Welcome to we still need to talk about climate change the 2020 jack beale lecture i’m professor emma johnston proud dean of the faculty of science here at unsw and this event is presented by the unsw center for ideas and supported by unsw science tonight’s also part of unsw’s event series for national science week it’s a happy national science week and it’s part of unsw’s grand challenge on thriving in the anthropocene towards the middle of the event we’ll take some questions from the audience to ask any questions for our panelists you can add them on facebook or use the live chat on youtube or post on twitter using the hashtag unsw ideas i’ll try to get as many of the questions as i can into the chat but before i begin today we’re joining you from betical country you’ll be joining us from a range of indigenous land and sea countries across this vast continent and i’d like to pay our respects to the people who are the traditional custodians of these lands and seas and to recognize their continuing connection to country and the deep knowledge that abides in those connections i’d like to pay my respects to elders past and present and to extend that respect to other aboriginal and torres strait islanders who are joining us today in january we watched helplessly as australia burned over 18 million hectares were destroyed and more than a billion vertebrate animals are thought to have been killed simultaneously the third mass bleaching event in five years was beginning on the great barrier reef it was clear to those on all sides of politics that australia needed immediate climate action but by march this year the covert 19 crisis had overwhelmed us and there is no sign of a quick escape from the pandemic and its impact it has made it almost impossible to talk about anything else but the imperatives of climate change have not gone away so how do we restart the conversation on climate do we need to change the way we talk about climate change and the environment so that what we say has more effect and how do we move from talk to action to help us answer these questions we’re joined by scientists and authors tim flannery adriana vegas and rebecca huntley these are three people for whom climate change is at the very forefront of their work and their lives but who tackle the need to talk about climate change from very different angles let me introduce them scientist and writer tim flannery is one of the world’s most widely known communicators about climate change and sustainability he’s a mammologist and a paleontologist who’s described more than 30 mammal species tim has combined his scientific career with a substantial track record as a public scientist and a prolific writer his latest book the climate cure solving the climate emergency in the era of covert 19 is due out this november and as a distinguished alumnus of unsw we are particularly delighted to have him with us tonight our second speaker rebecca huntley is a social researcher writer and broadcaster and expert on social trends she’s an author of books on food politics and education and as a social researcher rebecca has a uni unique insight into the reality of how australians think feel vote and behave her most recent book is how to talk about climate change in a way that makes a difference a fascinating account of how we need to understand human responses to climate change in order to create effective and collective action and our third panelist this evening adriana vegas is an associate professor in marine ecology she leads a research group here at unsw that focus on focuses on the ecological impacts of climate change and the conservation of the world’s algal forests and seagrass meadows she’s published more than 80 peer-reviewed scientific studies but is also passionate about communicating science to the wider public via a range of media and for this work she was awarded the inaugural unsw emerging thought leader prize in 2019 thanks for joining us everyone i want to open up this conversation with a question to each of you about your thoughts on how we communicate about climate and the environment and i’ll start with rebecca so rebecca your new book how to talk about climate change and in a way that makes a difference looks at how we should be talking about climate change but how we should be doing it if we want to reach people and inspire change so what needs to be transformed what needs to change about what we’re up to what have we been doing wrong ah well i mean i could be very cheeky in a room full of scientists and say that we need scientists to stop talking about climate change keep researching it or get better at talking about it and we really need every other person in every other profession to talk about climate change because we are at a point in australia and you know i mean in many many other countries where the majority of people agree with the scientific consensus they don’t challenge it they agree climate change is a genuine threat and they want action but in all the research i do what what is lacking is a real sense that the climate crisis connects with their life and the things that matter to them now and what that allows politicians to do is say oh you know we’re going to do something about climate change but it’s so much more important to do something about cost of living and the cost of energy or health or the future of your children and they’re actually able to push climate change to the to the farthest reaches of their um policy priorities and make it as if there it can be separated and and so connection is actually critical and that means that like i said we’ve got to think about we’ve got to have people of all kinds of professions all kinds of understanding of the science in all in all parts of of our way of life talking about how that connection is real present and exists today um do you think the increasing kind of frequency of emergency states associated with climate change is helping this communication is it making those links clearer to some people yes but to other people no and that’s why it’s so critical to understand how different kinds of people respond emotionally to the language around climate change and i saw this with you know real sadness and frustration as i talked to people after the fires that we had over the summer for those people who were already really concerned about climate um they they became more concerned and it did move people who are already concerned and it did create a sense of urgency amongst people who thought our climate change is important but time after time i saw people that said uh is this about climate change or is this about you know environmentalists or fuel load or what all the rest of it they just didn’t see the connections they resisted the connections not just because the main some parts of the media were very disingenuous in terms of how they reported it we didn’t have um as much political leadership as we could have but to see those connections to really see the summer fires as what had been predicted for a long time is such a confronting thing for people it’s chickens coming home to roost and for those people who are already trying to resist that knowledge because it’s too confronting too overwhelming and they also have a complete lack of trust in our leaders to manage this crisis then it’s often very hard to confront that head-on these are really important points they’re quite challenging as well especially for scientists who are listening so i’ll move to adriana who is a scientist and what one of the aspects of your work has been your intent all the way through your scientific research to actually communicate while you’re doing your research what have you learnt about what works in terms of engagement around climate issues um yeah so i you know because my work is on the ecology and conservation of of on the water forests and sea grass meadows um very early on in my in my career i realized that people didn’t care enough about this habitats you know so people care about corals they care about dolphins and whales but when you’re trying to protect things like seaweed forest there’s a fundamental problem which is that people don’t even know that they’re important right so if my job is to try and conserve them i need to i realized that i needed to prioritize science communication right so over the years the two things that i think have worked most effectively and have been focusing on solutions and engaging with emotions and the thing about solutions is that you know anybody that works as an ecology it’s like we are constantly faced with so many stories of environmental degradation major problems right but we are also developing a lot of solutions and i think that we’re particularly bad at communicating those solutions um which is a problem right because people can’t get empowered and inspired when they’re bombarded by by stories of of things getting worse so in my own work i work on climate change i also do a lot of restoration work the restoration work is very positive it’s about fixing a problem it’s about fixing it’s about rewilding the sydney coastline because we have improved water quality to a major degree right so this is the problem um that occurred that you know there used to be huge sewage problem we fix this problem via major engineering feed and deep ocean outfalls the water quality is not so good that we can restore and re-wild our coastlines and bring back on the waterfalls that used to be here but disappeared so i choose that project to raise awareness about the importance of seaweed forests i don’t talk so much about my climate change research that shows that they’re disappearing so fast because i think people you know they they’re already worried about you know the loss of corals and i don’t think i’m going to engage them about the importance of seaweed forest if i tell them you know what it’s not only corals that are suffering it’s also kelp you know just there’s a point where people can’t engage so yeah focusing on solutions and actually doing science that can deliver those solutions that’s one thing and the other one is um yeah but engaging with emotions and and to do that i collaborate with artists so a lot of my outreach involves yeah working with two main artists jennifer turpin and michael crawford and we’ve done a series of kind of big scale events like sculptures by the sea um outdoor exhibition events that aim to connect people with with nature and raise awareness that way through through getting people to feel something you know if i tell you that you know we’ve already experienced one degree of warming and we’re losing 90 percent of our giant help for us i think that doesn’t stick but if you can create an artwork that makes people feel something about that that will that will stay with them i think um so connecting them to what they might be losing exactly yeah so it’s interesting because you’re talking about baselines that we’re forgetting but as much as we forget what we had in the past that was good we also forget what we had in the past that was bad and the solutions that we’ve actually developed along the way that’s right so we forget the stinking sydney harbour and that’s it and you know the terrible pollution problems that we had in the 70s we actually we did a survey and we asked sydney siders do you think the water quality in sydney is getting better or worse and this was in connection with an artwork but um 60 of people thought it was getting worse you know when instead you know there’s been a dramatic improvement you know so we’ve seen we’ve been so bad at making some noise about fixing this major problem and yeah i mean i find that um when people hear about these positive stories and when you give them the opportunity to be a part of that they respond really positively fantastic well tim you’ve been telling stories about climate change for a long time now i’m not saying anything about how old you are but i i can remember reading some of them the very early ones that and one of the first to focus on climate i think was 2005.
so you’ve you know definitely been talking about this topic for a long time how is what you’re speaking about and the way that you’re speaking about it in the climate communications changed over that period well well it’s if things have changed simply because the climate science itself has moved on and i think when when i started on this journey you know in the late 1990s early 2000s for a lot of people climate change was a theoretical something they hadn’t necessarily experienced impacts in their own lives whereas today you go out to regional australia particularly to farmers or to people in the regional communities and they’ve lived their their lived experience is one of climate change and that is both it’s useful in terms of have allowing people to understand more what this enormous change is about but of course the impacts are catastrophic so and the solutions are often difficult so um that’s how it’s changed i guess for me it’s gone from a theoretical contract to a lived experience and i’m quite concerned honestly about the the impact on the mental state for many people particularly younger people who see this despair they see things not changing and i guess increasingly i’m trying to turn to as adriana says to to solutions to some sense of optimism because yes we’ve made a great mess of the planet we’ve caused this problem but if we caused it we can fix it you know we know that and and so that sense of optimism and opportunity for everything from entrepreneurism through to greater care of of our planetary systems is really becoming a central theme i think so that’s actually helped if we understand how substantial our effect on the planet is because if we know how substantial it has been we can know how positive it could be if we spin it around that’s right we think we’re living in the anthropocene we created it surely we it should be something we can thrive in yeah and looking to previous cultures i think one of your first books the future readers oh one of the first that i read was all about how we transformed entire ecosystems very much prior to when we started burning a huge amount of carbon we still managed to have an impact yeah people don’t realize just how influential as a species we’ve been over tens of thousands of years well that’s changing the conversation so while we keep chatting if you haven’t already please submit any questions for our panelists via facebook youtube or twitter now one of the fascinating arguments that does come from rebecca’s work on climate change is that we need to bring emotion into the conversation and we’ve had we started to talk about that but one of the quotes is now that climate science has been proven to be true to the highest degree possible we have to stop being reasonable and start being emotional more science isn’t the solution people are the solution so happy science week but first of all adriana as a scientist who is also a community communicator how hard do you think this is for most scientists you’ve kind of broken through that barrier but how hard is it for them to step out of the framework that they’ve been brought up in and and trained in that is one that very much says remove emotion from your work how how do we get more of them to step out and start talking it’s really really hard um yeah i mean we’re trained you know we communicate with data facts um graphs statistics that either you know prove or disprove hypotheses right um the way i’ve done it um in terms of connecting with emotions is by collaborating with artists filmmakers you know that any any kind of art um i think works um and so you let them do some of the talking is that right yeah or they you know i i asked for their interpretation of the facts um i think when it comes to marine ecology it’s also about bringing it from underwater you know to above water for people to see you know because how can you care about something if you don’t even know what it looks like right so i i put a lot of effort into into filming what we do and actually showing you know photograph is worth more than a thousand words and you know every graph can actually be also shown with you know the results of the graph you can actually also show them with a a photograph or a video and that is so much more compelling um so yeah and more beautiful rebecca this this was um one of your statements so i’m just gonna yes and i do want to say that i’m not saying that science departments should be defunded although the current federal government perhaps has gone some way towards doing that in the recent um in the recent past um i’m not saying that at all what i’m saying is that i think that the science in and of itself um is it only gets us part of the way right the larger question and this is where all kinds of people outside science in every profession has to step up and tell stories make connections because for a long time climate scientists like tim have been doing that heavy lifting you know in terms of that communications task and we just need multiple voices we need so many voices in our society that the politicians who are getting in the way of progress can no longer ignore them they’re quite good at ignoring scientists been doing it a bit more in the pandemic to better affect but they’re quite good at ignoring academics but they really can’t ignore people from the insurance industry from the finance industry from they can’t ignore farmers they can’t ignore faith leaders if we all speak out in support of what the science is telling us and what the solutions can provide us and that’s another spin on it isn’t it rather than everyone becoming emotional per se it’s everyone using their own evidence base or seeking out an evidence base to communicate what’s happening in their own words and in their own terms that’s exactly ways that have meaning for other people yeah making that really kind of immediate connection and also speaking really to multiple audiences you know so one of the really striking things in the climate research climate opinion research is one of the big distinguishes about whether you believe climate change is real and how urgent you think it is is your education status so in a scene and in terms of trusted messages the more educated you are and the more alarmed you are the more that you do listen to academics and climate scientists but if you’re disengaged from the issue or you’re cautious about it you want to hear about it much more from your friends your family perhaps your employer perhaps people in your local community so it’s not about saying get rid of science get rid of scientific research or get rid of scientists talking about it it’s about we need an army of communicators adding voices exactly not for a moment not only because i’m slightly um you know out there there’s a lot of i’m outnumbered on this panel by scientist no it’s great to have this perspective so you mentioned again the pandemic and and i started by saying that the pandemic has made it difficult to talk about anything else except the pandemic it’s also got potentially some silver linings in terms of the way that behaviour has changed so quickly in the way that um we’ve shown our collective action is so powerful and we’ve also had scientists up there getting national television every day up there you know speaking out all of those epidemiologists have popped out of their labs and their and their front page news so tim you’re writing a book about this what what can we learn from the crisis how can we emerge stronger on climate well you know emerald i think the greatest thing that the pandemic has shown us from a climate perspective is that what was considered to be the economically impossible the politically impossible in fact is possible when you know you need to do it you know so that is a very valuable lesson so we don’t necessarily believe people who say no can’t be done you know but the other thing that it has shown us is that the way you deal with an emergency is is pretty structured and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a climate emergency or it’s a pandemic the same steps have to be followed and and you know the first the first step is to stop the increase of the problem you know for the pandemic that was to just to bring in some social isolation so the chain of infections slowed down for climate change is just about cutting those emissions that’s the first essential step that you need to do both cases and that’s short sharp and hard but but possible and then you need you need an emergency room to deal with all of the casualties because we’re quite far into both of these these um crises so you know that means for the for covert pandemic having sufficient emergency spaces in hospital and sufficient staff and ppe and all the rest of it for climate change it means having the right sort of policies in place to know where the damage is going to hit which parts of our coast are going to be hit by rising sea levels first what are the appropriate policies to make sure we don’t we can minimise that damage do we have enough again capacity in our medical systems and emergency services to deal with the heat waves and the fires and everything else so that planning is really really important and then finally the most difficult bit arguably is to search for a vaccine for something that will really deal with the problem so we know with covert that that search is going to cost billions of dollars and potentially take years you know but it’s worth pursuing for climate change the vaccine really is going to be about drawdown it’s going to be about getting some of the gas out of the air by treating our planetary system much better than we are today looking after our forests looking after our oceans enhancing some of the processes that allow co2 to be drawn out of the atmosphere and that’s a project that will take billions of dollars and many years but it’s really essential because without it we will trigger almost certainly now i think tipping points that will drive the problem into ever more severe territory that’s a fantastic analogy so we’re we’re pretty much at the stage four lockdown on emissions straight away as soon as we can absolutely that’s where we need to be and then stop the problem proliferating work it from there so we do have some questions coming in from the audience and i’m going to start asking a few and and spreading them out so the first one is despite the recent bushfires australia still has the third highest rate of climate denial in the world how do you convince the denier if these disasters can’t remember i might respond yeah uh so look it’s interesting most surveys put climate denial in the community at 10 or less and there’s probably about another 10 of what i would call denier light so not full fat deniers they’re kind of people who think that you know they’re kind of doubtful but so doubtful that you that you know they’re they’re probably the only difference i find in in my research between a genuine denier and somebody who’s doubtful is that the people who are doubtful still believe the csiro and the people who are deniers think the csiro is a cabal of left-wing people that couldn’t get a job at the abc so um but but i think i actually don’t think the percentage of people who are deniers in the community is the problem the percentage of people who are deniers in the in the parliament are a problem and the percentage of people in the media that pretend that they are speaking for a much larger percentage of the population that’s the problem because what those people in power are doing is amplifying the sense that denial that denial is bigger in the community and that it’s a legitimate position to hold and that it it puts particularly um journalists and media um uh you know media organisations in this bizarre situation where they think they have a denier and a climate scientist on a panel and that’s balance so i actually think that we’re probably never going to do that much about the percentage of people who are deniers in the community and we probably don’t have to because if you can convince them on the solutions to climate the need to move to renewable energy to the need to have clean air and clean soils and clean water which you can do you don’t need to convince them on the climate science but you do need you can’t we cannot have climate deniers in the parliament because it is an absolute dereliction of their duty to the community to believe in climate science and say they represent the interests of the australian people in the future so i think that we have to be strategic about where we focus our energy on denial now that question leads to the role of let’s say news corp and the and rupert murdoch’s you know media empire why is it that australia and the united states are two areas where we have you know larger percentages of climate denial than elsewhere i’ll leave that for other people to comment on stop speaking now and do people adriana yeah i’m not sure i can comment on martha can i it’s taking over the world um i yeah i mean i don’t know why i i’m originally from from spain and and in europe in general um it’s a very different conversation we’re having so for me it was quite surprising to to see how how different it is socially um what you just said makes makes sense to me but i guess yeah people are not my specialty tim manny the the car mining lobby has been so central to australian policy into economic life for so long and they’re just so powerful and so deeply embedded that and that along with this frontier mentality that you just use what’s there and move on has led to this toxic mix but you know the way to defuse it i really think is is respectful listening i mean i’ve probably spoken to tens of thousands of australians in groups about climate change and you know the bloku stands up and starts screaming at you and said it’s just a load of rubbish i don’t put him down it’s his peers in the audience who just said that’s disrespectful you know and so having a respectful dialogue with people so they know they’re being heard is really really important so that’s that’s the one-on-one conversations but countering that the general media platform which is what we’re talking about here as well uh are the strongest arguments now perhaps the economic arguments that it actually makes powerful sense and good sense for jobs and well-being to enact really rapid carbon emissions reductions and we have the technology and we have you know the insurance predictions that everything will be problematic if we don’t do it are they the best arguments to make now look it is true that we’ve got the tools we need we know that but the the transformation of the electricity system alone in australia is a complex job and government needs to take it deadly seriously and set those targets to say we want to have this just you know not burning fossil fuels five years or ten years from now if we did that we could do it it would cost and it would be a complicated job but we can do it when you get onto industrial heat and processes that’s another really big job you know it’s not easy i don’t want to pretend it’s easy and it’s not going to be cost free but we know we need to do it so it’s setting those targets and i think you know what you’re saying about about the parliament is absolutely right they’re the people who need to set those targets and objectives for us then we can unleash our creativity and finances to do that job yeah i mean even even the most um you know ambitious people in the private sphere whether they be investors or whether they be captive in industry so there’s only so many levers we can push unless there is consistent policy certainty around climate and a real agreement from state and particularly the federal government you know we can’t there’s only so much we can do there’s a lot they can do but um that policy setting and that government leadership is utterly is absolutely critical at every level of government and even if we do get those really detailed plans and those commitments we are actually still going to need a lot of stem trained professionals particularly in data science and material science in chemical science and physical sciences to solve some of those nuttier problems that we we know we have to face when we transition big energy systems which means we need the federal government to effectively fund universities of all kinds and research to be able to provide those kinds of solutions absolutely so universities are facing a financial crisis at the moment and it will impact our capacity to provide that research program so along with investment in societal transformation we are going to need substantial targeted investment in these areas and particularly some of them are stem areas we’ve got another question i’ll go to as well which is um it’s a personal one how can we do or what can we do in our everyday lives that will have the most impact reducing climate change and how can we set an example for others to follow so i want to focus on the second part of that question which is really around does setting an example effectively communicate climate change does it affect change well this is a the most commonly asked question isn’t it it’s the most commonly asked question and the most difficult question for me in a way because i want people to do things in their personal lives that will will make a difference but you know the fossil fuel industry is never happier than when the spotlight drifts from it onto something else so when the spotlight drifts onto what can i do you know um the fossil fuel industry is off the hook so in some ways it’s really important to to develop a sense of community leadership you know join a group get involved politically do something where you where you can amplify your voice along with other people but let’s not pretend that the solutions are all with just individual action i mean the problem we’re in has been created by the fossil fuel industry and that’s where we need to absolutely focus relentlessly as you said stage four lockdown to get those emissions down interesting because a lot of individual behavior has changed as a result of covert but we haven’t seen humongous reductions in carbon emissions so you know virtually no one’s driving around you know a lot of reduction of activity but carbon emissions dropping substantially for about a month in april globally but still bouncing back up relatively quickly i mean one of the things i explored in the book i looked at all various different emotions in the book and i looked at this notion of guilt and shame and i said one of the one of the understandable you know tax that the environment movement took around climate was around individual behaviour right and this is not to say that that individuals behaving collectively in the same way doesn’t have an impact but it also means that what it does is reduce the reduce the kind of solution to climate change which is such a complex and big issue to whether or not i decide to drive to work today and if you say to somebody to a woman with three kids and it’s raining no no no you’ve got a cycle you can take your three kids to school on a bicycle like it’s just too much and what it does is it kind of puts the impetus on the individual and it does actually lead to this kind of sense of guilt shame and these are not these are not productive and you’re right false the fossil fuel industry is going great everybody’s worried about taking keeper cups to work and you know whether or not they recycle so so there is there are political and systemic issues that are mostly at stake here so if if i would say to i think i can’t remember who asked the question is it sandra sandra um the first thing you’ve got to do is vote and you’ve got to vote with climate as a major issue and tell parliamentarians get them scared that that’s why you’re voting you can do things through you know through your superannuation and your investments and through what you do with where you decide to invest your money but really collective action political action and systemic change is what it’s going to take and as much as individual action is important i don’t want people to think that climate change is something just for them to solve through what they do in their home environment it just it’s not going to be the main way that we’re going to do this what about the positive aspect though of creating social norms that are cognizant of environment as an important thing as a real thing that can be exhausted adriana i mean what i was going to say about this i mean i fully agree that it’s obviously not an individual action that it’s going to change that it’s going to really improve things however um i don’t know if you’ve seen this show in the abc it’s called um fight for planet a craig rucassel is the presenter and i heard him talk about this the other day because he also presented a show on the war on waste so and he saw a lot of well there was a lot of behavior change that resulted from this tv show and what he was saying is that you know maybe the change doesn’t come from the top down it’s like all these individual actions are what’s gonna create the change that needs to happen at the top you know so it’s not that you know me eating less meat is gonna really be that you know make that difference but it’s actually all of us putting pressure on our you know um elected members i think we can agree that the problem is so pressing that we need to throw everything at it i’m not saying to people don’t stop being a pescetarian or don’t stop cycling yeah but i’m saying that if we continue to make the pathway to solving climate change about what can i do as an individual then that’s the problem so i can’t be solely about that tim i just want to tell you a little story you know a few years ago i was up in coal country in queensland giving a talk on climate change there was an audience of 100 people big bloke there you know i could see the colony skin you know we gave the 15 minute talk and first hand up was his great big muscle he bloke stood up with it oh we’re in for it now you know but he said to me look thank you for your presentation he said i used to be a farmer and i can see that climate change led to or helped lead to my bankruptcy and my farm he said i’ve got two young daughters i needed a job so i took a job in a coal mine he said can you tell me am i doing the right thing it just about broke my heart you know but there’s a man stuck in a economic paradigm where he has no choice and this is what we talk about doing the right thing but unless we can change that paradigm we’re not going to get anywhere and we need to treat everyone with respect everyone from the coal miners through to the skeptics and others just and understand that unless we change our bigger view we’re not going to succeed and it’s for the younger people that we are trying to succeed it’s for the people who are going to be around dealing with climate change for a lot longer than anyone on this panel so we have some pre-recorded questions from primary school students and i’d like to throw if i can to one of those pre-recorded questions and we’ll see if anyone on the panel can answer it hi i’m hannah and i go to alexandria park community school my question is how can communities use practical and affordable techniques to carbon sequester and combat climate change great question so tim i’ll throw that one to you hannah that’s a great question i spent years trying to answer it myself but what’s so wonderful about it is that we have got some very practical ways of doing that hannah i mean you know if you plant a tree and watch it grow you can basically see the amount of carbon that it’s drawing out of the atmosphere to build its tissues because trees are really kind of congealed carbon dioxide that’s kind of what they end up being so that’s one way we can do it we can plant trees we can look after our vegetation but there’s so many other ways as well we can plant seaweed and that helps do the same thing we can use rocks and there’s a recent study shown that if we just took all of the shavings off rocks from around the world and put them on agricultural fields they would draw down about two gigatons of co2 out of the atmosphere every year we can use biochar you know biochar is a great material you can take a plant any crop waste turn it into mineral charcoal and that then sequesters carbon in the soil for a very long period of time so as a community planting a tree is a great way of doing it but as industries or as a country we can do a hell of a lot better that’s a great answer um adriana do tell us i know you you plant seaweeds yourself so what are you doing there yeah yeah so we we’re planting this species called cray wheat this is a t-shirt of my my project and um we actually work with schools a lot so we invite schools to either sponsor a pro a forest or you know get involved in in in learning more about the importance of seaweeds and i mean i guess you know they’re photosynthetic organisms they take carbonara for the atmosphere just like trees do and and they can store it by you know all the seaweed rag that ends up in the deep ocean a lot of that carbon then gets you know essentially sequestered for thousands of years and sea grass meadows are even more important in that respect so you know they’re a lot more effective at sequestering carbon than than even terrestrial forests so looking after our marine environments and potentially getting involved in hands-on restoration is definitely something local people in in sydney can do and many people are getting involved in in restoration projects or volunteerism or citizen science there’s all sorts of names for people getting engaged in their local environments and actively restoring them do we know if that’s a mechanism by which people’s minds and hearts are changed or their understanding of the world and climate is changed my understanding is that yes i mean you probably can speak to this a lot more but um i think you know things that connect people with nature um help you um yeah motivate you to take action to protect it no absolutely and i think what so many studies have shown which looks at things like whether that be a community solar or some kind of um you know re you know environmental restoration project is that if different stakeholders in the community come together to do that um and perhaps motivated by different things that there’s a sense of ownership and connection right and the other thing that is really fascinating too is the extent to which that kind of that kind of activity especially that interaction with the with the local environment and an education about what climate change might be doing to that can really shift people who are previously very kind of quite resistant to the climate message but it has to be local right there’s only so much that saying a polar bear on a melting ice cap if you’re if you’re living in rural queensland or if you’re living you know somewhere in africa is really going to connect with you so that kind of that personal interaction the education that comes from that and that sense of connection to your day-to-day life is critical for changing attitudes so we have another question a related question from the audience and this is along with engaging with emotions do we need to recognize that humans resist bad news at a deep psychological level do we need to be more strategic so this is again about how do we change minds yeah i mean look i i don’t i’ve struggled with this a lot and i went into the book with that kind of do you know that very kind of statement that you’ve always got to be positive right and the problem with that i’m not saying that that that there there has to be a role for hope and optimism is that unless we get a sense of what can be lost what has already been lost and what’s at risk then we are not going to motivate people all right now do we have to endlessly tell people about a kind of apocalyptic future that’s around the corner where it’ll all be you know everything we love will be destroyed no that’s not motivating but but people will engage with darkness and challenge if you give them some solutions and you give them some power to deal with it and so i think it has to be a real balance of light and dark loss and gain in talking to all kinds of communities from wherever they are on the spectrum of climate change about what needs to happen i felt that we were getting to that point at the end of the bushfire season this year that catastrophic unprecedented bushfire season where we lost so much of our native vegetation so many houses i felt like we were getting to that point of a a tipping point in public opinion but it seems to have disappeared i’m not sure about that emma i think that that that feeling is still there um you know i remember back last summer the months of just unbreathable air and the issue people had with that and the hundreds of people who died from that and you know if you go out into the south coast of new south wales now you’ll see there’s communities that are still being catastrophically impacted and will be for years those homes won’t be built rebuilt for years much less the businesses and the thriving communities that were there um so that’s a lived experience for many australians you know sure covert has come along and is now it’s dominating the news cycle i mean there’s no doubt about that and dominating a lot of people’s thinking but i do think that that drum beat of of climate change is still there and once we have breathing space to think about it again we can we can i think it will just rise to be honest tell you one of the things that the research i’m doing on attitudes to covert shows is a a renewed sense of the importance of outdoor space whether you live in and wherever you live can you imagine the air quality of the fires overlapped with overlapping lockdown it’s almost unbearable so we need to take the fact that communities of all kinds have recognized that a walk in the park taking the dog out at a time of lockdown is more important for mental and physical health ever before as a springboard for renewed recognition of the importance of protecting that physic that environment those environments that outdoor space wherever it is um and i think that’s the real opportunity now and those beautiful blue skies that we’re getting what a contrast to to a summer that was grey and dusky so there’s a question here there’s a a discourse on what really triggered climate change economic growth is often considered as a major aggravating factor is this a misleading statement and does it matter i might say more broadly does it matter if we understand or not what’s triggering climate change anyone have a good look of course it matters it absolutely matters i mean you know unless we know that that a virus is causing the pandemic we’re helpless to act you know we know what’s causing climate change and it’s the burning of fossil fuels you know and the fact that until recently fossil fuels have been the kind of the engine room of our economy so yes that’s so it is an economic trigger but now that’s changed that is decoupled the cheapest form of electricity generation over much of the world now is wind and solar so we know that that with with a clean powerhouse we can build a whole new clean economy and start solving the problem but we have to recognize what the problem is it’s fossil fuels and the burning of fossil fuels that’s caused the problem and now economic inertia so adriana now that i yeah what i think the big difference between the kobe challenge and climate change is yes that we actually do know what causes climate change and we know how to get out of here we know you know we actually have the science that can get us out of here whereas we obviously still don’t with kovitz so yeah that’s the big difference that actually makes me feel somewhat better let’s go to another question from a pre-recorded question from a primary school student and this one i’ve got to warn you it’s very it’s futuristic it’s going to get you right into the future this one hi i’m elijah from alex park and my question is which creature will reign supreme after the human race dies off it’s a bit bleak well i think it’s kardashians kardashian yeah yeah that’s my non-scientific um contribution there i think all humans were knocked off that’s a great one what about you adrian um i mean i think without a doubt there’s winners and losers right so nature will keep evolving and it seems like the biggest losers here are us you know we are self-destructing um if we continue in the trajectory that we’re going on um so humans will disappear who will win i mean i reckon definitely bacteria will be part of the winners um but i’m sure there’s other creatures like in the marine environment yes jellyfish tend to dominate when things get really bad but um i know what you think tim well you know i i don’t think we’re in control at the moment we’re just we’re just a little pimple on a great big mound of metabolic activity the thing that’s always ruled the planet and has created the atmosphere and everything in the bacteria they’ll be here after we go they’ll continue to be in control so yeah anyway okay i hope that answers your question that the the world will be full of microbes and a great diversity of them um a kind of question which somewhat relates to that a little bit it it’s triggered by that perhaps how do we deal with climate anxiety i mean if people are really and young people are really thinking what happens when all humans die off there must be a huge amount of anxiety that accompanies those thoughts how do we help people manage that anxiety and and keep working through the problem so you’re right so most a lot of medical mental health professionals and associations from around the world have developed some really effective guides and and support groups for people dealing with climate anxiety but a lot of the studies show that the best antidote to climate anxiety is action collective action so trying to find a group of like-minded people that have decided just to try and do something that the mere and that doesn’t mean that you don’t have anxious moments or moments of anger or moments of frustration but they’re shared and they’re channeled into a goal so for me my climate climate anxiety is is offset by work on climate change but the other thing i think one of the other things because this question gets asked a lot in combination with what can i do to do something about climate change and and i often say look you don’t have to suddenly become somebody different or do something different it kind of doesn’t matter what you do there is a climate angle so take your thoughts about climate change it doesn’t matter if you’re an accountant it doesn’t matter if you’re a pharmacist it doesn’t matter if you have a job or not there is some way to bring action on climate and the environment and fold that into the life that you already live and if you have anxiety that means that i mean the last thing we need is a whole lot more meetings to go to you can find a way to to kind of put a climate lens over the world that you already live oh everyone needs another zoom meeting i’m sure so look christian christiane figueres was here in march talking about the future we choose so that’s a book that she has co-written i highly recommend it but one of her key strategies in the book is stubborn optimism because as she says have you ever heard of anything that was achieved that started with defeatism so this does relate to how we psychologically deal with the drama of climate change so i wanted to close this wonderful discussion to give you each a bit of time to tell us how you find optimism and what gives you hope and i’m going to start with tim here well you know i look cristiano is one of those great heroes of climate uh science i’ve worked with nona for a long time and um in that book she made an incredibly important point that gives me optimism which is that for most of her career in the international negotiations it’s been a win-lose set of circumstances so someone would win someone will lose that was going to go nowhere he said we’re now in a world of win-win possibilities and that’s because the clean energy sources have come down in price so much so we can have development we can have affluence based on clean energy and better way of doing things and it’s a win-win so that to me is is my sense of optimism there’s that but there’s also these wonderful young people you meet who say electricity system i can fix that i know how to do it they might not know entirely but i reckon they’ll give it a red hot go you know so that that energy that young people bring to this whole debate where they sweep away the cobwebs and old thinking and just say no we’re going to fix this you know and that that is tremendous and i you know they’re my two sources of optimism beyond that source of sanity is really my family and doing a few things that that give me a sense of of achievement you know so it might be just putting some native plants in and you know instead of weeds might be helping people but whatever it is it’s something that gives you an immediate sense because when you work in the climate area you know it’s it’s such a long game it’s such a long you need you need some jollies as i call them on the way or knuckling down and finishing that next book of yours that will give you a sense of satisfaction adriana where does your hope come from um i i think yeah without a doubt it comes from nature it comes from spending time in nature and and helping people connect with nature in general as part of my job and whenever i do that i can see it really works you know and i can see there’s a growth of citizen science kind of interest for example that demonstrates how um you know people are really thirsty for for a stronger deeper connection i think with that comes it it just follows that you you will want to protect it and so yeah so is it also the science of working on solutions to problems is that some part of where absolutely yeah that’s um do you notice other scientists moving into that space away from describing the disaster to working on solutions and interventions i think that’s right yeah i think for a very long time you know scientists just became really really good at documenting better and better and better you know all this horrible degradation i think there’s definitely i’m seeing a very strong shift towards trying to to fix those problems and you know stop with the documenting of the decline and and that’s that’s going to be a part of the solution wonderful and rebecca your thoughts uh well i feel that i have a kind of moral and ethical obligation to be optimistic because i have three children i don’t think i could say to them oh look it was all too difficult i’m going to build a bunker and we’ll just stock up on canned goods you know i so i i can’t i have i have to be optimistic because i brought them into the world and i want them to grow up in a livable world so um so i look for sources of what i talk in the book about resolute hope or skeptical optimism which is not to say i would all be fine and we’ll just invent something and it’ll all work out i mean it a hope and an optimism that’s based on an understanding of the challenges that we already face and the ones ahead but you know having spent 15 years thinking about encountering humans in all of their complexity i generally think that we’re up to the challenge if we’ve got the right leadership and then what i also do what i also find really hopeful and optimistic is when i meet people who are unlikely converts to the climate cause so they don’t look like environmentalists or they imagine but suddenly something clicked in them and they’re doing something extraordinary in in in climate change so there might be somebody who’s been working in the fossil fuel industry for 20 years and suddenly they’re like i can’t do this anymore they used to be a coal miner or they used to be a farmer that came from four generations of national party voters and suddenly they’re a passionate environmentalist and i even think about it in terms of myself if you’d said three years ago that climate change would be my thing and the thing i’d focus on i’d think no way i like to wear high heels and i’m not interested in i’m not interested in composting but it did it worked for me and i think it can kind of work for everybody so i’m optimistic when i when i encounter people who are um on that journey and like i said i have a moral responsibility more ethical responsibility obligation to be optimistic as a mother and as somebody who loves this country and loves this community and wants to make sure that we don’t have rolling horrible bush fires for the rest of my children’s life a wonderful story that stubborn optimism is is obvious in all three of you i tell you i get a lot of hope and optimism from working with scientists actually because when you have a vast array of them they’re all working on something really exciting they’re all at the cutting edge of discovery and many of them are turning to climate challenges because they’re seeing it as the number one problem for the globe and they’re saying what can i do and because they work in these diverse fields they could be developing new ways of transmitting electricity that’s just that little bit more efficient or they could be working on how to recycle materials so that we you know suddenly don’t need to make a huge theater out of new stuff and new plastics and new products we can recycle them there’s all sorts of work going on that gives me a huge amount of hope the other thing that gives me hope is that in the past we’ve gathered together and we’ve agreed to make compromises to change products to change economics in order to save ourselves and i think adriana that brings us back to one of the stories you began with of the the development of the environmental protection authority not just in australia but right the way around the world that massively improved water quality in many many nations to the point where there’s even aspirational swimming right up at the very top of the estuaries so it’s a positive note to end on i want to thank tim flannery adriana vegas and rebecca huntley very much for your contributions this evening i want to thank everyone who put a question in this evening and i know i didn’t get to all of them but i had to make space for those primary school questions as well i’m sure if you have further questions the three of them here would love to take it and because they’re communicating constantly about different aspects of climate change you can also look to the works that they’ve produced the books that they’ve written the films that they’ve made and even get engaged in some of the science that they do so thank you for tuning in to we still need to talk about climate change we like to wish you a wonderful national science week there are many more events this week across the nation many more coming out from unsw as well and to hear more about our events please subscribe to the unsw center for ideas newsletter and i wish you all a very good night you >>Women are not a secondary players, and society has always known that.
Unless we get this structural form, we are always going to have poor mental power nest. >>Equality means that somebody’s gains must be given up. >>It is an intellectual thing. >>Welcome to We Still Need to Talk about Climate Change.
I am Professor Emma Johnston, the proud dean of the faculty of science at UNSW. This event is presented by the UNSW Centre for ideas and is supported by UNSW sites. Tonight is also part of the event series for national science week.
Happy national science week. It is part of UNSW’s grand challenge of driving and at present. Towards the middle of the event, we will take some questions from the audience. To ask any questions of the panellists, you can reach them on Facebook or using live chat on YouTube using the hashtag UNSW ideas.
I will try to get as many of the questions as I can into the chat. Before I begin today, we are joining you from Gadigal country, and you will be joining us from a range of Indigenous land and sea countries from the continent.
I would like to pay our respect to the people who are the traditional custodians of these lands and the seas. I would like to recognise their continuing connection to country and the deep knowledge that abides in those connections.
I would like to pay my respects to Elders, past and present, and to expand — extend that to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people that may be joining us today. In January, we watched helplessly as a — as Australia burned and a billion vertebrate animals have been killed.
Time will tenuously be third mass bleaching event in five years was beginning in the Great Barrier Reef. It was clear to those on all sides of politics that Australia needed immediate climate action. But by March this year the COVID-19 crisis had overwhelmed us and there is no sign of a quick escape from the pandemic and its impact.
It has made it almost impossible to talk about anything else. The imperatives of climate change have not gone away. How do we restart the conversation? Do we need to change the way that we talk about climate change and the environment so that what we say has more effect? How do we move from talk to action? To help us answer these questions, we are joined by scientists and authors.
Tim Flannery, Adriana Vergés and Rebecca Huntley. These are three people for whom climate change is at the very forefront of their work and their lives. They tackle the need to talk about climate change from very different angles.
Let me introduce them. Scientist and writer, Tim Flannery is one of the most widely known committee is about climate change and sustainability. He is a palaeontologist who was described — who has described more than 30 species.
He has combined his scientific career with a substantial track record as a public scientist at a prolific writer. His latest book is due out this November. As a distinguished alumnus of UNSW, we are particularly delighted to have him with us tonight.
Our second speaker, Rebecca Huntley, is a social researcher writer and broadcaster. She is an expert on social trends. She is an author of books on food, politics and education. As a social researcher, Rebecca has a unique insight into how Australians think, feel, vote, and behave.
Her most recent book is ‘How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference’. It is a fascinating account of how we need to understand human responses to climate change in order to create effective and collective action.
1/3 panellist this evening, Adriana Vergés, is an associate Professor in marine biology. She leads a group here at UNSW that focuses on the ecological impact of climate change and the conservation of the world’s algal forests and seagrass meadows.
She has published scientific studies but it also passionate about communicating size to the wider public by the media. She was awarded the inaugural UNSW thought leader prize in 2019. Thank you for joining us.
I want to open up this conversation with a question about your thoughts on how we communicate on the environment. I will start with Rebecca. Rebecca, your new book , ‘How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference’, looks at how we should be talking about climate change, but how we should be doing it if we want to reach people and inspire change.
So what needs to be transformed? What needs to change about what we’re up to? What have we been doing wrong? >>I could be very cheeky in a group of scientists and say that we need scientists to stop talking about climate change.
Keep researching it, and get better at talking about it. We need every other person in every other profession to talk about climate change. That is because we are at a point in Australia and in many other countries where the majority of people agree with the scientific consensus and they do not challenge it.
They agree that it is a genuine threat but in all the research that I do, there’s a real sense that the climate crisis connects with our life. What that allows politicians to do is say that they will do something about climate change, but it is so much more important to do something about the cost of energy.
Or help. What the future of your children. They are able to push climate change to the far regions of their policy priorities. They can make it as if it cannot be separated. Connection is critical. That means that we need to have people in all kinds of connections at all kinds of understandings of science in all parts of life talking about how that connection exists today.
You think the increasing frequency of emergency states associated with climate change is helping this communication? Is it making those links clearer? >>To some people, yes. But you other people, no.
That is why it is critical to understand how different sorts of people respond emotionally to the language about climate change. I saw this with real sadness and frustration as I talked to people after the fires that we had over the summer.
For those people who were already concerned about the climate, they either became more concerned and it did move people who were already concerned, and it did move and create a sense of urgency amongst people that thought that climate change was important.
Time after time, I saw people that said, “, It is about climate change? Or is it about environmentalists feel — fuel loads? They resisted the connection not just because some parts of the media were very disingenuous in terms of how they reported it.
We do not have as many much political leadership as we needed, but you see those connections and you see them as what had been predicted for a long time, it is such a confronting thing for people. It is chickens coming home to roost, and for people resisting that already, they also have a complete lack of trust in our leaders to manage this crisis, then it is already often hard to confront that head on.
These are really important point. They are quite challenging as well, especially for scientists. I will move to Adriana, who is a scientist. One of the aspects of your work has been your intent all the way through and your scientific research to communicate.
You communicate while you are doing research. What have you learnt about what works in terms of engagement around climate issues? >>Yes, because I work it on ecology and conservation on the water forests and seagrass meadows, very early on in my career I realised that people did not care about this sort of habitat.
People care about coral and dolphins and whales, but when you are trying to protect things like seaweed forests, there is a fundamental problem that is that people do not know that they are important.
My goal is to try to conserve them, so I realised that I need to prioritise science communication. Over the years, the two things that I think have worked most effectively have been focusing on solutions and engaging with emotions.
The thing about solutions is that anybody that works as an ecologist, we are constantly faced with so many stories of environmental degradation and major problems, right? But we are also developing solutions.
I think we are particularly bad at communicating those solutions. This is a problem. People cannot get empowered and inspired when they are bombarded by stories of things getting worse. In my own work, I work on climate change and I also do a lot of restoration work, the restoration work is very positive.
It is about fixing a problem. It is about fixing and rewording the Sydney coastline because we have improved water quality to a major degree. This is the problem that occurred. They used to be huge storage problems.
We fixed the problem with a major engineering feat and the water quality was not so good but now it is so good that we can restore the coastline and bring back the underwater forest that used to be thereby disappeared.
I choose that project to raise awareness about the importance of seaweed forests. I do not talk about my climate change research that shows that they are disappearing so fast. I think people are already worried about the loss of coral and another thing is to engage them about the seaweed forests if I tell them if it is not in the corals it is also kelp.
There is a point where people cannot engage. Focusing on solutions and actually doing science that has solutions , but engaging with emotions and to do that collaborate with artists. A lot of my outreach involves working with two men artists — two main artists, and we had a big scale work with sculptures by the sea and other exhibitions.
Events that interconnect people with nature. We raise awareness that way through getting people to feel something. If I tell you that we have already experienced one degree of warming and we are losing 90% of our giant kelp forest, I do not think that that sticks.
But if you can create artwork that makes people feel something about that, that will stay with them I think. >>So connecting them to what they might know. >>Exactly. >>We sometimes forget what we had in the past, and we thought that was mad.
We forget the stinking Sydney Harbour and the terrible pollution problems that we had in the 70s. We did a survey and we ask Sydneysiders if the water quality was getting better or worse, this was in connection with an artwork.
60% of people thought that it was getting worse. Instead, there has been a dramatic improvement and we have been so bad at making some noise about fixing this major problem. I find that when people hear about these positive stories and when we give them the opportunity to be part of that, they respond positively.
Tim, you have been telling stories about climate change for a long time. I not saying anything about how old you are, but I can remember hearing some of the early things and one of the first to focus on climate was 2005.
You have been talking about this topic for a long time. How is what you are speaking about at the way that you are speaking about it in the climate communications changed over that period? >>Well, things have changed simply because the climate science itself has moved on.
I think when I started on this journey in the late 1990s and early 2000, for a lot of people climate change was a theoretical something. They had not necessarily experienced and impact of it in our lives.
Whereas today, you go out to regional Australia and particularly to farmers and people in regional communities, and they have lived experience of climate change. That is both useful in terms of allowing people to understand more what this enormous change is about.
But it also has an impact that is catastrophic. The solution is often difficult. That is how it has changed for me. It has gone from a theoretical culture to a lived experience. I am quite concerned about the impact on the mental state for many people, particularly younger people who see this despair As Adri and says, – – A d ria na , I’m trying to turn to optimistic solutions, we have made a mess, but we can fix a.
That sense of optimism, opportunity, to entrepreneurialism , is becoming a central theme. >> That has helped, if we look at how substantial our effect is on the planet, we know how positive it can be if we spin it around? >>Yes, we have created it, we should be able to thrive on it.
One of your first books that I read, ‘The Future Eaters’ was about transforming ecosystems, when we started burning carbon . >>People don’t realise just influence or as a species we have been over tens of thousands of years.
While we are chatting, please submit any questions for our panellists via YouTube, Twitter. One of the fascinating things that comes from Rebecca’s conversation is bringing a motion into this debate.
Now that climate science has been proven, we need to start being emotional, silence is not the answer, people are the answer. Adri ana , how hard is this the most scientist? How hard is it for them to step out of the framework that they have been brought up in, trained and, that is one that says ” remove emotion from your work”, how do we get more people stepping out and talking? >>We are trained, data, facts, statistics .
The way I have done it in terms of connecting with emotions , collaborating with artists , filmmakers, any kind of art works. >>You let them do some of the talking? >> Yes, Orioles for their interpretation of the facts — I ask for .
With marine ecology, it is also about bringing it from the water, above water for people to see. How can people care about something when they don’t know what it looks like? I put a lot of effort into filming what we do, showing that a photograph is worth more than 1000 words.
Every graph can also be shown with a photograph, video, and that is more compelling . >>And more beautiful. Rebecca, this was one of your statements? >> Yes, I’m not saying that science departments should be defunded.
The current federal government has gone some way to doing that in the recent past. I’m not saying that at all, what I am saying that, the science in of itself only gets us part of the way. The larger question, this is where all kinds of people outside science and every profession needs to stand up, tell story, make connections, for a long time, climate scientists like Tim have been doing the heavy lifting in terms of communications .
We need multiple voices, we need so many voices in our society that the politicians who are getting in the way of progress can no longer ignore them. They are quite good at ignoring scientists, been doing a bit more about Jerry COVID-19, but they are quite good at ignoring academics, but they can’t ignore people from finance, insurance, farmers, faith leaders, if we all speak out in support of what the science is telling us, what the solutions can provide us.
And that is another spin on it, rather than everyone coming emotional, it is about seeking out and evidence based to communicate what is happening, in ways that have meaning to other people? >>Yes, making that media connection.
And speaking to multiple audiences . One of the striking things in climate opinion research is one of the big distinguishes about whether you believe it is real, how urgent you think it is, is your education status.
And, in terms of trusted messages, the more educated you are, aligned you are, the more you do listen to academics, climate scientist. If you are disengaged from that issue, cautious about it, you want to hear about it more from your friends, family, people in your local community.
It is not about saying ” get rid of science, get rid of scientists talk about it,” it is about needing a army of communicators. I am outnumbered on this panel by scientist. (Laughs) >>It is great to have this perspective.
You mentioned the pandemic, I started by saying that it has made it different. Difficult to do about anything else. It also has some silver linings in the way that behaviour has changed quickly, we have shown collective action is powerful, and we have had scientists of their getting national television every day, all of the epidemiologists have popped out of that labs, they are front-page news.
Tim, you are writing a book about this, what can we learn from the crisis? How can we emerge stronger on the climate? >>Emma, I think the greatest thing it has shown, COVID-19, is that the politically, economically impossible is possible when you need to do a.
That is a very valuable lesson. So don’t believe people who say “No, can’t be done “. It also shows us that the way you deal with an emergency is pretty structured, whether it is a climate emergency, or a pandemic , the same steps need to be followed.
The first step is to stop the increase of the problem. To bring in social isolation, the chain of infections slow down. For climate change, it is about cutting emissions, the first essential step . Short, sharp and hard, but possible.
Then, you need an emergency room to deal with all of the casualties, we are quite far in both of these crises. That means, for coded — COVID-19 having sufficient staff, P PE , etc., for climate change, it is about what are the appropriate policies , to minimise damage what will the damage be? Do we have enough capacity in emergency services to deal with heat waves, fires .
The most difficult bit is to search for a vaccine. With COVID-19, that search is going to cost liens of dollars , take billions of years , for climate change, the vaccine is not going to be about brought down, but about getting some of the gas out of the air, looking after ALP Forest, — ALP forests — our forrse sts.
It is a project that will take billions of years. But, without it, we will trigger Tipping Point’s that will drive the problem into more dangerous territory. >>So, we are a stay for lockdown for emissions , straight away? >> Exactly.
There are a few present from the audience. The first one, ” despite the recent bushfires, Australia still has the third highest rate of climate denial in the world, how can you convince these people? ” >>It is interesting, most surveys would climate denial in the community at 10% or less .
There is probably about another 10% of what I would call ‘denier light’ , not full fat deniers , they are people that are doubtful , so doubtful that they are the only difference in my research I have found, between someone who is genuine in doubting , is they still believe the CS RAO C S IR O is real.
I don’t think that the percentage of people that are deniers is a problem, the percentage of people that are deniers in the Parliament are a problem. The percentage of people in the media that pretend that they are speaking for a much larger percentage of the population, that is the problem.
Or those people in power are doing, they are amplifying the sense that denial is bigger in the community, that it is a legitimate position to hold, that it puts, particularly journalists and media organisations , in this bizarre situation where they think they have a denier and date climate — a climate scientist on a panel, and that is balanced.
I don’t think we will do much about the percentage of deniers in the community, if you convince them about the need to move to clean energy, have clean air, water, you do not need to convince them on the climate science.
But, we cannot have climate deniers in the Parliament. It is an absolute dereliction of their duty to the community to believe in climate science and say that they represent the Australian community. The question leads to the role of news Corp and Rupert Murdoch , the media empire, why is it that Australia and the United States are two areas where we have larger percentages of climate deniers, I will live up other people to comment on.
(Laughs) I will stop speaking now. >>Adriana. ? >> I don’t know if I can talk on that, he is taking over the world. (Laughs) I am originally from Spain, it is a very different conversation we are having, it is surprising to see how different it is socially.
What you just said makes sense to me. People are not my specialty. >>Tim? >>If you look at the coalmining lobby, it has been so central to Australian economic life is a long, so powerful, so deeply embedded, that along with this frontier mentality, use what is there, move on , has led to this toxic mix.
I think the way to defuse it is respect for listening, I have probably spoken to tens of thousands of Australians in groups about climate change, the guy who gets up and screams are you saying that what you are saying is a load of rubbish, it is not me that puts him down, it is his friends.
Having a respectful dialogue with people, so they know they are being heard, is very important. >>That is one-on-one conversations, but countering the general media platform, the strongest arguments now the economic arguments, that it makes powerful economic sense, good sense for jobs and well-being, to enact really rapid carbon emission reductions, we have the technology, the insurance predictions that everything will be problematic if we don’t do it? >> It is true, we have the tools that we need.
We know that. The transformation of the electricity city — system itself in Australia is a Collex job. The government needs to set targets to say that we will not be burning fossil fuels five, 10 years from now.
Would be complicated, costly, but we can do a. When we get onto industrial heat, processes, it is also complex, it is not can be cost free, it will be difficult, but we know we have to do a. Is about setting the targets.
The parliament are right, they have to set the targets, . >> Even the most ambitious people in the private sphere, whether they be investors, captors leaders of industry, there are only so many people we can push, if there is not certainty around climate, agreement between states and the federal government.
There is only so much we can do . There is a lot they can do. That policy setting, that government leadership is absolutely critical . >>We will need people trained in chemical and physical science to solve some of this problem that we will face when we transition to big energy systems.
That means that we need the federal government to fund universities of all kinds of research to be able to provide those solutions. >>Universities are facing a financial crisis at the moment and that will have an impact on our capacity to provide research programs.
Along with investment in societal transformation, we will need a substantial targeted investment in these areas and some of these are STEM areas. We have another question which is a personal one. It is: what can we do in our everyday lives that will have the most impact to reduce climate change and how can we set an example for others to follow? I would like to fail — follow the focus on the second part, does it affect change to do these things? >>This is the most commonly asked question.
Is it? >>It is the most commonly asked question and the most difficult for me, in a way, because I want people to do things in their personal lives that will make a difference. The fossil fuel industry is never happier than when the spotlight drifts from it to something else.
When the spotlight drifts onto what can I do, the fossil fuel industries are happy. In some ways it is really important to develop a sense of community leadership. Join a group, get involved politically, do something where you can amplify your voice along with other people.
But let us not pretend that the solutions are all with individual actions. The problem has been created by the fossil fuel industry. That is where we need to focus relentlessly with the estate for lockdown, to get those emissions down.
— Stage IV lockdown. >>A lot of that has changed with COVID-19, but we have not seen a huge reduction in emissions. A lot of people are not driving around, there is less activity, and the emissions were dropping substantially for a month in April globally, but they are bouncing up relatively quickly.
One of the things that I explore in the book, look at various emotions in the book at a look at this notion at guilt and shame. One of the understandable tax that the movement took was around individual behaviour.
This is not to say that individuals behaving collectively in the same way doesn’t have an impact, but it also means that what it does is it produces — reduces the complexity of climate change about whether or not you decide to change must — decide to drive to work today.
If it is rainy, you do not want to take your kids to school on a bicycle. What it does is it puts the impetus on the impetus on the individual. It leads to this sort of sense of guilt, shame and these are not productive.
You are right, the fossil fuel industry is going great, everyone is worried about taking keep cups to work and whether or not they recycle. There are political and systemic issues that are mostly at stake here.
If I could say to Sandra, the first thing that you need to do is vote. You needed to vote with claimant as a major issue and tell parliamentarians and get them scared that that is why you are voting. You can do things through your superannuation and your investments and through what you do with where you decide to invest your money, but really, collective action, political action and systemic change is what it is going to take and as much as individual action is important, I do not want people to think that climate change is something just for them to solve through what they do in their home environment.
It is not going to be the main way that we will do this. >>What about the positive aspects of creating social norms that are cognisant of environment as an important thing and is a real thing that can be exhausted? >>What I was going to say about this, and I fully agree that it is obviously not an individual action that is going to change and really improve things, however, I do not know if you have seen the show on the ABC, it is called Fight for Planet Earth and there was a presenter that presented a show on the wall and waste.
— The war on waste. There was a lot of change that resulted from this television show and what he was saying is that maybe it does not come from the top down, all of these individual actions might be what is going to create a vision that is going to happen at the top.
It is not that meeting less meat is going to really be that big of a difference, but it is about all of us putting pressure on the elected members. >>I think we could agree that the problem is so pressing that we needed to everything at it.
I am not saying that people do not stop being a Pascoe Terrien do not stop cycling, but if we continue to make the pathway to solving climate change about what I can do as an individual, then that is the problem.
It cannot be solely about that. Tim? >>I wanted to tell a story. A few years ago I was up in coal country in Queensland, giving a talk on climate change. There were a few hundred people, there was a large man there and I could see the coal in his skin.
We gave the 15 minute talk and he had his hand up straight away. He was a big mostly bloke. He said to me that he is to be a farmer. I could see that climate change led to his bankruptcy. He had two young daughters, he needed a job, so he took a job in a coal mine.
He asked if I could tell him if he was doing the wrong thing. It nearly broke my heart. There was a man stuck in an economic paradigm where he has no choice. This is what we talk about doing, the right thing, but unless we can change that paradigm, we will not get anywhere.
We need to treat everyone with respect. Everybody from the coal miners right through to the sceptics and others. We need to understand that unless we change our big of you, we will not succeed. >>And it is for the younger people that we are trying to succeed.
It is for the people that are going to be around dealing with climate change for a lot longer than anyone on this panel. We have some pre-recorded questions from primary school to — primary school students and I will throw to one of those.
I am Hannah and I go to Alexander community school. My question is how can communities use practical and affordable techniques to carbon fighting and to combat climate change? >>I would change that to Tim.
I spent year try to answer that question myself. What is so wonderful about it is we have got some very practical ways of doing that, Hannah. If you plant a tree and watch it grow, you can basically see the amount of carbon that it is growing out of the atmosphere to build its tissues, because trees are really kind of congealed carbon dioxide.
That is what they end up being. That is one way that we can do it. We can plant trees and look after our vegetation, there are so many other ways as well. A good plan seaweed. That helps to do the same thing.
We can use rocks. There are recent studies to show that if we took all of the shavings of rocks from around the world and put them on agricultural fields, they would draw down about two gigatons of CO2 out of the atmosphere every year.
We can use biochar. You can take the plant and incorporate waste and turn it into mineral charcoal and then that becomes carbon in the soil for a long time. There are these community things that we can do, but as industries, we could do a hell of a lot better.
That is a great answer. Adriana, I know that you plant seaweed yourself. What are you doing there? >>We are planting this species of seaweed. We work with schools a lie. We invite — work with schools a lot.
We will look at a forest get involved in learning more about the importance of seaweed. They are photosynthetic organisms and they take carbon out of the atmosphere just like trees do. They can store it by all of the seaweed that ends up in the deep ocean.
A lot of that carbon gets sequestered for thousands of years. Seagrass meadows are even more important than that. They are more effective at sequestering carbon than terrestrial forest. Getting involved in these hands-on restorations is definitely something that local people in Sydney can do.
And many people are getting involved in restoration projects or voluntary tourism or citizen sites. There are all sorts of names of people getting engaged in the local environment and actively restoring them.
Do we know if that is a mechanism by which people’s minds and hearts I changed or their understanding of the world and the climate is changing? — Are changed. >>My understanding is yes. Things that connect people with nature.
They help you to motivate you and to take action to protect the world. >>Absolutely. I think what so many studies have shown that look at things like whether that be community solar or some kind of environmental restoration project is that if different stakeholders in the community come together to do that, and perhaps motivated by different things, that there is a sense of ownership and connection.
The other thing that is really fascinating as well is the extent to which that kind of activity, especially that interaction with the local environment and an education about what climate change might be doing to that, can really shift people that were previously quite resistant to the climate message.
But it needs to be local. There is an SO much that seeing a pole about on a melting ice Can do if you are living in Queensland. That personal interaction at the education that comes from that any sense of connection to your day-to-day life is critical for changing lives.
We have a related question from the audience, and this is along with engaging with emotions, do we need to recognise that humans resist bad news at a deep psychological level? Do we need to be more strategic? This is again about how do we change minds.
I mean look, I have struggled with this a lot. I went into the book without statement that you always need to be positive. The problem with that, and I am not saying that there needs to be a role for Hope and optimism, unless we get a sense of what can be lost, what has already been lost, and what is at risk, then we will not motivate people.
Now, do we need to endlessly tell people about an apocalyptic future that is around the corner weight will all be — where everything will be destroyed. No. People will engage with darkness and challenge if you give them some solutions and you give them some power to deal with it.
I think it needs to be a real balance of light and dark, loss and again, in talking to all sorts of communities, where they are on the spectrum of climate change, about what needs to happen. >>I felt that we were getting to that point at the end of the bushfire season this year.
That catastrophic unprecedented bushfire season where we lost so much of donated — native vegetation. I thought that we were getting to a tipping point in public opinion. But it seems to have disappeared.
I am not sure about that, Emma. I think that feeling is still there. I remember back in last summer, the months of a breathable air. The issue that people had without. The hundreds of people that died from that.
If you go into the south coast of New South Wales, you will see that there are communities that are still being catastrophically impacted and will be for years. Those homes will not be rebuilt for years.
Most Leicester businesses and the thriving communities — much less the businesses. That is a lived experience for many Australians and sure, COVID-19 has come along and is dominating the news, dominating a lot of people thinking, but I do think that the drumbeat of climate change is still there.
Once we have breathing space to think about it again, I think it will just rise, to be honest. >>One of the things in their research that I’m doing is a renewed sense Can you imagine can you imagine the air quality of the fires, overlapping lockdown? Almost unbearable.
We need to take into mind, the idea that taking a dog out during lockdown is more important than ever before , the renewed importance of protecting the outdoor space, environments, whatever that is. I think that is the real opportunity now .
And those beautiful these guys that we are getting — blue skies . ” There is a discourse on what really triggered climate change, economic growth is considered as an aggregating factor ? ” ” Does it matter? Doesn’t matter what is triggering climate change? >> It absolutely matters.
Unless we know that a virus is causing the pandemic, we are helpless to act. We know what is causing climate change, the burning of fossil fuels. Until recently, the fossil fuels have been the engine room of our economy.
So it is an economic trigger? >>Yes. The cheapest form of energy generated over much of the world now, is wind and solar. You can start solving the problem . But we have to recognise what the problem is, fossil fuels, the burning of fossil fuels.
And now, economic inertia . >>The difference is that we do know what causes climate change , we know how to get out of here, we have the science that can get us out of here , we obviously still don’t with COVID-19 .
That makes me feel somewhat better. (Laughs) Let’s go to another question, a pre-recorded one from a school student. This one, I have to warn you, is quite futuristic . >> Hello, I’m from Alex Park, what creature will rain Sabrina after – – s upreme after humans are knocked off? >> The Kardashian’s? (Laughs) >> There are winners and losers , nature will keep evolving, the biggest losers here are us .
We are self-destructing, in the trajectory we are going on . Humans will disappear, . Definitely, bacteria will be part of the winners . In the marine environment, jellyfish tend to dominate when things get bad.
Would you think, Tim? >>I do not think we are in control at the moment . We are like a pimple on a mound of metabolic activity. The bacteria will be here after we go . >>I hope that answers your question, the world will be full of microbes, a diversity of them .
A kind of question that somewhat relates to that a little bit, triggered by that, “how do we deal with climate anxiety ? ” , You people are thinking about what happens when humans die off . make young people .
How do we help people work through that? >>A lot of mental health professionals and associations from around the world have developed some very effective guides , support groups for dealing with climate anxiety .
A lot of the studies show that the best antidote is action, collective action , trying to find a group of like-minded people , who have decided just to try and do something ,. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have anxious moments, moments of anger, frustration, but they are shared, they are channelled into a goal.
For me, my climate anxiety if s offset by work on climate change . I think one of the other things, this question gets asked a lot, in combination with the question of what one can do, I often say that you don’t have to become somewhat different, do something different, it doesn’t really matter what you do, there is a climate angle, take your thoughts about climate change, if you are an accountant, a pharmacist, if you have a job or not, there is some way to bring action on climate in the environment and fold that into the life that you already leave.
If you have anxiety, the last thing we need is more meetings to go to, you can find a way to put a climate lens over the world that you live in. >>I’m sure everyone needs another Sermon meeting – – Zo om .
C hr ist ian F i gu i e ra s was here earlier in the year, one of her key strategies in the book was stubborn optimism, she says ” have you ever heard of anything achieved, starting with defeatism?” So this is about psychologically dealing with climate change.
I would like to give you each a bit of time to tell us how you find optimism, what gives you hope, I would like to start with Tim. >>Christiana is one of those heroes of climate science . I’ve worked with her for a long time.
She made a very important point in the book, for most of her career, in international negotiations, it has been a win, lose, set of circumstances. That was gonna go nowhere. We are now in a world of wind, wind possibilities.
— win-win. Clean energy has come down in price so much, we can have affluence based on clean energy . That to me, is my sense of optimism. There is also these wonderful young people, they know how to fix and electricity system, they will give it a go.
The energy they have, sweeping away the cobwebs and old thinking, being ready to fix things. That is tremendous. Those are my two sources of optimism, and my family, doing a few things they give me a sense of achievement – it might be just putting some native plants in instead of weeds, helping people, that someone who gives you an immediate sense , when you work in the climate area, it is such a long day, you need some ‘jollies ‘.
Reading that next book of yours will give you some inspiration. >> Mine comes from nature, spending time in nature, helping people connect with nature in general , as part of my job. Whenever I do that, I can see it really works .
I can see there is a growth of citizen interest, people are really thirsty for a stronger, deeper, connection , with outcomes … It follows that you want protected. >>Is it also the science of working on solutions? Is that a part of it? >>Absolutely.
Due notice — do you notice other scientists moving into that place ? Working on solutions, interventions? >> For a long time, scientists became very good at documenting better and better and better, all this horrible degradation, I’m now seeing a shift towards fixing those problems , stop with documenting .
That will be part of the solution. >> And Rebecca? >> I feel I have a moral and ethical obligation to be optimistic. I have three children , I don’t think I can say to them ” oh, look, it was too difficult, let’s build a bunker and stock up on canned goods.
” I have to be optimistic. I brought them into the world, and I want them to grow up in a livable world. A look for sources of what a talk about in the book, resolute hope, sceptical optimism, not to say that we will all be fine and we will invent something.
I hope and an optimism based on an understanding of the challenges that we already face, the ones ahead,. Having spent 15 years encountering humans in all of their complexity , I generally think that we are up to the challenge if we have got the right leadership.
What I also do, what I find hopeful and optimistic, when I meet people who are unlikely converts to the climate because , they don’t look like environmentalists , but suddenly something clicked in them, they are doing something extraordinary in climate change, they might be someone who has been working in fossil fuels for 20 years, a coalminer , a farmer from four generations of National party voters, suddenly a passionate environmentalist, even myself, if you told me three years ago that climate change will be my thing that I would focus on, I would say “no way, I like to wear high heels, I’m not interested in composting.
..” But it worked for me, and it can work for other people. I am optimistic when I meet other people on the journey, and I have moral, ethical obligation to be optimistic as a mother, as someone who loves this country, this community, wants to make sure we don’t have horrible push fires for the rest of my children’s life.
A wonderful story, . I get a lot of hope and optimism from working with scientists. When you have vast array of them, they are all working on something exciting, at the cutting edge of discovery.
Many of them are turning to climate challenges , because they are seeing it as the number one problem for the globe, asking what they can do, they could be developing new ways of transmitting electricity that could be more efficient, or how to recycle materials so that we certainly don’t need to make a huge theatre out of new products , we can recycle them.
There is also some work giving me hope. Another thing that gives me hope is that in the past we have gathered together and agreed to make compromises , to change products, change economics in order to save ourselves.
Adriana, that brings us back to one of your stories, the environmental production agency, improving water quality, aspirational is swimming . A positive and e nd , I would like to thank Rebecca, Tim, and A d rian a , for your insight this evening , everyone who asked a question, I’m sure if you have further questions, the three of them here would love to take them.
Because they are communicating regularly , you can also look at the works they have made, books they have written, films I have made, . Thank you for tuning in to caps on , there are many McNew events coming up across the nation , to hear more about our UNSW events, please subscribe to the newsletter.
I wish you all a good night.