1988: coming to grips with a terrifying global experiment
The Toronto conference statement made it clear that climate change would affect everyone. It called greenhouse gas atmospheric pollution an ‘uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to nuclear war’. World governments were urged to swiftly develop emission reduction targets (The changing atmosphere: implications for global security, 1988).
Relevant to both Australian and overseas audiences, here is the untold story of how Australia buried its knowledge on climate change science and response options during the 1990s — going from clarity to confusion and doubt after arguably leading the world in citizen understanding and a political will to act in the late 1980s. ‘What happened and why’ is a fascinating exploration drawing on the public record of how a society revised its good understanding on a critical issue affecting every citizen. It happened through political and media communication, regardless of international scientific assessments that have remained consistent in ascribing causes and risks since 1990. How could this happen? The author examines the major influences, with lessons for the present, on how the story was reframed. Key have been values and beliefs, including economic beliefs, that trumped the science, the ability of changing political leaders and the mass media to set the story for the public, as well as the role of scientists’ own communication over time and the use and misuse of uncertainty.
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