CLIMATE SPECTATOR: Give up on Minchin and Palmer

The documentary 'I can change your mind about climate' showed that a subset of the population will never be persuaded on climate change, so it's time we shifted our focus from the Nick Minchins of the world.

Climate Spectator

The ABC documentary I can change your mind about... climate left me depressed. Anna Rose – the person trying to convert Senator Nick Minchin to be concerned about global warming – failed to present a convincing case for reducing emissions.

Nick Minchin then further rubbed it in with his editorial in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald the following day pointing out that 2007 was our best chance of convincing the Australian populace about reducing Australia’s emissions. But with the breaking of the drought, he argued, people’s concern about climate change has begun to evaporate. Much as I hate to say it, Minchin is right. This was reinforced by a survey reported on today in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald

In spite of being disheartened by the show, it was still worthwhile watching. That’s because it provided an excellent insight into the mindset of those that reject the idea of global warming.   

It is evident that Australians with deeply conservative political views, such as Nick Minchin and Clive Palmer, have so confused the science of climate change with the politics of socialism that they are beyond rational argument. You can be pro-privatisation, pro-deregulation, pro-technological progress, and believe communism was a horrific experiment. But if you argue that global warming poses a serious threat to humanity’s wellbeing you are labelled a socialist or a communist.

As an example, when I took The Australian newspaper to task for a series of factual errors they’ve made over the years in reporting on climate change (The Australian’s fear of reds under the beds, March 12), I received the following comment from Peter Lang (a global warming sceptic who regularly provides comments to Climate Spectator):

"This article just provides more confirmation that CAGW [human-induced global warming] alarmism and renewable energy advocacy are part of the far loony Left ideology. And it also shows that Tristan Edis, editor of Climate Spectator, is a far left ideologue. Climate Spectator seems to have gone even further Left since the editors changed from Far left Giles Parkinson to farther Left Tristan Edis.”

Apparently I am a far left ideologue even though I’ve argued in favour of privatisation of electricity businesses, argued in favour of electricity retail price deregulation, and even had opinion pieces published by The Australian, extolling the virtues of delegating decisions to the private sector.

The thing is that people like Nick Minchin, Clive Palmer and Peter Lang will never be persuaded, no matter how much evidence, and how many dedicated and talented scientists you put in front of them.

That’s why the documentary really posed the wrong question for those seeking to sell solutions to climate change. If the clean energy sector wants to achieve change, they are wasting their time talking to Nick Minchin. Instead the sector needs to focus its marketing effort on those that are open to persuasion, but are not yet convinced. 

Dr Anthony Lieserowitz, who was featured on the documentary, has managed to categorise the American population into six segments according to their degree of concern about global warming. I suspect that Australia’s population is probably not all that different. Below is a break-down of where proportions of the population sit based on a May 2011 survey.

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Source: Yale and George Mason Universities

The documentary tried to suggest that there might be room for the Alarmed (personified by Anna Rose) and the Dismissive (Nick Minchin) to be reconciled. Apparently because they can both see virtues in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Yet within the detail of Lieserowitz’s survey it is clear the ‘Dismissive’ group is hostile to measures that have the greatest likelihood of significantly reducing emissions.

Sure they don’t mind taxpayer-funded measures such as rebates for solar panels, increasing R&D funding, and more bike paths. But these types of measures have made very little impact on reducing emissions (See Grattan report: Learning the Hard Way). Meanwhile, they are heavily opposed to measures that are known to work effectively in reducing emissions. These include increasing the cost of fossil fuels (even if fully offset by reduction in income taxes), setting targets for renewable energy, and setting minimum standards for energy efficiency. The only thing that the ‘Dismissive’ support that could make a big impact on reducing emissions – nuclear power – is heavily opposed by the ‘Alarmed’!

As I’ve written about here and here, businesses within the clean energy sector urgently need to pool funds into a marketing campaign targeted at the mortgage belt of Australia. Otherwise they are extremely vulnerable to attacks on policies that are essential to their viability.  But there’s no point targeting this campaign to the Nick Minchins of this world, who are only likely to be around 10 per cent of the population.  

Instead the marketing campaign needs to be focussed on the Cautious and the Disengaged. If the clean energy sector can move these people towards the concerned column, they’ve got the electorate on their side. Also, efforts concentrated at persuading these two groups may actually rub-off on some of the Doubtful.  

The politicians will then follow, irrespective of Minchin’s urgings.