A window into the mind of a climate change “skeptic”.

As someone who accepts climate science, what do you do when confronted with someone who doesn’t “believe in climate change”?

The standard advice is to engage with them, find out what about it they’re uncomfortable with, and use facts and reason to gently change their minds.

As a member of the liberal, well educated, progressive elite, that’s an approach that makes me comfortable as it confirms my own biases & paradigms. If I’m honest with myself, it’s also an approach that allows me to showcase my intellect and education.

However, using both of those attributes, plus the power of observation, I have to call it. It’s not working.

One of the greatest regrets of climate scientists is not coming up with a better language or narrative to engage the general population on the topic. It does beg the question, is that their skillset? Or is it an area others need to tackle?

My go to person on communications posted this quote from Tom Asacker on their facebook page.

“Facts don’t persuade, feelings do. And stories are the best way to get at those feelings”.

Beliefs and facts are not the same thing. The medical community could speak eloquently of the effectiveness (or otherwise) of using facts to change patient behaviour.

In early July, I wrote the letter at the bottom of this article to Tony Abbott, as a resident of his electorate. I received the reply below, dated 21st August.

On the spectrum of “denier” through to “evangelist”, I’m using “skeptic” to describe him. It could be he has a different label he’d prefer to use here. If I ever meet him and it comes up, I’ll ask him.

I am sharing this to see if there are useful insights on how to engage with people who, in whatever way, “don’t believe in climate change”, acknowledging that it’s the beliefs that need to be addressed.

“Any energy policy we set now will define out economy for decades to come — there is no excuse for getting it wrong again.

Nothing that Australia does to reduce emissions will make the slightest difference to the climate, as the Chief Scientist admitted last year.

We should treat the planet with respect as it’s the only one we’ve got. However, it would be the height of folly to suppress living standards, shrink industries and drive jobs offshore when any reductions of Australia’s emissions would be a statistical blip.

I am committed to advocating for affordable and reliable baseload power.

[scribbled down the bottom] I’m all in favour of renewable energy, without subsidies.”

Taking this at face value, there are 3 “beliefs” which are worth exploring from this reply.

1. There’s nothing we can do in Australia that will change this

2. The culture of technology development in Australia and the point in the cycle that creates jobs

3. How maths can be used (and is being used) to support several conflicting positions. Particularly relevant to financial impacts.

I am well placed to speak on # 2 and # 3 and will do so in future articles. #1 is one I’d love to hear the views of those who spend their time understanding human behaviour and how beliefs work as it’s one I’ve heard before, from a family member who (in their own words) “doesn’t believe in climate change.

It’s a good question. What does Australia do if the US and China don’t take the lead (the US in particular)? Given this is the view of a man who was the prime minister of the world’s 13th largest economy and a country that is well regarded in the world, it’s worth exploring.

This is the letter I wrote in early July:

“I am writing as a member of your electorate with regards to your recently stated position to “cross the floor” in the upcoming debate over the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). I am quoting from an article in The Australian on 26 June 2018, headlined “I will cross the floor: Abbott”.

Whilst not an expert on the intricacies of stable power generation, I do work in early stage technology so am familiar with the economic cycle of technology development and the crucial tipping point on when a new technology becomes economically viable.

There are many angles on this debate. Specifically, and as a resident, I would like to put forward a view on your anxiety: “Now my anxiety about the national energy guarantee is that it is more about reducing emissions more than it is about reducing prices”.

Let’s accept the premise, for the sake of argument, that these two are mutually exclusive. If we achieve one, we can’t achieve the other. Others will debate that, however for the sake of brevity let’s accept that position for now.

I live in an apartment block with 9 units, and we have 300 square meters of flat roof with excellent energy generating potential, via solar.

At this stage, with a residential use case, we would need batteries to capture power predominantly during the day, which is then predominantly used in the early mornings and evenings. Those batteries mean this solution is not yet economic compared to current electricity prices from the grid.

However, it’s not a big gap. Over time, if energy prices continue to rise and battery technology becomes more effective, this gap will close. It is reasonable to assume both of these things in our thinking on this issue at this time. Hence we would, in our residence, have a solution which meant 9 residents in your electorate would no longer be exposed to rising energy prices.

Current projections suggest this gap would close over the next few years. Hence this is a problem with a line of sight to an implementable and cost effective solution. Problems with solutions, I’m sure you’ll agree, have less cause for anxiety.

Let’s now look at the other side, rising emissions.

My apartment building is 32m above sea level.

Current research (coming from some of the best scientific minds Western education has empowered) suggests that the icesheets in Antarctica are melting faster than first thought. Those scientific minds have clearly laid out the correlation between the level of carbon in the atmosphere and the warming oceans leading to this outcome.

The burning of fossil fuels such as coal increases that carbon level. I am sure you have read the science on this. You don’t need me to explain that to you.

I have seen predictions that suggest if all of the ice melts in Antarctica, the oceans will rise by more than 32 metres. Forecasting is a dangerous business (as Kevin Rudd learned with his prediction of a return to surplus in the economic cycle) however the numbers I’ve seen are substantially higher than 32 metres.

Hence I have a different order of anxiety in this situation. My anxiety over emissions is substantially higher than my anxiety over electricity prices. Again, this continues to accept the assumption the two are mutually exclusive.

As a resident, I can see a workable solution to rising power bills. I can’t to rising oceans, other than finding higher ground.

I will do that, should such a situation come to pass. However, the financial loss (to me, or to the person who owns the apartment by that time) will be far greater.

Hence, as a member of your electorate, I am asking you to consider emissions ahead of rising power prices, as you consider your position on this issue.”