There are three types of climate change denier, and most of us are at least one


Iain Walker, University of Canberra and Zoe Leviston, Edith Cowan University

Last week, amid the cacophony of reactions to Greta Thunberg’s appearance before the United Nations Climate Action Summit, a group of self-proclaimed “prominent scientists” sent a registered letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The letter, headed “There is no climate emergency”, urged Guterres to follow:

…a climate policy based on sound science, realistic economics and genuine concern for those harmed by costly but unnecessary attempts at mitigation.

The group, supported by 75 Australian business and industry figures, along with others around the world, obviously rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. But this missive displays remarkably different tactics to those previously used to stymie climate action.




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The language of climate change denial and inaction has transformed. Outright science denial has been replaced by efforts to reframe climate change as natural, and climate action as unwarranted.

However, this is just another way of rejecting the facts, and their implications for us. Denial can take many forms.

Shades of denial

The twin phenomena of denial and inaction are related to one another, at least in the context of climate change. They are also complex, both in the general sense of “complicated and intricate”, and in the technical psychological sense of “a group of repressed feelings and anxieties which together result in abnormal behaviour”.

In his book States of Denial, the late psychoanalytic sociologist Stanley Cohen described three forms of denial. Although his framework was developed from analysing genocide and other atrocities, it applies just as well to our individual and collective inaction in the face of the overwhelming scientific evidence of human-induced climate change.

The first form of denial is literal denial. It is the simple, conscious, outright rejection that something happened or is happening – that is, lying. One Nation senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts, among others, have at one time or another maintained this position – outright denial that climate change is happening (though Senator Hanson now might accept climate change but denies any human contribution to it).

Interestingly, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday blamed “climate change deniers” in his own government for blocking any attempt to deal with climate change, resulting paradoxically in higher energy prices today.




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It is tempting to attribute outright denial to individual malice or stupidity, and that may occasionally be the case. More worrying and more insidious, though, is the social organisation of literal denial of climate change. There is plenty of evidence of clandestine, orchestrated lying by vested interests in industry. If anyone is looking for a conspiracy in climate change, this is it – not a collusion of thousands of scientists and major science organisations.

The second form of denial is interpretive denial. Here, people do not contest the facts, but interpret them in ways that distort their meaning or importance. For example, one might say climate change is just a natural fluctuation or greenhouse gas accumulation is a consequence, not a cause, of rising temperatures. This is what we saw in last week’s letter to the UN.

The most insidious form of denial

The third and most insidious form is implicatory denial. The facts of climate change are not denied, nor are they interpreted to be something else. What is denied or minimised are the psychological, political, and moral implications of the facts for us. We fail to accept responsibility for responding; we fail to act when the information says we should.

Of course, some are unable to respond, financially or otherwise, but for many, implicatory denial is a kind of dissociation. Ignoring the moral imperative to act is as damning a form of denial as any other, and arguably is much worse.

The treatment of Thunberg, and the vigour with which people push away reminders of that which they would rather not deal with, illustrate implicatory denial. We are almost all guilty, to some extent, of engaging in implicatory denial. In the case of climate change, implicatory denial allows us to use a reusable coffee cup, recycle our plastic or sometimes catch a bus, and thus to pretend to ourselves that we are doing our bit.

Almost none of us individually, or we as a nation, has acted as we ought on the science of climate change. But that does not mean we can’t change how we act in the future. Indeed, there are some recent indications that, as with literal denial, implicatory denial is becoming an increasingly untenable psychological position.

While it is tempting, and even cathartic, to mock the shrill responses to Thunberg from literal and interpretive deniers, we would do well to ponder our own inherent biases and irrational responses to climate change.

For instance, we tend to think we are doing more for the planet than those around us (and we can’t all be right). We also tend to think literal deniers are much more common in our society than they in fact are.




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These are just two examples of common strategies we use to deny our own responsibility and culpability. They make us feel better about what little we actually do, or congratulate us for accepting the science. But they are ultimately self-defeating delusions. Instead of congratulating ourselves on agreeing with the basic scientific facts of climate change, we need to push ourselves to action.The Conversation

Iain Walker, Professor of Psychology, University of Canberra and Zoe Leviston, Postdoctoral research fellow, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Misogyny, male rage and the words men use to describe Greta Thunberg



Greta Thunberg departs after speaking at the youth climate strike in Battery Park, New York.
Peter Foley/EPA

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia and Meg Vertigan, University of Newcastle

Detractors have dismissed Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg – a Nobel Prize nominee – as mentally ill, hysterical and a millennial weirdo after she pleaded with world officials last week to address the climate crisis.

Here, two researchers explain the stereotypical labels deployed by critics to undermine Thunberg’s call to action, which the activist herself has described as “too loud for people to handle”.

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor in Media, University of Notre Dame

Greta Thunberg obviously scares some men silly. The bullying of the teenager by conservative middle-aged men has taken on a grim, almost hysterical edge. And some of them are reaching deep into the misogynist’s playbook to divert focus from her message.

It is not a rhetorical accident that critics of Thunberg, nearly 17, almost always call her a “child”. This infantilisation is invariably accompanied by accusations of emotionality, hysteria, mental disturbance, and an inability to think for herself – stereotypically feminine labels which are traditionally used to silence women’s public speech, and undermine their authority.

In Australia, Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt has called Thunberg “freakishly influential … with many mental disorders”. Sky News commentator Chris Kenny described her as a “hysterical teenager” who needs to be cared for.

Overseas, male commentators have used similar pejorative terms – describing her as a “mentally-ill Swedish child”, unstable and a “millenarian weirdo”. One claimed Thunberg needed a “spanking”; another likened her activism to “medieval witchcraft”.

Obviously these men find Thunberg triggering. But why?

Thunberg attends a Senate climate change taskforce press conference in Washington.
Shawn Thew/EPA



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At a deep level, the language of climate denialism is tied up with a form of masculine identity predicated on modern industrial capitalism – specifically, the Promethean idea of the conquest of nature by man, in a world especially made for men.

By attacking industrial capitalism, and its ethos of politics as usual, Thunberg is not only attacking the core beliefs and world view of certain sorts of men, but also their sense of masculine self-worth. Male rage is their knee-jerk response.

Thunberg did not try to be “nice” when she confronted world leaders at the United Nations last week. She did not defer or smile. She did not attempt to make anybody feel comfortable.

US President Donald Trump tweeted: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” Happiness here aligns itself with conformity, and an unspoken idea that women and children are expected to be docile and complacent.

But in reality, Thunberg is cutting through – rather than displaying – emotionalism. What certain kinds of men do not wish to acknowledge is that asking for action on climate change is entirely rational.




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Meg Vertigan, lecturer in English and writing and academic advisor at the University of Newcastle

As Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN climate summit last week reverberates across the world, claims by critics over her mental state are alarming. Thunberg has described herself as having “Asperger’s”, an autism spectrum disorder, and describes it as her “superpower”.

But politicians and broadcasters appear to have confused the disorder with mental illness – a label used throughout history to label and potentially stigmatise “difficult” women who are told they need bed rest, medication or incarceration. Even today, doctors are more likely to diagnose women than men with depression, even when they present with identical symptoms.

Advocates for people with autism have pointed out the disorder is not linked to mental illness.

Yet commentator Andrew Bolt wrote of Thunberg, “I have never seen a girl so young and with so many mental disorders treated by so many adults as a guru”.

“She seems chronically attracted to apocalyptic visions, to fear,” he wrote, describing her as “chronically anxious and disturbed”.

Thunberg is ‘not the messiah, she is an extremely anxious girl’, Bolt says.

Not-for-profit organisation Beyond Blue defines anxiety as stress or worry which occurs “without any particular reason or cause”. Therefore by diagnosing Thunberg with anxiety, men are pathologising Thunberg’s concern about the environment and dismissing her fears as baseless and the result of mental illness.

History is littered with examples of this. Former Coalition minister George Brandis in 2015 famously called Labor frontbencher Penny Wong “shrill” and “hysterical” after she interjected during his Senate address – implying her comments were due to feminine mental instability.

So too, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested climate change fears were a type of pathology. Following Thunberg’s UN speech he declared that the climate debate subjected children to “needless anxiety” and suggested they needed more “context and perspective” on the issue. “We’ve got to let kids be kids,” he said.

Here, Morrison is implying that Thunberg’s anxiety is somehow contagious. This is offensive to people with anxiety disorders – and offensive to passionate and vocal women.The Conversation

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor in Media, University of Notre Dame Australia and Meg Vertigan, Lecturer in English and Writing/ Academic Advisor, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘We will never forgive you’: youth is not wasted on the young who fight for climate justice



Swedish activist Greta Thunberg joins other children from across the world to present an official human rights complaint on the climate crisis.
Michael Nagle/EPA

Danilo Ignacio de Urzedo, University of Sydney

Last week’s United Nations climate summit may go down in history – but not for the reasons intended. It was not the tipping point for action on global warming that organisers hoped it would be. It will instead probably be remembered for the powerful address by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who castigated world leaders on behalf of the generation set to bear the brunt of inaction.

Young people are not sitting back and waiting for older generations to act on the climate crisis. Days before the summit, school students led a climate strike attended by millions around the world. And at the first ever UN youth climate summit, more than 500 young people from 60 countries, including myself, explored how to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

This group of activists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and change-makers aged between 18 and 30 showcased potential solutions and put global political leaders on notice: they must fight off the climate crisis at the scale and pace required.

A young boy takes part in the global climate strike on September 20 at Parliament Square in London.
Neil Hall/EPA

Youth voices matter

Youth aged 15 to 24 years represent 16% of the world population and will reach 1.3 billion people by 2030. Obviously the action (or otherwise) of today’s decision makers on climate change and other environmental threats will affect generations to come – a principle known as intergenerational equity.

Millions of young people around the world are already affected by climate change. Speaking at the youth summit, Fijian climate action advocate Komal Kumar said her nation was at the frontline of a crisis and worldwide, young people were “living in constant fear and climate anxiety … fearing the future”.




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“Stop hindering the work [towards a sustainable future] for short term profits. Engage young people in the design of adaptation plans,” she said. “We will hold you accountable. And if you do not remember, we will mobilise to vote you out.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attended the event and his deputy Amina Mohammed took part in a “town hall” with the attendees, alongside senior representatives from government and civil society.

Young people are not sitting idly by

Technological solutions presented by youth summit participants included 3D printing using plastic waste, data storage in plant DNA, a weather app for farmers and an accountability platform for sustainable fashion.

Participants learnt how to amplify their voices using Instagram and how to create engaging videos with their mobile phones. An art workshop taught youth how creativity can help solve the climate emergency, and a networking session showed ways that youth leaders to stay connected and support each other.

Greta Thunberg, second from right, speaks as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and young climate activists listen at the start of the United Nations Youth Climate Summit.
Justin Lane/EPA

Elsewhere, you don’t have to look far to see examples of young climate warriors, including in the developing world.

Programs funded by the UN development program include in Kazakhstan where youth are helping implement an energy efficiency project in schools, and in Namibia where young people are being trained as tour guides in national parks and nature reserves. In Nepal, young people cultivate wild Himalayan cherry trees as a natural solution to land degradation.

Harness the power of nature

Kenyan environmental activist Wanjuhi Njoroge told the youth summit of her nation’s progress in restoring the country’s forest cover.

Nature-based solutions to the climate crisis – such as conserving and restoring forests, grasslands and wetlands – were a key focus at the summit. Efforts to meet the Paris climate goals often focus on cutting fossil fuel use. But nature has a huge ability to store carbon as plants grow. Avoiding deforestation keeps this carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Thunberg and British writer George Monbiot released a film ahead on the New York summit calling on world leaders protect, restore and fund natural climate solutions.

A film by Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot calling for more nature-based climate change solutions.

To date, such solutions have received little by way of investments and funding support. For example in 2015, agriculture, forestry and land-use received just 3% of global climate change finance.

Appearing at the youth summit, the global Youth4Nature network told how it mobilises young people to advocate for nature-based solutions. Their strategy has included collecting and sharing youth stories in natural resources management in more than 35 countries.

Youth ‘will be watching’ their leaders

When it comes to climate change, young people have specific demands that must be acknowledged – and offer solutions that other generations cannot.

But globally there is a lack of youth representation in politics, and by extension, they are largely absent from climate change decision-making.




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Some youth summit participants reportedly questioned whether it achieved its aims – including the value of some workshops, why celebrities were involved and whether anything tangible was produced.

A young girl attends the the global climate strike in Brisbane.
Dan Peled/AAP

Certainly, there was little evidence that world leaders at the climate summit were listening to the demands of young people. This was reflected in the failure of the world’s biggest-polluting countries to offer credible emissions reduction commitments.

But the youth summit went some way to granting young people space and visibility in the formal decision-making process.

Pressure from young people for climate action will not subside. Thunberg said it best when she warned world leaders that youth “will be watching you”.

“The eyes of all future generations are upon you,” she said. “If you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you”.The Conversation

Danilo Ignacio de Urzedo, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With 15 other children, Greta Thunberg has filed a UN complaint against 5 countries. Here’s what it’ll achieve


Juliette McIntyre, University of South Australia

Yesterday, climate activist Greta Thunberg joined 15 other children from around the world to submit a complaint – or “communication” – to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. They targeted Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey.

Ranging from nine to 17 years old, and from twelve different nations, the group includes a young Sami reindeer herder, a member of the Indigenous Yupiaq tribe, and teenagers from the Marshall Islands who fear their island home will vanish under rising sea levels.




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Their communication argues these countries are violating the standards set in the Convention of the Rights of the Child – which is run and monitored by the committee.

They allege these countries are:

recklessly causing and perpetuating life-threatening climate change [and] have failed to take necessary preventive and precautionary measures to respect, protect, and fulfill the petitioners’ rights.

In particular, the communication alleges the petitioners’ rights to life, health, and culture have been violated.

But whether or not the petitioners are successful, the mere act of filing the complaint has already brought the matter into the public eye.

Greta Thunberg gives a searing speech to world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit.

So what role does the committee play? And can their claim actually change international climate policy?

Standing up for the rights of the child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an international human rights treaty that concerns the right to protection and the economic, social, cultural and political development of all children.

And it’s the job of the Committee on the Rights of the Child – a group of 18 independent experts – to monitor the worldwide implementation of the convention’s standards.

The convention came into force in 1990 and is “the most rapidly and widely ratified human rights treaty in history”. All the countries of the world bar one – the United States – have ratified the treaty.

The CRC establishes global standards with respect to human rights as they apply to children. In particular, article 3 of the CRC requires:

in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

How the CRC works

The CRC committee has two functions. First, it oversees the implementation of the convention by receiving reports every five years from participating countries outlining the steps taken to fulfil their obligations.




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Information is also gathered from NGOs and other sources to identify areas of concern. For example, Australia’s last report to the committee was submitted in January 2018. It addressed issues such as the offshore detention of child refugees.

The Australian government appeared before the committee on September 9 and 10, and the committee’s recommendations will be received by the end of this week.

But the second, relatively new, function of the committee permits an individual, or group of individuals, submit a communication arguing their rights have been violated. This “Optional Protocol” – adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2011 – is what Greta Thunberg and the 15 other children are using.

Communications may only be made in respect of countries that have ratified the Optional Protocol and, to date, only 45 out of the 196 state parties have done so. Australia, the United States, Great Britain and China are among those countries that have not signed or ratified.

Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey have ratified the Optional Protocol and have also ratified the substantive international legal obligations relating to climate change. As Greta recently tweeted, this is why these particular five countries were selected.

What next?

There are a number of procedural legal hurdles that must be cleared before the committee can address the substance of the issue.

First, it must be determined if the communication is actually admissible, which includes whether the petitioners have exhausted the legal options in their home countries for addressing their concerns.

But while Thunberg and her co-petitioners have not brought any actions in state or federal courts it may be the committee allows the matter to proceed anyway, since taking such action may have been “unreasonably prolonged or unlikely to bring effective relief”.

Second, the committee must rule on jurisdiction, as the obligations of the CRC only apply to each child within a country’s jurisdiction.

Some of the petitioners meet this requirement by virtue of their nationality or residence, but the communication makes a broader claim: any child is within the jurisdiction of a country when its polluting activity impacts the rights of children, within or outside that country’s territory.

This is a very significant claim: essentially, that carbon pollution leading to climate change violates the rights of children worldwide.

Only once these hurdles are cleared will the committee investigate the substance of the complaints, proceed to a hearing, and make recommendations to any country responsible for violation.

Are they likely to succeed?

The success of the claims may seem a foregone conclusion, as the committee is one of five UN human rights treaty bodies to recently issue a joint declaration stating: “climate change poses significant risks to the enjoyment” of human rights. And that climate change is “a children’s rights crisis” seems an inevitable conclusion.

Still, the communication must clear all the legal hurdles set out above.

But even should the committee agree with Thunberg, the options for redress are limited. After the committee transmits its views and recommendations, they’ll follow up six months later to see if its recommendations have been implemented.




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If they haven’t, there’s not much the committee can do to compel a country to take action.

But the committee’s conclusions are not without impact. Its views and recommendations are strong advocacy tools.

Alongside the school strikes, the communication is part of a broad campaign designed to focus political attention on the issue of urgent action on climate change.The Conversation

Juliette McIntyre, Lecturer in Law, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.