Facebook Google Menu Linkedin lock Pinterest Search Twitter


TV & Radio

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.


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.


We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola


Leave a comment

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

  1. FelineCyclist

    I support Simon’s desire to civilize the debate about divisive issues. Indeed, had this documentary screened five years ago, maybe it would have had the desired effect. However, when experts are now predicting a 6 degree rise in global temperatures (ie the catastrophe scenario), a desire for everyone to play nice smacks of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

    What people need is a clear statement of the science in langauge everyone understands – something the ABC does brilliantly in Catalyst and other science shows but has failed in the area of climate change. Rather than treating it as a scientific issue (which it is), the ABC has chosen to treat it as a social/political/moral issue, on which reasonable minds may differ (which it is not). The QANDA-fication of the issue has increased confusion, as people hear week in, week out the same simplistic climate denial statements. To now say that a documentary in the same vein is necessary to decrease confusion is like an alcoholic seeking salvation in a pub. The problem is the paradigm, not the message.

    Treat this like a scientific issue and help people to understand will go much further than pretending we can debate our way out of it. We don’t debate the science on planes, wifi, heart disease, etc. Why do it for climate change?

  2. Coaltopia

    Disengagement. Nothing makes me disengage more than giving oxygen to ignorants. Perhaps better people will hand-hold the slow-coaches and the legitimate sceptics can get on with their work, but let’s avoid showing “balance” where none exists. And let’s also avoid politicians who like nothing more than to belch hot air.

  3. Bo Gainsbourg

    The show’s premise was basically this: 99% of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, real and dangerous. However, there is a bloke down the pub I met last night who reckons its all bullsh*t, oh and he reckons Clive Palmer is a genius too. Let’s see who’s right given we should treat their opinions both equally.
    I agree science alone won’t win this debate, because people simply deny it, I disagree that letting deniers spout drivel over the top of actual evidence enlightens anyone, it just entrenches them. I’d be more sympathetic to the premise of the program if you ran a similar doco on flat earthers (yes I’m sure I could find some) , or people who think smoking is good for you (pretty sure BAT could find some) as anything other than a comedy. It might have been well intentioned, but the deniers will be cracking the champagne after last nights show.

  4. Meski

    We don’t debate the science on planes, wifi, heart disease, etc. Why do it for climate change?

    There’s many sciences where the theory is hotly debated. Quantum Physics, the origin of the universe, Chaos theory… Climate is closer to these (for instance, chaos theory) than planes, wifi and heart disease, so why oppose debate on it? I’m not saying don’t act on what is thought to be the theory right now, but trying to shut down debate is not a good look for a science wanting to establish credibility.

  5. Meski

    (trying to shut down debate with ad hominem attacks on your opponents looks even worse)

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. David Harris

    Let’s not forget that we live in a democracy, and what happens will depend on which tribe of politicians the voters choose to elect. This is not a scientific argument. The scientific understanding of the average voter is pretty superficial, so no matter how undeniable the science, there is still a need to SELL the idea.
    Unfortunately, the Global Warming believers have allowed themselves to be painted as an arrogant bunch of zealots who want to tax us, clothe us in sackcloth and make us all vegetarians. Whatever reasons they have to deny the overwhelming science, the deniers can appear as soothing, avuncular voices with a “don’t worry, it will all be alright” message.
    In a democracy, both voices must be allowed to be heard. What must be done is to SELL the science to the voters so well that one or both of the political tribes will see its adoption as key to being elected. Then, of course, we have the task of ensuring that they actually DO something.

  9. amy c

    I’d be interested to know why the documentary makers didn’t include Nick Minchin’s comment that “Human emissions of CO2 probably made some contribution to that.”

    Anna Rose wrote about it here: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/climate-change-isnt-a-plot-its-science-20120427-1xpjp.html#ixzz1tDV2mF3v

  10. Patrick Brosnan

    “but trying to shut down debate is not a good look for a science wanting to establish credibility”
    See, this is the type of straw man stuff that researchers and people who want action have to deal with. There’s a stack of data to support AGW, the debate should be over what measures we take to mitigate it rather than whether it is real. Debating the latter is a waste of time, but there’s no one stopping you from doing it. However most scientists with expertise in this area just can’t be bothered arguing with people who won’t accept a rational argument. People who take their talking points from a Murdoch tabloid just aren’t worth wasting breath on.
    And non sequiturs about a lack of scientific consensus over some issue (Quantum Physics, the origin of the universe, Chaos theory) are just attempts at obfuscation.

  11. bill.wilson

    It was a disgrace, and an entirely predictable disgrace at that.

    For the billionth time: The debate is over; “anthropogenic climate change” is mainstream science.

    Giving flat-earthers more oxygen is immoral in light of the consequences for our children.

    These types are like September 11 conspiracy theorists, “birthers” and creationists; no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise.

  12. Meski

    That it is a non sequitur is your opinion. Equally the strawman claim. Your entire comment demonstrates a desire to shut down debate on the issue. Further, you don’t really need to sell AGW to me, I’m reasonably convinced. But open minded on allowing debate to continue, whilst we do something about it. (which I said before, and you conveniently ignored)

  13. Meski

    Ah, I see the ad hominem arguments are coming out, courtesy of Bill. That too, was predictable.

  14. Matt Hardin

    I take your point, Meski but at what point do we stop the debate?

    Eventually people who are wrong need to be told that they are wrong and quit trying to stop the ones who are right. We no longer debate continental drift, the dangers of tobacco, the existence of witches, the heliocentric view of the solar system, the age of the earth, the theory of relativity and dozens of other things that were very controversial in their day.

    At what point do we stop giving credence to the vested interests arguing against AGW?

    I am not trying to be critical, I am curious.

  15. ewaterford

    Hilairous. ‘Clive Hamilton = extremist on climate change’. An ad hominem attack, and all I needed to hear to know that the producer of this show is silly.

  16. floorer

    Some people are talking about the *debate* like it’s something solid they can lock away and tell everybody to get over.Reading through these posts (not you Meski) substitute the odd word an any dictator would be proud.

  17. mattsui

    Minchin fits “the typical profile of the middle-aged, well-educated, conservative male.”
    Really? You needed a shrink from one of America’s most expensive universities to tell you that?
    Sounds like the ABC wasted their (our) money on that one.
    Meanwhile, I see this comment thread has gone to the dogs already.
    No body is trying to shut down debate. The debate just needs to be turned from silly assertion/denial rhetoric to more practical solution-seeking. The time for arguing the point with people who will never be convivced has long passed, dinosaurs will die.
    @ FLOORER fell free to alter my statement in any way you wish in order to make me sound like a dictator.

  18. floorer

    The enemy fits the typical profile,we can all see that and don’t need anybody to tell us.The socialist wastrels wasted *our money*there.We have a betrayer amongst us , A DOG. Nobody is trying to stifle debate *cough*it just needs to be turned around till it is what we say it is, and we need to implement a *solution*The time for *debate*(?) is long gone.Those who Disagree will die. Floorer do your worst.I did what I could with what I had.

  19. Matt Hardin

    I think not so much getting over the *debate* or locking it away, Floorer but more allowing the debate to prevent action and perpetuate “business as usual”.

  20. David Hand

    So here we have yet more climate change believers frothing about there being too much debate about action on climate change. But that’s your problem.

    Believe it or not, fellas, the debate really has moved on. It is no longer about whether or not climate change is occurring though I accept there are those who will deny it is happening.

    Today’s debate is about what to do about it. This is where the science is less clear, based on projections and models rather than observations. It is reasonable that our community has all the debate it needs to decide what policy interventions should occur to mitigate the risks associated with climate change.

    I thought yesterday’s programme contributed quite a lot.

  21. floorer

    Matt said “allowing the debate to prevent action and perpetuate “business as usual”. Huh? Is this not what the debate is about?

  22. roger

    Ewaterford: Clive Hamilton a climate extremist?

    Here’s what Clive, the unsuccessful candidate for Higgins had to say:

    “Very few people, even among environmentalists, have truly faced up to what the science is telling us.

    This is because the implications of 3C, let alone 4C or 5C, are so horrible that we look to any possible scenario to head it off, including the canvassing of “emergency” responses such as the suspension of democratic processes.”

    Sounds a little extreme to most of us. And certainly not very helpful to those wishing to gain the support of the vast number of Australians who remain unwilling to accept AGW

  23. lorraine benham

    Totally agree with David Hand. Action is needed. The most important part of the Programme last night was getting agreement from Nick Minchin about the need to move to a greener energy future. If enough people agree with THAT focus, some of the needed changes will occur. Iy is defintiely a current political problem we have not a scientific one and good politics is the art of the possible.

  24. roger

    You clearly didn’t watch the program. Minchin s attitude to climate is determined by his value set. And the QandA that followed was mostly fouced on solutions. So before you bag the ABC at least take the trouble to watch.

  25. John Newton

    Climate deniers are not mad, they are, quite simply, wrong. The science proves that. No good was done by giving them a forum. Watching the show and the QANDA with my two hats on, it was clear that, while to my fairly well-informed mind, Clive Palmer was merely an ill-informed self-interested buffoon, to others, unengaged with the science, he was a practical man speaking truth – unlike those devious scientists. The English journalist was right. Such excercises are pointless.

  26. Matt Hardin

    Obviously I was unclear, Floorer. Calliing for vested intersts to stop wasting people’s time and using the media to perpetuate a “debate” on the existence of AGW to further their own ends, when there is solid scientific reasoning and evidence to suggest that there is no “debate” is not dictatorship but merely prudent in the face of an enormous threat to our way of life. Unless you have evidence to suggest that science has been wrong since the 50s (the first mention I have seen that excessive carbon dioxide emissions might be a problem) and been consistently wrong in so many ways from atmospheric temperature profiles through artic ice volumes through glacier coverage and just straight out average temperatures there is no debate. The evidence is there, it exists. There is too muscle to refute.

  27. Douglas Evan

    Why so sensitive Simon? Did you imagine that hawks would lie down with doves because you put your silly doco on telly? Did you think perhaps that the scales would fall from people’s eyes and the truth would come shining through because of your masterstroke? Outside of providing an evening’s entertainment for the jaded masses and grist for the wordsmiths to grind, your film simply reinforced in the minds of the many who don’t want to hear the message that there is significant uncertainty where none exists. They are relieved to know that perhaps nothing will pop up to make them uncomfortable or interfere with their comfortable lives. Well done Simon! You don’t like Clive Hamilton. He is assertive, sometimes abrasive and argues fiercely in defence of what he believes in. But if you knew anything about the topic you would know that what he argues for is in line with the science. Perhaps you find that a bit uncomfortable too and would rather not know about it either. Wake up Simon. As you say time is desperately short.

  28. drsmithy

    But open minded on allowing debate to continue, whilst we do something about it.

    What, exactly, are we supposed to still be debating ?

  29. floorer

    Matt, let me be clear. Save the crusade for someone else. Now here’s a “rolls your eyes” voucher for free.

  30. Steve777

    The debate on whether AGW is happening has been settled as far as it can be given the current understanding of the Earth’s climate system. The projections for the future based upon the best available science are ominous and urgently in need of a response. The debate we should be having is about the response, not about whether AGW is happening. Let free marketeers and fossil fuel interests argue that business as usual with adaptation to climate change is the way ahead, that free markets will enable humanity to come up with the best solutions to address any problems that arise, if that is their honest position. It is absurd the position of many on the reality of climate change is a proxy for their politics.

  31. mattsui

    Debates are usually held over moral, ethical or legal issues. The two scientific exceptions are AGW and evolution. Scientists, quite rightly, hold the view that talking to creationists will not make them go away and only the attention-seekers among them still bother with the “debate”.
    If they’d only take the same line on greenhouse gas polution….
    But shows like this will still be made – I hope the ABC will save their money in future – because there’s always a frothing mouth to be found and television thrives on conflict.
    @ROGER – no I couldn’t watch, I’m in Japan. I qouted the article and I maintain that I would happily have told Senator Minchin that he’s an old, white, conservative for free.
    @FLOORER – I hope the Green Furer is a bit more articulate, but thanks for not being cynical.

  32. James Hastings


    You write
    “the position of many on the reality of climate change is a proxy for their politics”

    That cuts both ways.

  33. 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?

  34. 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.

  35. rubiginosa

    But open minded on allowing debate to continue, whilst we do something about it.

    If you talking policy, I agree.
    If you are talking science, I have to defer to DrSmithy. What, exactly, are we supposed to still be debating ?

  36. James Hastings

    Very reasonable, David. I concur.

  37. John Bennetts

    Did Simon Nasht write this before or after the show was aired?

    My guess is that, expecting a predictable response, he wrote a predictable article, a pot-boiler.

    This isn’t an example of your best work, Crikey!

  38. drsmithy

    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?

    Here you go. Number 1: http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

  39. AR

    Simon is a good example of .. a meeja type who knows little else. His appalling “Everyone is trying to con everyone else” apart from being incorrect, is also offensive. On one hand, the vested interests of old, conservative, white male are trying to do the conning. There is no other ‘side’ – no surfer tries to persuade a wave nor farmer the weather, it is not amenable to negotiation or bribery, it has to be dealt with using skill, knowledge and adaptability.
    I am disappointed that so much money was wasted on such a prog. – the Q&A that followed reported, apparently without the slightest awareness of the poignancy of the statement, that “57% were open to having their minds changed, 43% WERE NOT“!
    No matter what the facts, reality or cost to their descendents, if any, their ‘minds were not for changing. How could any semi sentient say such a thing?
    Someone once said that the difference between a tory and most mammals is that the latter tend to learn from experience.

  40. roger

    I think the reference to ‘everyone trying to con everyone else’ was directly related to the fact that both major political parties espouse a significant (though insufficient) reduction in carbon emissions but neither have a policy coherency that will deliver anything like the action required to prevent climate disruption. Sounds like a con to ome.

  41. Meski

    @Rubinogosa: I don’t consider myself qualified to debate the science. But for those that *are* I think they ought to be allowed, rather than abused and shouted down. No, that doesn’t include vested interests such as coal miners, and the like. Regarding policy, we definitely have a say, although it saddens me somewhat that the debate has become a partisan Labor vs Coalition issue, and a “I support the issue, but I don’t want it to affect my personal hip pocket’.

  42. drsmithy

    I don’t consider myself qualified to debate the science. But for those that *are* I think they ought to be allowed, rather than abused and shouted down.

    No-one “abuses and shouts down” qualified people genuinely trying to debate the science.

Leave a comment


https://www.crikey.com.au/2012/04/27/abc-climate-doco-producer-fights-back-climate-deniers-arent-mad-theyre-human/ == https://www.crikey.com.au/free-trial/==https://www.crikey.com.au/subscribe/

Show popup

Telling you what the others don't. FREE for 21 days.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.