Sydney recently experienced its hottest day since 1939. Walking out into the city was like walking into a dense cloak of uncomfortable heat, delaying public transport and exhausting everyone who did not have the luxury of air conditioning.
Conversely, Queensland has been exposed to a massive flood season with the suburb of Bundaberg taking the brunt of the chaotic weather. Al gore recently made the speculation that “People are connecting the dots,” when it comes to relating the incidence of natural disasters across the globe to climate change.
So what do Australians make of these recent climate disasters? Do we have a heightened concern about the status of our environment? Or are we more apathetic than ever?
CSIRO’s Garnaut Climate Change Review suggests that the majority of Australians do believe that our climate is changing, however there is little belief that this is due to any sort of human activity. Australians are aware that our climate is abnormal, but make no connection between our lifestyle and our environment. To be fair most Australians are not climate change skeptics, but a lot of Australians are more or less ignorant or apathetic towards the causes of climate change.
Although on average most people in Australia linger between climate change alarmism and blatant dismissal, there are still a few groups of people who have strong beliefs on the issue of our climate. The Australian Climate Sceptics Political party is weighing heavily on the side of denial. The party relies on the belief that climate change should not be linked to the emission of greenhouse gases, it supports the growth of industries which produce large amounts of CO2 and praises its benefits as a ‘plant food’ – encouraging the growth of food produce and stimulating our economy. The party strongly opposes any request that is made by the public to shut down or alter these industries.
The party also regards the “politicized science” behind climate change and refers to the belief as more of politicized propaganda rather than a fact.
On the other side of the debate would be the sensationalists. A climate sensationalist could be defined as those who emphasise the effects and severity of climate change in order to invoke an extreme and unjustified reaction.
Climate change sensationalists are harder to pin down. This is mainly owing to the fact that a sensationalist could merely be mistaken as an overly enthusiastic environmentalist. The difference would be the recruiting of over-emphasized statistics or facts in order to promote a hidden agenda.
Sensationalists use the climate change debate in order to market products or services which do not necessarily create the change that is promoised, this has been defined as “greenwashing”. Additionally the media and public figures have often been accused of dramatizing climate change in order to reap a profit, even such figures as David Attenborugh have been criticized on manipulating the facts. Public opinion in regards to climate change is highly influenced by the media. The use of fear-based tactics often shocks us into showing genuine concern about the environment.
The ABS stated in a recent media release that “‘Australians’ concerns about the environment have lessened over the past few years, and they feel the natural environment has improved” (December, 2012). The graph above shows the decline in media coverage in reagrds to climate change over the past years. The media release went on to identify the changes in attitudes towards climate change over time, with only 57 percent of Australians being concerned about climate change from 2011-2012 in comparison to 73 percent concerned in the years 2007- 2008.
As the publics attention towards the issue of climate change drops and the 2013 federal elections approach, it will be interesting to note the prioritized topics for each parties campaign. Evidently the publics attention is now fixed firmly on a wide range of other social and political issues which will end up determining the outcome of the elections.
Above all the issue of climate change is defined by the media who influence the importance we place on our environment. As it has been shown that our concern over climate change has declined, the question of how to sustain public interest in environmental issues arises. For issues such as climate change which effect the long term future and do not necessarily pose an immediate threat, there remains an uncertainty of how to effectively advocate to the public the importance of the issue in order to maintain a sense of urgency towards the status of our environment.