‘Climate of the Nation’ event at Ogilvy House

‘Climate of the Nation’ event at Ogilvy House
August 30, 2013 Kaz Scott

Remember climate change? While the issue might have dropped to the farthest reaches of the political radar, the fact remains that climate change remains and at some stage Australia will have to deal with it.

So this week we rekindled the debate with a ‘Climate of the Nation’ event at Ogilvy House.

With John Connor, the CEO of The Climate Institute, presiding over a panel featuring renowned climate change scientist Dr Graeme Pearman, John Scales, the founder and MD of JWs Research, and Essential Media director Peter Lewis, an 80-strong crowd was informed about the seemingly endless saga of public and political engagement and disengagement in one of mankind’s great challenges.

Lewis said that public support for action on climate change reached its zenith in 2007, when there was bipartisan backing for a price on carbon action, but since that point ‘the number of don’t knows’ in his research climbed from the 10s to the 20s and then to the 30s.

He sheeted the blame for the drop-off in support to the paucity of the government’s explanation of the case for climate change action. Scales agreed, citing the fact the government changed its position on a number of occasions.

Pearman, the Australian Academy of Science fellow, said that ‘science tells us more strongly than ever before’ that there was a risk which needed to be managed. In contrast, public belief in man-made climate change had dropped to just 51 per cent, with 35 per cent putting the changing climate down to the natural weather cycle.

He said he believed people had rejected the science ‘because they don’t want their world view to be challenged’.

When asked by Connor whether the coming Federal Election could be accurately depicted as ‘a referendum on the carbon tax’, all panellists disagreed, with  Lewis saying research showed it was a referendum on the economy and on the Labor government.

You can check the pollute-o-meter below to see how our political parties rank.

Lewis also said polling showed that one of the legacies of the past few years had been a marked drop in support for all civic institutions.

Scales believed that in the aftermath of the coming election climate-concerned organisations like The Climate Institute needed to stop and rethink the way they tried to deliver the message about the urgent need for action. ‘We need a new look, a new way,’ he said, citing problems with inconsistent and fragmented messaging from climate change groups in the past.

Pearman questioned the basis of the much-publicised target of a maximum of 2 degrees warming, saying that would cause severe water shortages and problems with the coastal plains, while the effect of such an increase on other areas of the natural environment were limited.

For Lewis, public demand for action would only be forced by catastrophic climate events over the next decades, while Connor said he believed the push to renewable energy would be led from outside Australia, through countries no longer wanting buy Australian coal.

Yianni Konstantopoulos, the group managing director of Social@Ogilvy, spoke about the potential benefits and possible pitfalls of social media campaigns on such issues.

Climate change, he said, had become a polarising issue. Social media could help to garner support for action but organisations needed to establish just who their supporters were and just what the organisation wanted them to do before enlisting them.

Connors spoke of the Vital Few campaign which The Climate Institute was currently running. With superannuation being such a source of investment wealth, he said there was a fiduciary duty between superannuation trustees and their members which meant that the trustee had to respond to members’ requests for information.

The focus of the campaign was for members to contact their trustee and request information on the fund’s exposure to investments like coal, which, he said, could carry substantial investment risk because of an expected drop-off in demand through international action to combat climate change. Through that, the Institute hope to pressure superannuation funds to no longer invest in such companies.

Ogilvy Public Relations is a supporter of The Climate Institute.