A/N: Major Essay written for; PLT110 – Australian Politics in a Global Context. Received a Credit.


Introduction

Climate change is a hot debate, but is it a serious concern or a myth?  This essay aims to prove that climate change deniers are not winning the global warming debate in Australia.  Through the research into history and science it will show proof that climate change does exist and pertains to be an issue which humanity should take very seriously.  This essay will also view government policies and how the media portrays climate change to prove that this is in fact a global issue that should be addressed instead of denied.  Finally it will take note of Australian public opinion and compile this into a simple result: climate change is not a myth.

History of Climate Change

To fully understand why climate change deniers can never win the global warming debate in Australia we must first consider the history of what we understand as climate change.  The discovery of climate change can be traced as far back in history as the eighteenth century, when scientists began to study how our environment worked (Toth & Hillger, 2013).  There, however, was no solid scientific link between humanity’s emissions and the rise in global temperature until the research conducted in the late 1980s when researchers began to use our global satellites to study the Earth in more detail (Toth & Hillger, 2013).

When the disturbing facts about fossil fuel consumption came to light the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed to offer the world’s governments the best knowledge available on this ‘new’ phenomenon (Toth & Hillger, 2013).  The IPCC paved the way for the creation of the United Nations framework Convention on Climate Change (UNfCCC) which was first held in 1995 (Toth & Hillger, 2013).  Since then governments across the globe have implemented all matter of climate change policies to help combat our emissions and appease public worries.

We still see a multitude of global weather disasters daily within the media, with record breaking fluctuations in temperatures (Plimer, 2009).  Logic precedes that humanity would come to the conclusion that this is because of our profound impact on our environment, however speculation from the people who believe that ‘climate change is a myth’ come to the conclusion that ‘globalisation’ is to blame for our media being so intricately connected which is why we see so many disasters daily. A conclusion which is seemingly ridiculous when thought out in logical scientific methods.

Science of Climate Change

Climate change is so frequently discussed in the media these days that it seems many have an opinion on it.  It is questionable, however, that not many understand what climate change is or how it affects Earth and indirectly humanity.  Earth is one of the few planets in the galaxy, that humans are aware of, that has a natural greenhouse effect (Karl & Trenberth, 2003).  This is speculated to be because of our proximity to the Sun and the natural gases occurring in our atmosphere (often referred to as the ‘greenhouse gas effect’) (Heal & Kristrom, 2002).

Human emissions of various gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide tilt the balance of the natural greenhouse effect (Karl & Trenberth, 2003).  This creates a build up within our atmosphere which the Earth cannot dissipate naturally, subsequently creating weather phenomenon we see, in order to attempt to restore the balance (Karl & Trenberth, 2003). This effect can be seen similarly in small scale using a variety of plants and a greenhouse, enough heat, natural gases (the right atmosphere) and water and the garden within prospers, too much of one of these elements and it will kill off the life inside.  It is a delicate balance. Earth is our greenhouse and our emissions are killing it, and by direct result humanity is suffering.

Climate Change in Government

This is a global issue that some have dismissed as fiction, regardless of this, the government in Australia has been working on policies to assist in combating our emissions.  1992 saw the first seeds of change in the parliament when the Committee on Industry, Science and Technology released a report with the recommendation that Australia increase the use of natural gas in power generation (Taberner & Zorzetto, 2014), they continued to modify a policy until 2002 when the world’s first emissions trading scheme came into effect in New South Wales (Taberner & Zorzetto, 2014).  This gave the Howard (Liberal) government the power to push further for a national scheme.

Australia’s Climate Change Policy gave them the stepping stone to commit to a national scheme in July of 2007, later this same year a new act came into effect (Taberner & Zorzetto, 2014).  The National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act was designed to operate as a foundation for a future emissions trading scheme (Taberner & Zorzetto, 2014).  In late 2007, Labor was elected into government, led by Kevin Rudd the plan was to introduce an ‘official’ emissions trading scheme which would cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by sixty percent by 2050 (Taberner & Zorzetto, 2014).

Several versions of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bill were passed through the senate from this time until September 2010 when an agreement was approved.  The bill was delayed several times due to the challenge for leadership initiated by Julia Gillard (Taberner & Zorzetto, 2014).  Finally the Clean Energy Act was passed in July of 2011 under the Gillard government.  Current emissions targets set by the Liberal government under Tony Abbott are twenty-six to twenty-eight percent below the emissions recorded in 2005 by 2030 (Department of the Environment, 2015).

Climate Change in the Media

We live in a globalised world, everything is fundamentally interconnected and the media is no exception.  News we see on television, online, in newspapers and through social media allow those interested to see what is happening on a global scale.  So what is the media telling us about climate change?  ‘Public understanding of climate change relies heavily on media coverage’ (Boyce & Lewis, 2009); because the majority of the public do not read scientific reports or specialist information (Talking Climate, 2015). This being said what we see in the media worldwide is chilling; global disasters of sometimes apocalyptic proportions.

Turning on the news today would spawn multiple stories of weather disasters worldwide.  Typhoon Soudelor has devastated China; damage bills estimated in the one billion range, with seventeen confirmed dead and five still missing, thousands of people have had their homes and livelihoods destroyed (Agence France-Presse, 2015). Idaho is being torn apart by fires, set as the largest in USA history with 265,000 acres of land burning; fire fighters are overwhelmed attempting to contain the blaze (Associated Press, 2015).  The Sakurajima volcano in Japan is extremely likely to erupt and 600,000 people have been put on high alert for evacuation in the case that it does, worse still this volcano is only fifty kilometres away from a new nuclear reactor facility (Agence France-Presse, 2015).  Sakurajima is Japan’s most active volcano with approximately eight thousand eruptions in the last fifty years (University College London, 2015).

The aforementioned stories have only occurred in the last fortnight, hundreds of weather ‘abnormalities’ are recorded worldwide every day.  Is Earth trying to tell us something, perhaps?  Or is this ‘climate change thing’ just a ‘myth’ that people make up to ‘scare us’?  These climate change deniers claim that the Earth’s climate naturally fluctuates, while this is true, human emissions are affecting the Earth in a much shorter timeframe and on a much larger scale than natural planetary fluctuations (Wilson, 2000).

The Australian Public on Climate Change

The issue of climate change can seem like an impossible war humanity cannot win.  It is a global issue yet we lack an international body that can implement change on a worldwide scale (Pietsch & McAllister, 2010).  What do we as Australians really think of climate change, though?  Are there many people who believe that our climate is not changing around us or is the Australian public concerned?  Contrary to the popular American depiction of Australians on sitcoms, we do not all sit around in cork hats and drink beer; we have some semblance of intelligence.  The Australian public is genuinely concerned about our effect on our planet.

According to a survey done by the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) eight-one percent of Australians in 2013 believed climate change existed (Leviston et al., 2014).  There is no doubt of the public opinion, Australians fear that climate change will have a serious impact on quality of life for future generations, with fifty-seven percent of people believing that it will seriously impact their lives within the next decade (Stefanova, 2013).  The largest concern the Australian public has is financial, eighty-four percent of people are seriously concerned about their finances, and this being said people have a negative opinion to carbon tax due to the worry and eventual reality that it will be them who pays not the large corporations (Stefanova, 2013).

Cynicism is a large issue with the Australian public as most people are irresolute as to whether the carbon tax is actually doing anything to reduce our emissions. Forty-eight percent of the Australian public believes the large corporations who are affected by the tax are not doing anything to reduce their emissions and simply using the tax as an excuse to put up their prices (Stefanova, 2013).  Worse still seventy-six percent of people believe that if the carbon tax were to be abolished that prices would stay at the increased rate (Stefanova, 2013). Australians believe in climate change and that it will become (if it is not already) a concerning issue for current and future generations.

Results of findings on Climate Change

What are the results?  Well according to history, science, government, media and the public – climate change exists and is an issue!  The real question is; are we prepared to do what it takes, and excuse the cliché here, to save the planet?  Restoring the delicate balance of our planet will take considerable sacrifices from the public, organisations, and our governing bodies (Pietsch & McAllister, 2010).  What we do is far more important than what we think.  Humans may think climate change is an issue but are we really taking steps to change our behaviour for the future?

Unfortunately there are very real obstacles that we come across that prevent us from engaging in environmental practices.  According to Leiserowitz et al., 2006; there are three main areas in which we are prevented from changing our mannerisms; the first being our own limitations – we simply do not have the time, money or knowledge to convert to positive behaviours concerning the environment.  Second is limited by what is practical for us as people, for example this author lives in a semi-rural area with only one bus per day to the village two and a half kilometres away from the house, catching public transport is, unfortunately, not practical.  The third and final issue is rival values; sometimes we must consider that things like, providing for our families via employment is more important than our values for the environment (Leiserowitz et al., 2006).

This ideal also shows through in the survey conducted by the CSIRO, only seven percent of Australians in 2013 engaged in pro-environmental practices for the reasons of preserving the environment (Leviston et al., 2014).  This being said people still carry out pro-environmental practices it is just forty-three percent do it for financial reasons instead (Leviston et al., 2014).  If we all continue to practice environmentally positive actions no matter how small they maybe we are doing more to combat our situation, after all a multitude of small acts combines to be a rather colossal step in the right direction.

Conclusion

So is climate change a myth?  A compilation of history, science, government, media and simple reality says no.  The facts are that, climate change ‘deniers’ are merely dismissing the facts for personal gain, or perhaps they purely do not care whether the Earth lives beyond the span of their lifetime.  Regardless, these people are not and never will win any debate that has been scientifically proven time and time again.  A rather inconvenient truth really…


References

Agence France-Presse. (2015). Sakurajima Volcano: Chance of Large Eruption ‘Extremely Likely’. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/15/japans-sakurajima-volcano-chance-of-large-eruption-extremely-high

Agence France-Presse. (2015). Typhoon Soudelor Hits China with Deaths, Floods and Mudslides. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/10/typhoon-soudelor-hits-china-with-deaths-floods-and-mudslides

Associated Press. (2015). Firefighters Struggle to Contain Blazes – to Become the Largest in US History. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/15/wildfires-soda-fire-idaho-becomes-largest-us

Boyce, T. & Lewis, J. (2009). Climate change and the media (Vol. 5). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Department of the Environment. (2015). Australia’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Target. Retrieved from http://www.environment.gov.au/node/36979

Heal, G. & Kristrom, B. (2002).  Uncertainty and Climate Change. Environmental and Resource Economics, 22(1-2), pp. 3-39.

Karl, T.R. & Trenberth, K.E. (2003). Modern Global Climate Change. Science, 302(5651), pp. 1719-1723.

Leiserowitz, A., Kates, R., & Parris, T. (2006). Sustainability Values, Attitudes, and Behaviours: A Review of Multinational and Global Trends. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 31, pp. 413–444.

Leviston, Z., Price, J., Malkin, S., & McCrea, R. (2014). Fourth Annual Survey of Australian Attitudes to Climate Change: Interim Report. CSIRO: Perth, Australia.

Pietsch, J. & McAllister, I. (2010). ‘A Diabolical Challenge’: Public Opinion and Climate Change Policy in Australia. Environmental Politics, 19(2), pp. 217-236.

Plimer, I. (2009). The Natural History of Climate Change. Institute of Public Affairs Review, 61(2), pp. 25-27.

Stefanova, K. (2013). Climate of the Nation 2013: Australian Attitudes on Climate Change.  The Climate Institute: Sydney, Australia.

Taberner, J. & Zorzetto, J. (2014). A Short History of Climate Change Policy in Australia. Australian Environmental Law Digest, 1(16), pp. 1-16.

Talking Climate. (2015). Climate Change Scepticism and the Media. Retrieved from http://www.talkingclimate.org/guides/climate-change-scepticism-and-the-media/

Toth, G. & Hillger, D. (2013). A Philatelic History of Climate Change. Weatherwise, 66(4), pp. 34-39.

University College London. (2015). Sakurajima. Retrieved from https://www.ucl.ac.uk/vco2/field-sites/Sakurajima

Wilson, K.M. (2000). Communicating climate change through the media. Environmental risks and the media, pp. 201-217.

Creative Commons License
Revelation 21.6: The Fallout of Climate Change on Earth by Sheridan Brownlie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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