugees come from 2 countries and the push factors in those areas escalated substantially at the same time (the ongoing war and dire human rights situation in Afghanistan are primarily responsible for this.).
In fact the most profound part of the Lowy Institute’s report are the reasons why Australia is attractive to asylum seekers. It’s not because of our “soft” asylum policies or anything like that, no it’s more to do with the fact that we’re a prosperous, democratic and fair place to live. Indeed should we want to make Australia unattractive to refugees the real way of doing it would be to abandon those qualities rather than “getting tougher on boat people”. Of course no one in Australia would support that idea which demonstrates why there really doesn’t need to be this much hype about asylum seekers in the first place.
I know that this isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind nor make the impact I would hope it to but I really couldn’t let my views go without a voice any longer. If you’ve been reading this and nodding along I’d urge you to educate people on the realities of the situation so that hopefully they won’t react in an irrational way because they don’t know the full story on asylum seekers arriving by boats. I don’t pretend to have an ultimate solution for all this but I’ll be damned if a better one couldn’t be found if this issue wasn’t used as a political punching bag for both sides to score points for the up coming election.
It was about 2 weeks ago when I was driving home from work when Triple J’s current affairs program Hack came on the radio. The topic of the day was climate change and it caught my ear not because I’m terribly involved in the movement (although I have blogged around it on 4 separate occasions in the past) but because it was leading up to a program I had seen advertised on the ABC called I Can Change Your Mind on Climate. The show pits Anna Rose, a noted environmental activist, against well noted (and much derided here on this blog) former senator Nick Minchin, a climate change skeptic/denier. The program was to focus on them travelling the world and meeting with experts from their side of the argument, in the hopes to swing them to one side or the other.
The idea intrigued me as whilst I was once a person who could be at best described as a climate change agnostic (I didn’t have enough information to sway me to either side) actual research into the phenomena showed that the evidence was unequivocally for it happening and that us humans were to blame for it. Thus I wasn’t so interested in Anna Rose’s side of the argument as I’m already sold on that, but I was intrigued to see what kind of experts Nick Minchin could dredge up to support his claims. Unfortunately due to work commitments I didn’t catch the show but from what I’ve heard neither gave any ground and objectively Minchin did more harm than good by the experts he chose.
That would’ve been the end of it but the show came up in conversation yesterday. To my surprise it was met with much derision even though I thought that it was for the most part bad for Minchin and great for everyone else. Their issue wasn’t so much the program but with the format in which it was presented, pitting one side of an argument against the other. Whilst this might appear to be the fair and balanced way (snicker) of discussing the material at hand it is in fact portraying a situation that simply doesn’t exist.
The one that there are 2 legitimate sides to this argument.
Anyone who’s not familiar with the current state of climate science watching such a program would believe that there’s still an ongoing debate on whether or not climate change is man made. Scientifically speaking this is far from the truth as 97% of scientists surveyed (of a total of 489) support that view point. Of the 3% that don’t agree with that view point most of them were not in an area related to climate research which takes the overall percentage of climate scientists who believe climate change is man made much closer to the 100% mark. The current debate is around what the impact will be and its severity, but with shows like the former you’d still think that the scientists are out on whether or not we’re at the center of this environmental problem.
This is the problem with representing opposing views with equal standing to a public that only gets its information from a single source. It’s highly unlikely that someone undecided on climate change would come away from such a program thinking that they needed to research it more. Instead such programs would either reinforce currently held beliefs (whether for good or bad) or simply leave them in the agnostic state they were in to begin with. It may be time for the government to go on an climate change denier campaign in much the same way as they’ve done for smoking as there’s just as much scientific evidence to support both.
Realistically I know I’m preaching to the choir here but posts like these (my piece on the anti-vaccination movement being one of them) seems to attract the kinds of crazies that I’m hoping will do a double take and think about their current position. I know that it’s a hard sell for those guys, most will just dismiss this post outright, but if I can get through to some I’ll consider it a success.
I’m not usually a person to back down in an argument. If I think I’m right about something I’ll usually fight tooth and nail until I’m unequivocally proven to be wrong, at which point I’ll concede. I think this is my folly when it comes to debating arguing with people on the Internet, since the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory dictates that the people on the other end of the connection are more than likely not trying to inspire an intellectual debate. They’re probably just fishing for a reaction from someone in front of their audience of choice.
This behaviour is commonly referred to as trolling and is most present in online mediums. Take away the innate sense of identity from someone and it appears that a lot of them take it upon themselves to incite emotional reactions in people rather than attempt intellectual debate. Whilst I can consider the possibility that some trolls may just be people purporting an controversial viewpoint and thus receive the label incorrectly there is a distinct difference in behaviour between the two. Your typical troll will use such devices as ad hominem attacks which serve nothing for the argument but will invoke an emotional reaction.
With the population at large becoming more aware of these types of individuals the typical troll is usually spotted and shut out long before they have a chance to cause any damage. Like any organism who is trying to survive they have then evolved into what I referred to as Intellectual Trolls. Unlike their ancestors they will engage in the discussion or debate and instead of going for an immediate reaction they will attempt to get others frustrated with them by using deliberately ambiguous arguments and other oratory devices which would make them out to be the one who is being trolled. It’s these kinds of trolls I have a lot of problems with, since I don’t stop arguing until they’ve come around to my point of view.
There’s also a strange kind of situation where some people become accidental trolls. I usually see this happen when someone has a strong point of view that hits on a nerve of someone on the other side of the argument. A great example of this was on the weekend when I was discussing Australian taxation with one of my friends. In essence I agreed with what he was saying but he used one example (contractors vs permanent employees in the public service) which hit on one of my bug bears (people thinking contractors have it much better than permanent employees). It trigger a primarily emotional response from me and distracted from the argument completely, in essence he trolled without even thinking about it. To be honest though the fault lies completely with me, but it’s interesting to see how someone could accidentally fall under the troll label.
For the most part though the online communities that I frequent are troll free and the only time I get caught out is when I’m actually in the wrong. Probably the biggest walls I face is when I end up against the groupthink of the discussion or community and I end up getting shouted down by several other parties. It’s at times like this I just leave it be as there’s not usually a lot of benefit in when they don’t want to listen. It’s a little hard to give an opposing viewpoint when they figuratively have their fingers in their ears.
I’m getting better at identifying these trolls and leaving them be once I’ve said my peace but they still manage to get my guard up at one time or another. Maybe I just need stop defending my viewpoints so fervently, I can be a little stubborn sometimes 🙂