October 2018 – By Kim Taylor
Sitting at the dining table with a dairy farmer in Queensland and the drought is full swing. And so is the conversation about climate change. A TV in the other room quietly plays Greta Thunberg on the morning shows, and we sit looking out at a dry, dusty field.
Of course, in my little echo chamber, climate change is not a debate. It’s a reality we must face. But as I sit with people whose lives are changing at the hands of weather right now, ‘climate change’ takes on a new meaning.
In the eyes of this farmer, ‘climate change’ is a bureaucratic tool. A phrase used to seemingly distance support for him to hold onto the life he, and four generations before him, have always known. So, when asked his thoughts on climate change, the response is a political one – ‘it’s not real’. But when we talk about what concerns he has for the future – worsening drought and scarcity of water are at the top of the list.
He and many farmers that I spoke to acknowledge that things are getting worse, but there is a reluctance to attribute this to climate change. Instead we talk about the cyclical nature of drought in Australia, and the need to address both drought and water availability in the future.
When the people of South Florida were asked about climate change there is a political divide in agreement, in much the same way as the rest of the USA – strong liberals in the area rate climate risks as very high, strong conservatives rate them as very low.
However, when asked about a locally poignant issue without the politically-loaded words ‘climate change’ (in this case, taking action to reduce the risk posed by rising sea levels), there was broad agreement across all four politically diverse counties.
In Australia, the trend is similar. Cultural outlook influences climate change views. From AustraliaSCAN, Overall 53% of Australians believe climate is changing for the worse, and 48% of us agree that man-made pollution is a direct cause.
However, when we review these statements by those who describe themselves as having a traditional viewpoint on social issues versus those who describe themselves as having a progressive viewpoint, the numbers look quite different.
Man-made pollution is directly causing climate change
Perhaps we need to think differently about how we talk about this issue, and find a better way to engage Australians. As Dan Kahan of Yale University says “what matters is not the word, it’s the conversation.” Rather than requiring explicit acknowledgement of climate science, we can engage people with a conversation about issues they are living with.
Maybe we need to think about changing the conversation. Do we need explicit acknowledgement of ‘climate change’ or just to start having conversations about action?