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The Changing Frames of Climate Change

How has the evolving narrative of climate change affected public perceptions?

The openness of Australian policymakers to talk about climate change in a constructive manner will affect the future development of successful adaptation policy according to analysis by PhD candidate, Lisette Collins.

Collins, who’s an associate of the Sydney Environment Institute, will share her research into climate change adaptation policy at the local government level at the panel event, ‘How to talk about climate change without talking about climate change’, on Wednesday 13 April.

Collins, who has just recently submitted her PhD, has compiled the first ever database of climate change adaptation plans (CCAPS) developed by local councils across Australia. Her research reveals vast gaps in the level of detail between plans, with some councils only accounting for physical risks like extreme weather events while omitting other socio-economic impacts, such as how climate change will affect the homeless and elderly.

“’Climate change’ is a highly politicised term in Australia and one of the most ubiquitous terms of the 21st century. It has been questioned, co-opted, pleaded, adopted, misunderstood, misrepresented, and denigrated at varying times by politicians, the media, academics, scientists, and the public,” she said.

A number of adaptation plans have been developed with little fanfare due to the politics of climate change in Australia, according to Collins. She believes it is no coincidence that most Australians don’t know what a climate change adaptation plan is or whether their local council has one.

“Our inability to be able to talk openly about climate change in a rational and constructive way has negative implications for the development of successful adaptation policy in the future.”

Collins joins award-winning journalist Dr Maria Taylor and host Tina Perinotto, Publisher and Editor from The Fifth Estate, for a discussion that will uncover how the public’s perceptions of ‘climate change’ have been affected by the reframing of the public narrative by policymakers and other stakeholders.

People are very short-term in their understanding and very dependent on leadership and media for what they believe to be reality, according to Taylor.

Taylor’s multi-disciplinary investigation of the public record and the input of science, politics, economics, journalism and contemporary mass media has revealed for the first time how and why Australia buried a once good understanding of global warming and climate change to arrive after 25 years at the confusion and stalemate we are still in today.

“Australia’s path from the late 1980s to the present has seen both governments and media change the national story about climate change (once known as the Greenhouse Effect) from a good understanding of risk to everyone in society, and urgency to act to a story about cost and that action is against the national interest and jobs. How was this done? Through propaganda techniques basically, telling a story of denial and uncertainty about the science to keep people quiet and divided,” she said.

“Also unlike in the late 1980s and early 1990s, those who wanted climate change action were increasingly painted as not one of ‘us’, that is the mainstream concerned about the economy and jobs. It became the economy versus the greenies.”

The panel is co-presented by the Sydney Environment Institute and Sydney Ideas at the University of Sydney.

Event details

What: How to talk about climate change without talking about climate change’, panel
When: Wednesday 13 April, 6.00 to 7.30pm
Where: Law School Foyer, Level 2, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney
Cost: Free, registration requested

Article by Rebecca Simpson