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If we are to save the planet we need our journalism to get better

In 1989, Prime Minister Bob Hawke described a “growing consensus amongst scientists” showing there was a strong chance that major climate change was on its way, that this change was linked to human activity, and this could have “major ramifications for human survival” if nothing was done.

The next year, Hawke announced his government wanted the country to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the year 2005.

State governments had response strategies in place. Politicians were largely on board. So was the media. The public understood the science and the huge risks of not acting.

So what happened?

When Paul Keating became leader in 1991, momentum stalled.  He wasn’t really interested in the risks of global warming, suggesting that you couldn’t protect the environment and support the economy at the same time.

Gradually, corporate interest replaced public interest.  Industry groups, free market advocates and climate contrarians got to work to reframe the issue from the science to the economics.

Opponents helped reposition environment groups as being anti-jobs and against the national interest.  Climate science deniers were promoted by “free market” thinktanks to push uncertainty instead of risk.  Groups supported by fossil fuel companies provided the “ingredients for cooking up confusion”.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions would be expensive. Australia’s efforts to cut emissions would be tiny in a global context. The country’s economy would be damaged by action on emissions. Action would only hurt Australia’s export industries. Working to lower demand for energy would negatively impact people’s lifestyles.  Scientists are exaggerating the risk just to get funding.  Human activity isn’t causing global warming.  The climate has always changed.

What really changed was the story that was told to the citizens by both politicians and the media, working in tandem to set the agenda on what we should understand and believe.  Somehow, we were persuaded by vested interests to doubt what we already knew.

Thirty years later, instead of heeding the warning given us by the experts, we are listening to Tony Abbott, Craig Kelly and Malcolm Roberts about climate change.  We are listening to Ray Hadley and Andrew Bolt.  We are listening to the Minerals Council and the IPA.  We are listening to the fossil fuel industry as they try to squeeze the last cent of profit that they can from a ravaged planet.  We are listening to Donald Trump for pity’s sake.

We are told that it is too expensive to take action even as Moody’s Analytics tells us that the combined economic hit from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria could end up being $200bn or more.  Even as we spend $400 billion on weapons of war.

In fact, as extreme weather events increase in ferocity around the world, the phrases global warming and climate change are rarely mentioned in media coverage.

We have wasted so much time.  If we are to fend off the worst possible outcomes of climate change, if we are to bequeath our children a liveable planet, we need to shift as quickly as possible to a cleaner energy system.

We could expect more Australians to get on board with that solution if they more fully understood the problem – and that’s where the critical role of the media comes in. We need our journalists to step up to the plate, to highlight the increasing damage being caused to a warming planet, to press the urgency of taking action, and to remind us of what we once knew.


29 comments

  1. James Cook

    Absolutely, Kaye, but don’t hold your breath.

  2. Zathras

    Political inactivity over emissions goes back a long way before Keating.

    When scientific discussions about the likelihood of AGW were taking place in the USA decades ago it was predicted that we would be seeing the initial signs at some time in the future.
    One politician is said to have asked “How long before we see the signs?”
    The answer was “In about 40 years”.
    The famous reply was “Get back to me in 39”.

    Lyndon Johnson said in an address to Congress in 1965 “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through a steady increase in Caron Dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels”. That’s an acknowledgement from over 50 years ago.

    Even Reagan and Thatcher discussed it and made token gestures of their own but many people think it was something sinister “invented” by Al Gore and a UN conspiracy.

    The historical background or context is never mentioned and the denialist 3% seem to make all the noise and get most of the coverage.

    Unlike the “debates” about tobacco, asbestos, DDT, acid rain and all the other things that were avoided or covered up over the years it’s a bit hard to ignore the results of this one for too long.

  3. Jagger

    “We need our Journalists to step up to the plate” , slightly more chance that the Pope will marry his childhood sweetheart. Whilst I agree with your sentiments Kaye, the simple fact is if people can’t see that global warming is a serious threat to our comfortable existence, where once in a year storms are happening now three or four times yearly , there’s not much hope for us.

  4. Keith

    Through the Paris Accord countries made promises to reduce emission levels; no formal process was created to assess how well countries were performing. Australia’s promises have proven to be worthless, other countries have not done much better e.g. Canada .. tar sands, and pipelines. Professor Anderson, said prior to the Paris Accord that we are very unlikely to be able to hold temperature at 2C above pre-Industrial levels. The 350.org site is based on the view that above 350 ppm of CO2 is considered to be unsafe. Professor Wasdell suggested in 2015 that 400 ppm of CO2 is not just unsafe but completely catastrophic, we are on the way to 8C above pre-Industrial levels.

    A few weeks ago Barrow in Alaska was severely damaged by a storm through lack of a sea ice barrier protecting it. California is once again being hit by wildfires; temperature of the Pacific Ocean off the West Coast of the US are high. Rain bombs are being experienced all over the planet, where large amounts of rain fall in very short periods.

    http://www.apollo-gaia.org/Beyond%20the%20Summit.pdf

  5. Phil

    Very succinct synopsis of how we got here Kaye.

    Why was I never convinced by the lies, deceits and other machinations used to change the climate narrative?

    I don’t know the answer to that but i do know that there are many millions of people here and elsewhere who also have not been influenced and who, people like Kaye and other contributors here, and the majority readers of AIMN, and all the true scientists.

    So what do we who have not bought into the narrative have in common that the millions who have swallowed the lies and believed the propaganda, have not?

    I surely don’t know but if we could get some idea it might help to shift the narrative back so as to deal with reality instead of the myths.

  6. townsvilleblog

    Kaye, I agree however journalism is headed in the other direction, Murdoch’s plant as CEO of the ABC has just axed ‘Lateline’ anf goodness knows how many other informative current affairs programs are on the Guthrie chopping block? We have so little genuine current affairs programs on commercial TV that they are not worth watching, doing stories on the occasional pensioner who routs the system, but never covering the tax evasion of billions of dollars away from our Treasury by mostly foreign multinational corporations who make an absolute killing in Australia, walk away with billions and don’t pay a red cent in taxation to assist our governments in providing the badly needed infrastructure that our country so badly needs.

    This latest severe blow to journalism in Australia serves to undermine the journalistic standards that have been built up since WW2 and we have had a steady flow of yank propaganda for nearly 80 years now, since the war that has hijacked our national identity to the point that in 2017 we are merely the 51st State of the USA. I’m disgusted!

  7. townsvilleblog

    Keating was a WPS in my opinion more LNP than Labor, it was he who shafted the mighty Burdekin Falls Dam project in North Queensland. Where Hawke in conjunction with the then Bejeljie-Petersen National Party State government had vowed to build a hydroelectric power station to service further development of the North. Of course the State govt never wanted to do anything for the North, and Keating was happy to allow the hydro and gravity fed pipeline to Townsville to lapse and thus today Townsville has a dam with 15% capacity to service 200,000 people.

    Keating was a real tory, how or why he joined the Labor Party is/was a mystery to me, he was good with words in the parliament but that’s where he started and ended. As far as policy went he was a dud. The Queensland Labor has promised in the recent election to at last build the $100 million Burdekin Hydro, it seems hydro is ‘cool in Sydney, but elsewhere the tories couldn’t care less, i.e they have said they will add to the Snowy hydro, but with politicians I have learnt the difference between promises and the letting of tenders to build.

    Shorten is far too weak to deliver a vision for this country, he controls the numbers within the ALP but he, in my humble opinion is also a dud. When will a true leader emerge from either the ALP or The Greens?

  8. Kyran

    Way back in the dark ages, the ‘70’s, Ozone depletion was noted by scientists. In the ensuing decade, the changes were examined by scientists, the causes were identified and the solutions were catalogued. Political leaders, on a global basis, adopted the Montreal Protocol in 1987, banning the production of CFCs, halons, and other ozone-depleting chemicals.
    The ban came into effect in 1989. Ozone levels stabilized by the mid-1990s and began to recover in the 2000s. Recovery is projected to continue over the next century, and the ozone hole is expected to reach pre-1980 levels by around 2075.
    That’s a bastardisation of the Wiki entry.
    The lying little rodent was in the chair at the time of the formulation of the Kyoto Protocol, being a device to exam climate change, identify its cause and address its solution. He did everything in his power to manipulate the base line criteria of the assessment of Australia’s complicity and resultant accountability in that protocol, but never ratified it. Rudd did. And we have been fecking about with it ever since.
    Here’s the thing. The majority of Australian’s do believe that climate change is real.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-04/majority-of-australians-believe-in-climate-change-csiro-report/6909940

    So much so, that the majority of Australian’s are against the Adani mine.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/07/most-australians-oppose-adani-mine-poll-shows-amid-national-protests

    The CSIRO has been effectively gagged from commenting. And that was before it got a new CEO, appointed by a government to corporatise/privatise the operation.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-05-02/csiro-missing-in-action-on-climate-advice/8479568

    Most Australian’s are on board.
    “What really changed was the story that was told to the citizens by both politicians and the media, working in tandem to set the agenda on what we should understand and believe. Somehow, we were persuaded by vested interests to doubt what we already knew.”
    That would be where we disagree, Ms Lee. The politicians and the media keep trying to ram this crap down our throats. But the majority of Australian’s can spot the difference between crap and sustenance.
    The politicians and the media made a whole big hoopla out of an issue of equality. The majority of Australian’s said no. By voting yes.
    These recalcitrant bedfellows keep thinking if they repeat something often enough, they can convince someone other than themselves.
    As for the expense of not taking action, have a look at how the insurance industry responds. There’s this, from 2013.

    https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-the-insurance-industry-is-dealing-with-climate-change-52218/

    It’s not too hard to find many references to how insurance premiums have addressed the issue. Try getting flood or fire insurance in areas that have been assessed by insurers (with actuarial data as proof) as uninsurable as these events are becoming more frequent and more severe.
    Somewhere between ‘Ozone’ and ‘Kyoto’ the political illuminati and their media hand-maidens started believing their own bullshit. Expecting the media to be a saviour to a situation they assisted in creating is a bridge too far.
    The average Australian is, in my opinion, far more savvy than those who claim to represent them.
    Thank you Ms Lee and commenters. Take care.

  9. corvus boreus

    Sol 3 (aka ‘Earth’) will probably be fine (until it isn’t).

    As for the mutant monkeys, aka Homo sapiens?
    The animal that has =/ – decimated planetary biodiversity, and burnt enough coal to start melting the ‘permafrost’?
    They who smoke cigarettes from packets warning of their toxicity, and drive grey cars on grey roads, tailgating whist multitasking?
    The species of which +/- 2/3 of its members worship a deity of their own image, imagine an afterlife and embrace apocalypse?
    They will likely engineer their own extinction, and take broad swathes of co-existent life with them.

    But, as I said, the planet should be fine (in the long run, for a while). It’s seen worse..

  10. Zathras

    Kyran,

    We never witnessed the sort of rampant public denialism and smearing of science over the ozone layer matter.

    No group of rogue scientists was mobilised to challenge the research or the findings. No shock-jocks came out against the industry changes and nobody went on international speaking tours to suggest it was all part of a global conspiracy.

    That’s because the industry that caused the problem (the chemical industry) also provided the solution so there was no significant financial motivation to challenge the science. While we don’t see increasing weather results as a result of ozone depletion, the subsequent rise in melanomas seems apparent to most reasonable people.

    The fossil fuel industry doesn’t have that option and also has much deeper pockets. To them it’s a matter of “all or nothing”.

  11. stephentardrew

    The facts are in the science factual. Time that political deniers be charged with criminal negligence.

    This is no laughing matter.

    The destruction of the biosphere is at stake and billions of lives.

    No more my friend on the other side. These people are not your friends they are deeply disturbed fools.

    A person who willingly sends our grandchildren to environmental hell is unethical, immoral and deeply dangerous. When the hell did we lose any sense of moral probity and ethical responsibility. Free speech does not mean freedom to murder.

    The media is a disgusting corporate monster leading the political agenda in the interest of the greedy and malicious. To hell with justice equity and fair distribution of wealth.

    How far must we go before this cruelty and ignorance stops?

  12. Kaye Lee

    I think Malcolm wants to be remembered as the PM who introduced marriage equality but he will be more likely remembered as the man who caved in to the fossil fuel industry so he and Lucy could have their photo taken with the A-listers.

  13. Michael Taylor

    He will also be remembered as the man who destroyed our NBN.

    I can’t begin to imagine how long it will take and how much it will cost to fix up his mess.

  14. Keith

    Sea level rise is already a consideration in determining house prices in the US. In the South East of the US there are areas impacted by “sunny day floods” at times when there are king tides and no rain has fallen. Very hard for deniers to argue about when market forces are operating against their comments.

    https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=739098086122105017064115000103118011123049028029039027085068078111099109126097113094055034030123018059015112073106067096085121038013054059039022125111070089001101002002033088116087029099108026004089031095100102073125121082021121027125015108095000022&EXT=pdf

    Abstract:

    “Homes exposed to sea level rise (SLR) sell at a 7% discount relative to observably equivalent unexposed properties equidistant from the beach. This discount has grown over time and is driven by sophisticated buyers and communities worried about global warming. Consistent with causal identification of long horizon SLR costs, (1) we find no relation between SLR exposure and rental rates, (2) despite decreased remodeling among exposed homeowners, current SLR discounts are not caused by differential investment, (3) results hold controlling for flooded properties and views. Overall, we provide the first evidence on the price of SLR risk and its determinants. These findings contribute to the mixed literature on how investors price long-run risky cash flows and have implications for optimal climate change policy.”

    The whole paper can be accessed at reference provided.

  15. wam

    Kaye,
    There was great frustration with gillard in that she couldn’t control the carbon tax inaccuracy, lost the price on carbon debate and, sadly, ruined the windsor oakeschott initiative.

    But today the mismatch of words is immeasurably worse.

    Global warming has facts. It can be seen and understood.

    Climate change is too esoteric and can be dismissed.

    ps
    Michael,
    Surely, the rabbott tried to destroy the NBN?
    Despite the ‘order’ from his PM, trumbles provided more than the vast majority of us need, with upgrades possible. Is that not deserving of some recognition?

  16. corvus boreus

    wam,
    Sorry if the terminology selected by the scientific community to most accurately describe the complex phenomena occuring due to anthropogenic climate destabilization does not meet your stringent standards of clarity in communication.

  17. Kaye Lee

    Global warming causes climate change. Three big hurricanes in the space of a few months. Pacific islands being inundated. Rain bombs where enormous amounts of water fall in a very short time causing major floods. Increasing numbers of days over 40 degrees. Devastating droughts. It’s not some esoteric theory understandable only by boffins. We are living it.

  18. Kaye Lee

    As for the NBN, don’t start me. I have been offered my 4th lot of compensation because Telstra cannot deliver a reliable service at anywhere near the speeds I have been paying for. FttN DOES NOT WORK.

  19. wam

    glad that you can crow about your language but nearly all of us know that climate change is a natural occurrence and has been around billions of year before man.

    Half of Australia, at least, cannot understand the words ‘complex phenomena’ and most struggle with the difference between climate and weather.

    But they can see global warming and the pacific islands and can guess about the deltas in Asia??

    Global warming is demonstrably true and could be shown to be our responsibility through burning fossil fuels..

    As kaye points out global warming affects climate change so the word understood by all is the key to action. ie tax was used by the rabbott and by labor the electorate understood the word rather than the complex phenomena of carbon trading. QED

    As for the NBN, Kaye, is telstra trumbles fault or little johnnie for selling?

    The 50%, below average struggle with climate change but can see global warming.
    When we add trust in politics and the religious sector, who know that only god will end the earth. ‘save the planet’ is ‘duh’.

    For the many (majority) of Australians climate change is no longer an issue.

  20. johno

    Our dumbness knows no bounds.

  21. corvus boreus

    wam,
    You can call it ‘climate change’ and misinformed idiots will say that it is a natural phenomenon unconnected to human activities.
    You can call it ‘global warming’ and misinformed idiots will say that it is a natural phenomenon unconnected to human activities.
    I research the relevant science, and agree with most climate scientists that the former is a more comprehensively accurate term to describe what we are witnessing, although latter is also broadly correct.

    Here’s a deal; if you start employing reasonably accurate terminology in coherent sentences, and stop drivelling gibberish about ‘loonies’, ‘dixxbransims’, ‘trumball’ and ‘little billy’, and I’ll think about altering the words I use to describe the ongoing/escalating processes that are destabilizing our planetary climate with increasingly catastrophic results.

  22. johno

    Global warming is climate change. Same beast.

  23. Harquebus

    This is a great piece up until “shift as quickly as possible to a cleaner energy system”. As we have had our say on another page and it is otherwise a really good article, I’ll jus’ leave it at that.

  24. Kaye Lee

    “crow about your language”? Huh?

  25. Zathras

    There are many people who think the moon landings were faked, that wrestling is real, that the earth is flat, that dinosaurs and man co-existed, that the entire world was flooded and that the earth is only about 6,000 years old and those numbers are disturbingly increasing in the USA. Furthermore, those people also vote and have growing political influence.

    They will never accept the idea that climate change has a human-induced component simply because it doesn’t fit their version of reality.

    You can’t rationalise people out of something they didn’t rationalise themselves into in the first place.

    Some people call it “faith” – which is believing something deep down you know not to be true.

  26. Terry2

    Kaye Lee

    I don’t know whether you can get NBN Skymuster satellite service but where I am in Far North Queensland we went around the block with Telstra and mediocre service until I took it up with local member Bob Katter – he is useful for some things ! – and he took it to the then minister and after exhausting enquiry about the lack of availability of ADSL, Fixed Wireless, pedal-power et al, they put us on a priority list for NBN Skymuster and , fingers crossed, touch wood, it seems to be doing the job. the satellite dish, modem and set-up was free of charge.

    PS: I saw the Queensland Courier Mail front page today (I don’t but it) and they are still campaigning against Palaszczuk even after she has won a 48 seat working majority ; their front page had a photo of Premier Palaszczuk with the headline Smiling Assassin referring to the fact that she has now beaten the LNP on two occasions. They just won’t let go.

  27. Freethinker

    I agree with Kaye article but IMO as long as we do not recognise that the bigger guilty party in society are not the media or the big corporations but the people that would like to keep consuming not essential goods we do not have a hope.
    Without customers the media and the corporations will be irrelevant.
    Hundred of thousand people will be displaced in the future due to the increase of the oceans levels and I am prepared to bet that grand part of the electorate in Australia will be reluctant to accepting them as a climate refugees.
    Murdoch has grand control of the media but if our politicians (all the parties not only the Coalition) start educating people including our children we can making changes.
    Education is the only way IMO.

  28. Keith

    wam
    We are now on NBN, I’d rather be back on ADSL where speeds were faster at peak times. NBN is a dog’s breakfast where some people are lucky to have fibre to the premise; but, in many other areas fibre to the node is hopeless. In my opinion Michael is right in his observation about the NBN.

    Turnbull is sending us to hell through lack of policy in relation to climate change; Australian greenhouse emissions are rising instead of falling. The data had been falsified to suggest we were ahead of schedule, the government’s own data revealed emission increase; rather than, reduced as claimed by Hunt.

    Our air conditioner is not working well:

    https://www.climate.gov/news-features/blogs/beyond-data/alaskan-north-slope-climate-change-just-outran-one-our-tools-measure

    A scary graph showing temperature moving a couple standard deviations:

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/07/28/climate/more-frequent-extreme-summer-heat.html

    There is nothing esoteric about the storms that impacted the US about three months ago; Harvey, Irma and Maria. Those storms were not created by climate change but the warm marine waters certainly did amplified them.

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