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A Climate of Opinion

By John Haly 

The battle for climate change mitigation is euphemistically referred to as a “debate” amidst ideologically restrained political advocates that still think there are legitimate oppositional interpretations about it, to respect.

When opinions replace facts in a “post-truth” world, the result may be that confusion and ideology reign inappropriately in society. The increasing occurrence amidst western nations of the populist right, fascism and the rejection of science have manifest to generate a new dark age. Climate change denialists champions include Donald Trump (USA), Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil), Recep Erdoğan (Turkey), – and further down the list – Scott Morrison (Australia).

The sea of opinions

Like fish swimming in the water, human social exchange swims in a sea of opinions. Facebook, Twitter and online commentary in the news media are awash with a flood of emotionally charged views fought with passionate debates, justifying links, populist rhetoric and ad hominems. The truth may emerge but catching glimmers of it, is as elusive as panning for gold.

The other day after some back and forwards over the subject of immigration my temporary antagonist finally resorted to “I think we have to agree to disagree on this one.” At which point I replied, “We do indeed” and more or less left the conversation with him. (Aside from an amusing sideline with a close friend of my antagonist who made some wry observations of him.) It fell into a case of a civil agreement, to disagree. Isn’t it all just a matter of opinion?

The Olive Curse

Well no. For example, my wife loves olives, and I hate them. It’s my opinion that olives are a curse rendered on humanity by unkind gods sent to torture one’s palate.  My belief about olives is a matter of opinion. The only consequence is when I get a salad with olives, I pass them to my wife’s plate.  She thinks they are a blessing that I am prepared to fork over, whenever I encounter them. Apart from our culinary differences, there are many other times opinions matter and have more serious consequences.

Schools Strike

I spent the afternoon of Friday the 30th of November with my son at the #StrikeForClimate protest in the city. My son – after canvassing his schoolmates who were unaware of the rally – was worried that hardly anyone would turn up. When we turned the corner from George St into Martin place, I pointed up at the massive crowds of thousands of kids and said, “Have a look, you think no one is turning up now?”. He muttered something incomprehensible, but I noted the smile emerging on his face.

The sheer crowds of children at the climate protest that my son was delighted to discover.
Sequence of Events

There are opinions that climate change is a natural cycle of events for which humans bear no responsibility. Other opinions blame humankind’s waste and dirty extractive industries. Unfortunately, the opinions have vastly significant consequences, not the least of which may be the end of civilisation as we know it. Dramatic, yes, but the sequences of the events have already begun.

As temperatures rocket and “hottest on record” becomes a catchphrase,

  • coastal regions are swamped,
  • agricultural crops fail,
  • food shortages escalate,
  • numbers of climate refugees swell,
  • plant, insect and animal life permanently migrate,
  • consequential diseases emerge in areas never encountered before,
  • and the health and welfare of the planet’s human inhabitants are endangered.

Another opinion such as Scott Morrison’s idea that climate change is “nonsense”  fly in the face of concerns by other nations.  If Morrison’s scepticism were true, would mean there is nothing we can do about stopping climate change. If Morrison’s opinions are false, then there is everything that we can do to stop it.

So these sorts of opinions matter enormously. In these cases, you don’t have a right to your personal opinion divorced from truth, if the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance. Especially if your erroneous view affects what actions we take. As indeed it does in the case of the conservative government who are beholden to wealthy extractive industry leaders who financially support their opinions to profit in the short-term. When my late (small-l liberal) father argued against anthropomorphic climate change with me, I asked him, “On what planet is it a good thing to pollute your environment?” While he conceded the point, there is always the sense of condescension that the older folk have to the previous generation. None so apparent as the criticism of young people skipping school.  They were castigated by politicians before their protest over the lack of climate change mitigation had even begun.

Follow the History and Money

Despite this, our children took to the streets around the nation in protest of the destruction of their future. They have no ties to corporate ideology nor are they being paid off by extractive industry donations.

It is a truth that the extractive industries knew about the problems with CO2 and overheating the planet for decades. The extractive industries were predicting the effects of industrial pollutions effects on heating our climate in the 1980s. Despite years of research and technology advances and scrutiny over 40 years, our scientific research has done nothing else but confirm what Shell and Exxon knew and then actively falsely denied.

So it is way past time we had our kids still shouting about it in the streets. There is nothing temporary or theoretical about the findings: these have been confirmed! We should have legislated against polluting industries decades ago. Our failure to commit to climate change mitigation should be a criminal offence!

Exxon’s own scientific research from 40 years ago has only confirmed what we still know today.
Remember Tobacco?

This resistance is hardly the first or last battle the scientific community will have with uneducated or compromised opinions. Who recalls a very similar “debate” over whether or not, smoking causes cancer? US tobacco companies were well aware of tobacco’s effects on health, in the same manner, Exxon was about climate change but denied it publically for years. These companies fought every attempt to speak the truth. It is only in the last few years that these companies have been dragged kicking and screaming into public self-confession. As the truth has diminished their market,  Tobacco companies are moving into new smoking markets as Altria is in talks to buy the Cronos group.  Therein lies new issues for another discussion.

Vaccinations have saved lives and eradicated entire diseases from the spectrum of deadly and disabling ailments on this planet.  Yet, the anti-science brigade of anti-vaxxers that have a long history of obstinate rejection is expressing opinions which threaten the safety of the greater community and again, our children.

Your Right to an Opinion

If your opinion doesn’t align with the reality, then you need to get the hell out of the way.  I would argue that you don’t have a right to hold that opinion and prevent necessary risk mitigation that is going to save lives. Unfortunately, this is what our errant government is doing, and which our kids stood up to be counted, in opposition on Friday. When it is the children (not the adults) in the US, who are the ones standing up to archaic gun laws because they are averse to being killed, what does this say of the older generation? Similarly, it is children in Australia, that dare to stand up and protest because they too want a future beyond the lifetime of greedy, corrupt old men who want to die rich. Who are the Adults now?

So no, there are times when you don’t have a right to your opinion and the current race to save humanity from climate change is one of those times. It is – on the other hand – way past time, to stand up and be counted.

And my son was afraid noone might turn up at the protest.
This article was originally published on John’s blog Australia Awaken – Ignite your Torches, and has been reproduced with permission.

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6 comments

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  1. Bronte ALLAN

    Trouble with really “hot” issues such as climate change, you have right wing, flat earth, lying inept so-called “journalists” like bloody useless Boltski, who cannot see beyond their noses just what has been & will be happening if climate change keeps on being ignored by the likes of them & of, course our useless bloody so-called “liberal/national” mob in Canberra! Sadly, whilst the mudrake press & the stupid bloody shock jocks & these inept bloody so-called journalists have an opinion & force it upon us at every opportunity, climate change–at least here in Australia–will NOT be given any consideration at all. Great article John!

  2. David Bruce

    Climate change is real! The question is, Can we prevent it?

    Why is the climate changing on Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus? GHG emissions?

    Did King Canute, the Danish King, manage to stop the tide coming in?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Canute_and_the_tide

  3. Peter F

    @ DavidBruce ….. I expect that science has told us that, as you out it ‘ climate is changing on ……’
    Are you comfortable in selecting which science you choose to accept? It is reasonable to believe that we cannot prevent climate change, but I would choose that we try to do something about it.

  4. Stephengb

    I do not give a fig about who is right and who is wrong. I just think that common sense must say, shit we had better do something because if the scientist’s are right then there is every possibility that doing nothing will be the death off us.

    Of course doing something and the scientist’s are wrong will mean – ooh look we made a cleaner planet!

    Pretty basic common sense to me!
    WTF is there to consider?

  5. terence mills

    We now receive SKY selected programing free to air in my regional area, broadcast on WIN and, of course it has all the regular toadies who seem to move between 2GB and News Corp.

    I saw what was called an interview between Ben Fordham (2GB) and Craig Kelly member for Hughes on a program called Sharri where Kelly seems to be fashioning his media presence on that of the Kardashian family.

    If it were a paid promo to polish up Craig Kelly’s tarnished image that would be one thing but what I saw was, to put it politely, a form of mutual onanism.

    I had never previously known that our Craig ‘tells it the way it is’ and that’s why the battlers love him and it’s only the moderates (who are all lady-boys) who wanted to deny him pre-selection ; to achieve Craig’s uncontested pre-selection the Liberal party in NSW had to deny their membership a plebiscite on all candidates as emperor Morrison had decreed that all sitting members for the 2019 election would automatically be pre-selected without the annoying need to involve a membership vote.

    What is going on with these people ?

  6. whatever

    The MSM has failed, and children can see this failure. They will grow up knowing only FakeNews and RWNJ bias infected nonsense that has NO VALUE in the Information Economy.

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