How do we construct our understanding of major aspects of life and society,
and how do we structure our discussions together as SOFiA members, given that there is
misinformation and distortion scattered in amongst the media we use to inform ourselves?
This sort of question goes to the heart of what thoughtful groups wanting to explore life issues might wish to look at.
Dallas Elvery uses a recent media article to reflect on this issue.
I came across an opinion piece that appeared in the digital edition of The Australian on November 20th this year, and felt a need to respond to it. The article is by ALP politician Joel Fitzgibbon, the federal member for the seat of Hunter in NSW.
Joel’s article could be described as the love child of the goddess Propaganda and her shifty mate Marketing. It contains extraordinarily little information, and the little that does appear is so out of context that it gives false impressions. The article expresses its purpose as being a wake-up call to Canberra’s politicians regarding Climate Change action. However, Joel is one of the longest serving federal members (24 years) and for part of this time, he was a minister, initially in Defence and then later in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Books and writings coming from the USA in recent years, such as Merchants of Doubt (Oreskes & Conroy) and Democracy in Chains, (Maclean), along with many Australian writings, such as The Carbon Club (Wilkinson) and the recent Quarterly Essay, The Coal Curse (Brett), outline in some detail a media journey that has taken place across the anglosphere, and in particular in Australia, the UK and the USA. They set out how this distortion milieu has been evolving all through our entire adult lives, with increasing intensity over time. They demonstrate that this situation has not arisen accidently, nor is it the work of a few rogue media people: rather, there has been a global orchestrated messaging around several key issues by many players.
The underlying processes they outline rely on appeals to our emotions. They rely on appeals to aspects of our psychology, appeals that are designed to circumvent reasoned responses, and diminish the authority of authentic understandings, when we consider certain issues. Matters subjected to these messaging techniques are as far-ranging as attacks on the integrity of welfare recipients, through to undermining the acceptance of expert advice on the health effects of smoking, along with many others.
Our individual responses, and the way we are impacted, will depend on a great many factors. These will include our own process of meaning making, our sense of identity as individuals and our sense of belonging. It will also include things such as the subset of the self-interests we tend to defend emphatically, and our own emotional responses. Along with many more.
This article allows us to look at some aspects of common information-mulching practices, and reflect on the processes employed. I have put Joel’s words in Italics to separate them from my comments.
First there are Joel’s introductory remarks:
The politicians who should have led can now at least follow this example.
After a busy week in Canberra, last Friday I was back home having a beer with my mate Woody. He’s one of those hardworking businessmen who employs lots of people who wear the hi-vis to work each day.
“I love to have a beer with Woody, ‘cause Woody’s me mate!” (Apologies to Slim).
A somewhat hackneyed distancing trick, and very ironic. Joel has been either a minister or a shadow minister for well over a decade. So, who are the ‘politicians’ if Joel is not one of them? It would be the grist for a group discussion as to why this technique is so often used, and what is gained by it.
Woody’s thing is civil construction and he’s good at it. Following recent events in our national capital, he asked me to further explain the most recent stoush those of us in the Canberra bubble had been having about climate change.
The ‘Canberra Bubble’ rhetoric is useful to diminish the true importance of any issue the person using the phrase wants to ignore or devalue. Joel here also begins the war metaphor (‘stoush’) – an insinuation that there is no real issue, just competing opinions.
Woody understands the need to protect our natural environment, to maintain our biodiversity, and to protect our ecosystems. He gets it in part because he’s a grandfather. But as a property developer and contractor, he also lives the regulatory architecture we have in place to protect our future and doesn’t complain, not all of the time, anyway.
The natural environment and our biodiversity are one thing, but the subject of the article is climate change. Woody’s love of nature has nothing to do with it. The grandfather line is a long bow to draw: what is he trying to achieve by using it?
But he told me he can’t work out why the nation’s politicians are letting the climate change debate dominate the political debate when people are so much more concerned about jobs, paying the mortgage, feeding the kids, and working hard to provide for their retirement years. Particularly since the arrival of COVID-19 .
Here Joel dog-whistles to the false and inflammatory notion that action to transition our economy to a low emissions one will inevitably mean loss of jobs. Why does this kind of trick false dichotomy almost always go unchallenged?
It was a good observation because the official National Greenhouse Gas Inventory tells us that in the year to September last year, Australia’s emissions per capita were 40.4 per cent lower than they were in 1990. It also revealed that the emissions intensity of the Australian economy was down 62.7 per cent from 1990 levels.
This is a deliberate attempt to confuse. Here he uses ‘emissions per person’ and ‘emissions intensity’ to make it look like we are going ahead in leaps and bounds. We are not, we are still going in the wrong direction. The task that all countries face is to reduce total emissions asap.
Woody wasn’t that surprised. He told me how much his trucks and earthmoving equipment had changed over the same period. He reminded me they once spewed black smoke everywhere but are these days fitted with anti-pollution devices the qualified motor mechanic couldn’t really comprehend. He knows most industries have changed and that together they are making a real difference to our pollution levels.
Childishly devious, and completely irrelevant. It is true that the exhausts don’t belch as much black smoke anymore, that is because of regulations introduced by those pesky ‘Canberra bubble’ pollies have dramatically reduced them, much to the benefit of the lungs of all Australians.
However, they do emit the same amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions they always did. If you burn a certain amount of fossil fuel, it will emit the same amount of GHG both now and back then.
Of course, it’s not just the transport sector that is acting on this. Farmers are changing their agricultural practices. Our manufacturers are saving money by becoming more energy efficient. Australians are placing solar panels on their rooftops at a rate that has surprised us all. More and more people are buying electric or hybrid cars. We are all choosing white goods and electrical appliances with the best energy efficiency ratings.
Improvements are fine, but we must get to net zero. So far, all the changes that have been made have not stopped our total emissions from constantly rising. Covid 19 did manage this though, but that will not last. Our emissions in 2019 were the highest ever: emissions in other areas overcame all the savings from the small changes mentioned above and in the next paragraph.
Energy companies have been busy too. Wind and solar farms are popping up all over and the place. Projects are big in scale. The rate of growth would be even faster if the electricity grid could take more renewable-generated electrons. But that can’t happen without the additional firming power required to keep the system stable as our older coalfired generators reach the end of their physical lives and withdraw. That’s the other thing happening regardless of government action, coal generation now struggles to compete with renewable generation and the most recently constructed coal generators will be the last to be built.
This paragraph is basically true, but all of it has been in response to government regulation or government initiatives, almost exclusively by the States and Territories, and the Rudd and Gillard initiatives. Perhaps the biggest irony is that the earliest initiatives came from the ACT government, home of the dastardly bubble and all those woozy bubbly public servants. The ACT government still leads all other Australian governments in this area.
Like the rest of the world, Australia must take meaningful action on climate change and we are, as the numbers I shared with Woody show. Of course, we could do more. But to do more we need leadership from politicians. We need to ditch the partisanship and the climate wars perpetuated by both the political left and right. This is the essence of the 20-year-long and irrational climate change contest. Left combatants see advantage in overstating the threat while the right sees opportunity in an economic scare campaign.
The statement: ‘climate wars perpetuated by both the political left and right’ continue Joel’s droning indoctrination script regarding his assertion that these matters are all contested and only pushed by fanatics. Why is it so easy to use this crass hyperbole to dismiss the enormous volume of genuine scientific work?
When those who try to articulate the actions required by Australia are labelled ‘Left combatants’, it makes genuine discussion and genuine understanding on the subject especially difficult to achieve.
Why wouldn’t the right see political opportunity? It’s a strategy which has paid a healthy political dividend at the last three elections. In the end, both Labor and the LNP will pay a price for this madness. The climate wars are the environmental equivalent of the military concept of mutually assured destruction. In the end we’ll kill one another as the punters give up on all of us and go searching for something more genuine.
They won’t go to the Greens, a political party which thrives on climate change policy conflict. It’s the raison d’etre of the environmental movement. Without ongoing climate change warfare, the Greens’ fundraising cookie jar would be modest at best. Their opposition to prime minister Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme removed any doubt the Greens will always put their own political interest ahead of our natural environment.
Comment on the Greens is an attempt to paint the supporters of action on climate as fanatical. He does not have to spell this out here, as some media sources never mention the Greens without painting this equivalence, so this rhetorical trick is already established in many people’s minds. Why has this been so easy to do?
My mate Woody’s story is a reminder that Australian industry long ago gave up on waiting for the national parliament to act and to act without retreat as it did in 2013. Those in industry are not just taking action and chasing cost saving efficiencies now, they are also planning for the future. Having embraced the aspiration of carbon neutrality by 2050, they are investing heavily in the technologies of the future: hydrogen, battery storage and carbon capture and utilisation, just to name a few.
Whereas, my mate Woody is the real deal, a dinkum Ozie through and through.
Woody’s story demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of climate change by Woody and by Joel. Woody and his mates are NOT investing in the necessary new industries. They have stopped doing so and that is a very serious problem. They will not (and why would they?) restart investing until the Federal Government develops a comprehensive plan, the proper regulatory framework and gives the necessary support where needed to bring it into being.
Next time you hear a politician say the “transition is real and inevitable”, you should tell them they’re spot on. But offer them no thanks; they’ve been nothing but a brake on meaningful climate change action.
In fact the only meaningful action on the transition required to stem climate change has resulted from government initiatives, mostly by states and Territories. Joel Fitzgibbon is in the top echelon of those putting a ‘brake on meaningful climate change action’, having been doing the bidding of the fossil-fuel industry lobby for decades.
How can he so blatantly claim the high moral ground when he is a chief offender, and yet still get published?
The article is pitched as a folksy yarn, even a tad stream-of-consciousness. However, as per the old idiom, appearances can be deceptive.
Questions to ponder might include:
- What exactly was the ‘example’ the ‘bubble politicians’ were meant to follow?
- What is the productthat Joel is marketing?
- Who are his clients,who is he trying to persuade?
- What would you expect a reader to take from this article?
- What does this kind of misinformation peddling do to our society, and how does it affect our processes of introducing complex change?
- Are issues around careful consumption of the media something that SOFiAns should spend their discussion time considering?
Disclaimer: views represented in SOFiA articles are entirely the view of the respective authors and in no way represent an official SOFiA position. They are intended to stimulate thought, rather than present a final word on any topic.