The climate denier next door

Nevermind the nukes – 40% of Australians don’t believe in human-caused climate change

Does a climate denier live next door to you? Probably. The stats show that four in ten Australians don’t believe climate change is caused by human activity. This alarming figure comes from a recent French poll revealing only 60 per cent of Australians accept the scientific consensus on “human-caused climate disruption”. Worse, we’re going backwards – these new figures represent a 6 per cent decrease from previous surveys, and we’re significantly below the global average of 73 per cent. Even more concerning, only half of us (52 per cent) believe “the costs caused by the damage linked to climate disruption and pollution are going to be greater than the investments needed for the ecological transition of our societies” – the lowest percentage worldwide.

These statistics paint a bleak picture of climate scepticism in Australia, especially considering Australia’s higher than average exposure to the effects of climate change and vulnerability to the economic costs of inaction. Globally, unchecked climate change could cost the economy $178 trillion by 2070, reducing global GDP by 7.6 per cent annually by the end of the century. For Australia specifically, the cost of inaction is projected to be $129 billion per year by 2100, driven by more frequent and severe extreme weather events such as bushfires, droughts, cyclones and flooding. It irks me that we even have to talk about GDP in the face of mass species extinction and the destruction of our wondrous natural world, but it’s clear by now that tree-hugging isn’t enough to save us.

The media bears much of the blame for the public’s subpar understanding of climate science. Unlike our record-breaking global temperatures, climate reporting has been in freefall since Black Summer. Analysis of media coverage over the past decade shows a troubling downward trend in Australian climate journalism. The Australian, surprisingly, leads in climate coverage quantity. However, during Black Summer, they published articles like ‘Bushfires blind alarmists in media to climate reality’ by Chris Kenny, which downplayed the link between climate change and the fires. The publication also often shifted blame to arsonists and ignored scientific evidence from authorities like the Bureau of Meteorology.

This shows it’s not enough for the media to simply increase the quantity of climate reporting; the quality must improve too. Increased coverage can sometimes spread misinformation rather than reliably inform the public. While some media outlets downplay the crisis, experts like David King, founder of the global Climate Crisis Advisory Group, warn that on our current path, “civilisation as we know it will disappear.” Thankfully, he stresses that a thriving future is still possible with immediate, radical action, proposing a “4R planet” pathway: reducing emissions, removing excess greenhouse gases, repairing ecosystems, and strengthening resilience.

The gravity of the situation is not lost on young Australians, who buck the national trend of increasing climate scepticism. A study from last year found that 76 per cent of young Australians aged 16-25 are concerned about climate change, with 30 per cent being “very concerned”. Alarmingly, 67 per cent report that climate concerns negatively impact their mental health, exacerbated by perceived government inaction – fair enough. Existentially, the generations coming to power must not be too paralysed by eco-anxiety to act. The press has a critical role to play in reporting not only facts and reality but present a path forward and hope. It’s an unenviable task, but it’s crucial: if the survival of the species is not at the forefront of all reporting, what is the point?

To bridge the gap between scientific understanding and public perception, we need improved science communication, making climate science more accessible and relatable. The media must commit to continuous, accurate reporting on climate change, highlighting both risks and solutions. We can’t afford for climate reporting to rise and fall with our floodwaters. By enhancing media coverage and public understanding as well as leveraging technological and economic opportunities, we can address climate change effectively and beneficially. The undeniable truth is that we have so much to gain, yet everything to lose. Let your neighbours know.

Jack Toohey is a writer and filmmaker.

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