Rural pollies climate change sceptics

Exploratory research conducted by La Trobe University’s Faculty of Health Sciences at Albury-Wodonga Campus has found that rural politicians’ responses to climate change are more shaped by political considerations than concrete knowledge. Indeed, their comprehension of the issues regarding climate change was found to be generally weak.

green-pollieFive of the eleven Victorian and NSW politicians were uncertain of the human role in climate change, suggesting there is a higher level of scepticism among politicians than the 80% of the Australian public who believe climate change is at least partly human-induced. Three of the politicians also questioned the existence of climate change altogether.

‘While scientific consensus on the existence and human cause of climate change is high the politicians I interviewed didn’t realise this,’ said postgraduate researcher Lizette Willinck.

‘One of them even said he thought politicians were ten years behind the community in terms of their attitudes.’

Over half of politicians contacted had difficulty regarding climate change as a neutral scientific issue because they negatively associated it with groups they felt antagonism towards such as their political opponents, environmentalists, doomsayers and fundamentalist religions. Other factors influencing their beliefs about climate change included political affiliation, the beliefs of the groups they identified with, their values and future orientation as well as their information sources.

‘It might be assumed that politicians would be quite well informed about climate change but many didn’t have the time or inclination to read scientific reports, preferring to rely on hearsay and the popular media for their information on climate change. Four of them had not heard of climate change ‘’tipping points’’, suggesting they did not understand that climate change has the potential to accelerate of its own accord if not addressed urgently’, said Ms Willinck.

Director of Health Sciences at the Albury-Wodonga Campus, Dr Guinever Threlkeld who supervised the research said the study expands our understanding of decision-making in the critical domain of climate change policy.

‘The implication of these findings is that politicians may be making decisions on climate change that are not based on the best scientific evidence,’ said Dr Threlkeld.

Although the research is based on a small number of respondents it appears to be the only study of its type and suggests that climate change has been politicised before being fully understood. The interviews were conducted in October and November 2008 and those interviewed included five National Party politicians, three  ALP members, one Liberal Party member and a further two described as ‘others’ The findings point to the importance of further research on the topic.

Lizette Willinck
Phone: 02 60 59 4185