How to Change the Conversation on Climate

Written by Mike on . Posted in News

An opinion piece by Mike Collins

I have a rule which sometimes gets me into a bit of trouble. It certainly has landed me in some amusing conversations, and has given me an insight into the effectiveness of science communication and political messaging. It reveals aspects of peoples' world views, and how an individual grapples with a global issue.

The rule is that whenever someone talks to me about the weather, I ask them what they think about climate change.

Now some might think it cruel that I would take such action against friendly people who just want some chatter to avoid the elevator silence when they reach for the ever-safe: "It's a bit chilly eh?"

Why do I choose to drag a meaningless conversation about what's quite obviously happening outside right now into the realms of long-term trends, rising seas, melting glaciers, heat waves, droughts and bushfires, and the question of our own contribution to the problem?

I do it because it's important that we talk about climate change.

We find ourselves in a situation where we have a radical choice. The choice is to act, or to continue down a path where the amount of pollution we create is more than the atmosphere can take.

But it seems no one is talking about this.

The Climate Commission is telling us that unless effective action is taken, the global climate may be so irreversibly altered we will struggle to maintain our present way of life.

In Australia, I worry we think we have solved the problem, and that having a price on carbon means we can cross off climate change as a worry.

The carbon price has worked, and has helped Australia's emissions drop to their lowest levels in 10 years.

Thirty-five countries have emissions trading schemes and 98 countries have committed to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.

Sadly, this is not going to be enough, as Australia has only agreed to a 5 per cent reduction, despite having very high emissions on a per-capita basis.

Asking your neighbour, grandma, butcher, footy mates, your kids - or the stranger in the lift - about the topic will bring the issue back into the public discourse.

It might be awkward if your accountant turns out to be in the Cory Bernardi school of (lack of) thought, but the soccer coach might be an environmental scientist and tell you something you didn't know.

If we know more, we can push past the shallow arguments and hold our leaders to account.

For example, when Newcastle federal candidate Jamie Abbott said she had spoken to a salon owner whose electricity bill had gone up $600 due to the carbon tax, I was chatting to an electrical engineer and we figured out that that would require the salon to use as much electricity as 14 houses.

The more we talk about climate change, the sooner we see that with our abundant sun, wind and waves, Australia could lead the world in the development of renewable energy-providing jobs, investment, cleaner air and water, and regional development along the way.

When we talk and think, it becomes easier to imagine a future where we look back and say "we did what was required and we stopped it".

Wouldn't it be sad if you never talked to your kids about the single biggest issue the world is grappling with?

So try my rule, and next time someone asks you how cold it is, take a chance and change the topic.



Published in the Newcastle Herald
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