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Message Monopoly Leads to Distortion

Australia is looking at implementing a modest carbon tax as a means of taking some control of their leading, per-capita CO2 production among the developed world economies. While the proposal is generating robust debate, there is growing concern that both sides of the debate are not operating from the same set of facts. Indeed, Stephan Lewandowsky in the Guardian contends that the  fight against taxing carbon production, lead by media properties owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, had “turned into a fact-free brawl” where spin trumps science and information (good information) is in short supply.

While disagreement is to be expected, the single-minded denial of climate science by a company that holds 70% of the countries print media is a cause for alarm. Murdoch’s papers are using the time-tested strategy of dismissing science with the power of folk wisdom.

According to the Australian’s front page, a picture of an aged and bronzed Aussie swimmer on an iconic beach is evidence against the threat of sea level rises. Why? Because if 80-year-old Kevin Court hasn’t noticed the sea rising, then why bother with satellite data? And because that was so much fun, let’s do it again and put the 53-year-old veteran swimmer Lee Boman on the front page a few months later. Two nice blokes in trunks allay all our fears about rising sea levels and prove that climate change is a hoax. Or something like that.


When the technical difficulties and expenditures associated with the procurement of photos become prohibitive, the Australian will happily resort to an internet chain email to present “facts” about CO2 emissions. Flagship journalism at its best.


On the odd occasions that practicing scientists are contacted, their statements either disappear without a trace or are distorted beyond recognition. Two months ago, an article on “a deluge of news” jubilantly declared that the “first solid rains for two years have all but broken the drought that has crippled the West Australian grain industry.”


Actually, no.


No one discourages debate and none that we have met discourage a genuine scientific discussion of the data and the facts. To solve this problem, we need to be candid and we need to be open to new and even unsettling information. If our goal is to move forward, we cannot have a productive exchange if some in the conversation will lie, distort and mislead because the short term consequences of a proactive climate policy requires us to change how we live (and the cost of how we live).

This attitude of baseless denial flies in the face of experience. To ignore science and embrace a cherry-picked denial is both childish and myoptic. Certainly how we live will change — as it always has. And somethings, as usual, will change for the better, and some changes may have a tang of nostalgia or regret. Hopefully we can choose the vector of our change, rather than having circumstances force change upon us. To determine our future, we need to work together, talk together and act together. But we won’t get anywhere, if facts continue to be dashed upon the rocks of fairy tales.


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