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Apr 27, 2012

ABC climate doco producer fights back: 'climate deniers aren't mad, they're human'

Climate deniers are not mad, they are human. And the sooner you begin to engage with them rather than dismiss them, the better chance you may have of bringing a few along with you, writes Simon Nasht, producer of ABC doco I Can Change Your Mind About Climate.

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So Clive Hamilton believes our documentary, I Can Change Your Mind About Climate, was an attack on truth and an irresponsible act of treason by the ABC?

My partner Dick Smith and I envisaged the program as a response, perhaps even an antidote, to the very ugly turn the debate had taken in Australia. When a noose is held in front of visiting climate scientists, when journalists are threatened outside Parliament House for doing their job, then it’s clear things have taken a very nasty turn.

In this environment, the substance of the science was being lost in a shouting match of “truthiness”, where anyone could become an expert with just five minutes of googling. How to turn this around? How to kick-start a new national discussion on this most vital of issues?

Our idea, which the ABC and Screen Australia bravely accepted, was to take two people with very different views around the world to seek divergent opinions, and in the process take a journey in the footsteps of their ideological opponent. They would conduct the discussion with civility and they would show that it is possible to have a constructive discussion without the venom that has so poisoned the debate in Australia.

Anna Rose and Nick Minchin bravely agreed to take on the challenge despite both having much to lose, and trusted us to treat them fairly.

Ultimately this was not to become an argument about the science. Attempts to do this in the past became easily side tracked, leaving audiences none the wiser. We decided to concentrate on exploring why people believe what they do, giving the viewers an opportunity consider their firmly held positions in a new light.

Now he has at last had the opportunity to see the program, I hope Hamilton can see the point. This was not a simple matter of “equivalency” of argument or false balance. Viewers were given the opportunity to weigh the kitchen table science of sceptical bloggers such as Jo Nova against those of professional climate scientists such as Matthew England. They could listen to Yale psychologist Anthony Leiserowitz explain to Minchin how closely he fitted the typical profile of the middle-aged, well-educated, conservative male. Positions on climate are largely dictated by one’s values, not by one’s understanding of the science.

For most this would be new information. And I hope that even Hamilton is grudgingly willing to concede that in the Q&A panel that followed last night’s doco, we had what was probably the most constructive public discussion on climate Australia has seen in several years. Divergent, strongly held views argued with good manners and good will. And is that such a bad thing?

I am grateful to Rose and Minchin for participating, and sorry (but not surprised) that Hamilton, and others from the extreme ends of the spectrum attacked them for doing so.

Far from “grabbing the opportunity with two hands”, the truth is I had to do quite a bit of arm-twisting to convince Minchin to participate. He smelled an ABC conspiracy. I countered that if there was the slightest whiff of a set-up then we had undermined our purpose.

In fact it was Hamilton who heavied Rose not participate, in the most manipulative manner, by placing the entire future of the environmental movement on her young shoulders. It is a measure of Rose’s strength that she decided to continue, because she too is concerned that the debate in Australia has spun off into what she calls the “madlands”.

Hamilton of course thrives on the conflict; indeed it has become his raison d’etre. In his world we have the blathering Lord Monckton and his swastika-led assault on one side, while on the other a white horse carrying St Clive, ready to smite the infidels with his sword of scientific purity.

In the real world, however, it’s not such an heroic struggle. There is confusion, uncertainty, and most worryingly, disengagement. Should we ponder the real risks of climate disruption, then the dangers are far too ghastly to contemplate. And we know that the weasily rhetoric and limp action from our political class in no way meets the challenge. Everyone is trying to con everyone else.

Hamilton would do well to ponder the findings now being amassed by the social scientists, which tell us that the doubters will not be swayed by science alone. In fact on the extremes, it will drive people into worse denial. Human psychology is often times not rational, especially when faced with existential threat, and this helps explain why the policy of exclusion and dismissal had so manifestly failed to convince vast numbers of Australians that action now is better than chaos later.

Climate deniers are not mad, Hamilton, they are human. And the sooner you begin to engage with them rather than dismiss them, the better chance you may have of bringing a few along with you. Better still, encourage young and impressive people such as Rose to do the job rather than trying to shut her down too. Time is desperately short.

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43 thoughts on “ABC climate doco producer fights back: ‘climate deniers aren’t mad, they’re human’

  1. Paul

    Like Hamilton I can’t see any point in this stuff.

    It may surprise the producers but we know that Hitter and Pol Phot were humans, the latter had a degree from Paris. He was articulate and intelligent and also a psychopath and a tyrant. Neither would be allowed time on the ABC to promote their beliefs because they are not defensible. Denying global warming is likewise scientifically indefensible.
    I am not saying climate deniers are like the above, far from it.
    What is clear though is that pretending that programs like this achieve anything is a self delusion and amazingly arrogant.
    I know a number of men my age who are educated and intelligent but who simply deny that the science is real, there is nothing that will make them question their beliefs.
    I do not know if the science is correct, as I don’t know if the Big Bang Theory is correct or E=mc2 is correct or there are multiple galaxies, however I do trust the scientists who both explore and explain these theories.
    What this program does in a very insidious way is to allow people to believe that with no qualifications, study or acceptance of peer reviews they know they are correct because they know better.
    This is part of a new ABC occurrence where facts are ignored because people disagree with them and ignorance is placed on the same level as knowledge.
    My cynical view is it is because they believe the Libs will shortly take their rightful place in Canberra and the ABC is simply sucking up to them.

  2. William Fettes

    I’m not a big fan of Hamilton on such issues as internet censorship, but I don’t see how he can be tagged as an extremist on climate change for simply insisting that the debate follow scientific lines of evidence rather than opinion. On the question of extremism, it is the people who wish to ignore and marginalise every major peak scientific body, every major university and almost 98% of climate scientists working and publishing in this area in favour of a wishy-washy post-modern everyone is entitled to an opinion BS that are the extremists.

    It is also dubious of Nasht to suggest that all we need to do is humanise and engage with opponents of the scientific view. There may be an element of truth to that as goes older mums and pops in Queensland. But they were never the problem. The problem is conservative elites and the rent seekers who support them. If not for those elites, the mums and pops in Queensland wouldn’t hold such outlandish conspiratorial views in the first place. Those views are fed to them via right-wing talk radio and print media. There is nothing accidental about their confusion.

    Elite conservatives are the problem and the behavioural literature is pretty clear that engagement is pointless with smart conservatives on some issue. They are not generally amenable to facts-based discourse, and they are simply better at rationalising the beliefs so that discordances and tensions vanish. Similarly, rent seekers like the IPA and CISS have never been engaged in good faith process regardless, so it is utterly pointless and destructive to treat them as if they are making innocent mistakes.

  3. James Hastings

    @ All catastrophic AGW proponents

    There has been a lot of personal sniping going both ways in the comments, and while that is nothing unusual for online debate, I would like to make a statement and issue a challenge to those interested in intellectual debate. I’ve wrote this in response to KD in the comments for the article “I’d rather slam my c-ck in a door than debate climate change”. I repeat it here for anyone else who would care to reply.

    Most of us who are global warming “deniers” don’t actually deny that there is no global warming going on. What we dispute is the primary cause of global warming (man-made or natural), the severity of global warming that is going to occur, and the impact that global warming is going to have on the Earth

    Lets say Tamas is wrong and your right – the world has been warming since 1998. So what? We know that historically climate changes all the time. The most recent change was the Medieval Warm period. The world’s climate changed very quickly from being so warm that agriculture was possible in Greenland to not being possible at all. This was just the last in numerous climate shifts that have occurred long before people had evolved as people let alone started using fossil fuels. No one disputes this. So we can draw two facts out of this – there is a natural mechanism that causes the climate to change all the time. And it has nothing to do with human activity.

    Given that there is this natural climate changing mechanism, my question to you is why is the global warming we’ve been experiencing not just due to that natural mechanism?

  4. David Hand

    I think you should step away from the absolutism that has infected the climate lobby with such religeous fervour. This is about risk management in response to an observed set of facts. Some relevant facts in my view are-
    1. The world is going through a warming period. It may have stopped or the pause may be due to something else such as low solar activity.
    2 There is more CO2 in the atmosphere today that there has been in the past million and possibly 10 million years.
    3. All that CO2 is there because humans have put a lot of it there in the past 200 years
    4. CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

    So a reasonable person would say that from a risk management point of vierw, reversing or reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is smart. A decision to do this has very little to do with absolute proven science and this is where Hamilton/Flannery/Rose do their cause such a disservice. When Anna was venting her apocalyptic vision of the future on Q&A, none of it was based on peer reviewed and tested science but on guesses and modelling. which may or may not be right.

    So in my view arguments about the human influence or not are pointless and futile but at the same time, the prophets of doom need to provide more compelling rhetoric than they have so far if they want society to change significant policy positions. We still remember the Wivenhoe dam changing its operating procedures away from its original purpose of flood mitigation to water security in response to Flannery’s prophecy that Brisbane would most lilkely run out of whater and look what happened there.

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