If 80% of Australians care about climate action, why don’t they vote like it?


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Rebecca Colvin, Australian National University and Frank Jotzo, Australian National UniversityPoll after poll suggests a large majority of Australians cares about climate change. Yet in recent federal elections, this hasn’t translated into wins for parties with stronger policy platforms on climate change.

So what determines someone’s climate change attitude, and how does it translate into voting?

In research published today, we studied 2,033 Australian voters’ attitudes across the political spectrum in the context of the 2019 federal election. And we found over 80% said they think it’s important Australia reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This includes close to 70% of conservative voters (those voting for Coalition parties).

However, digging deeper reveals nuance to these attitudes. While most Australians support climate action, stark differences emerge along political party preferences in terms of how important voters think it is.

Our research suggests the question about social support for climate action in Australia is no longer: “does climate change matter to enough Australians?”. Instead, the critical question may well be: “does climate change matter enough to Australians to shift climate politics?”.

Why the ‘climate election’ didn’t pan out

We conducted our survey in July 2019, two months after the Coalition won the federal election. Its victory came as a surprise to many, as the election was sometimes billed the “climate election”, implying climate change was a bellwether issue.

The climate policies of the two major parties were night and day, with the Labor Party campaigning on ambitious mitigation targets and the incumbent Coalition maintaining the status quo of very limited climate policy.

So what were the voters thinking?

We found about half of Australian voters (52%) said climate change was important when deciding their vote in the 2019 Australian federal election. However, climate was the most important issue for only 14% of voters.

Even among those who said they felt it was extremely important for Australia to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, most (58%) said climate change was important, but not the most important issue, when deciding their vote.




Read more:
Australia’s major parties’ climate policies side-by-side


Climate change was stated as the most important issue for 21% of Labor voters and 39% of Greens voters, but for less than 5% of Liberal Party, National Party, and Queensland LNP voters.

This pattern was reversed for those who didn’t take climate change policy into account in their vote: 26% of Liberal, 21% of National, and 31% of Queensland LNP voters did not consider climate change when deciding their vote. Under 15% of Labor and Greens voters did the same.

And when we looked at how much voters cared about climate action, the differences become more potent. Three quarters (73%) of progressive voters (those voting for the ALP or the Greens) see Australian action to reduce emissions as “extremely important”. Only one quarter (26%) of conservative voters say the same thing.



Who’s more willing to make sacrifices for the climate?

Our research also explored the extent voters were willing to accept a personal cost to support climate action. We asked about their willingness to accept a significant or small personal cost, but didn’t specify what we meant by small or significant, because a small cost to one person may be a significant cost to another.

Most voters (72%) said they’d be willing to incur some personal cost in return for emissions reductions. Across the political spectrum, the proportion of voters willing to accept a small personal cost is relatively similar: 60% of progressive voters, 55% of conservative voters.



Major differences emerge when it comes to “significant personal cost”.

While 26% of progressive voters are willing to incur a significant personal cost, only 5% of conservative voters feel similarly. At the other end of the spectrum, 40% of conservative voters are unwilling to incur any personal cost, but only 14% of progressive voters feel the same.

Support for strong climate policies may depend on whether the policies will, or are perceived to, personally impact voters. Given political leaders’ stances influence public support for climate policies (as 2018 research showed), our research highlights an opportunity for conservative political leaders to clarify their position on climate change.



Interestingly, age was a consistent predictor of responses. Younger people were more likely than older people to consider it important that Australia reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Younger people were more willing to incur a personal cost to support climate action, and to consider climate change when deciding their vote.

In fact, we found an Australian voter from the Baby Boomer generation is half as likely as a voter from Generation Z to consider it important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Divisive politics have a limited shelf life

If future young people cared just as much about climate change as today’s young people, and if existing cohorts don’t change their views as they age, then the percentage of Australian voters who consider greenhouse gas emissions to be “extremely important” is likely to increase from 52% in our 2019 data, to 56% by 2030. By 2050, this figure could rise to 65%.



These projections are purely on the basis of more climate-aware cohorts coming into voting age and replacing older voters. It doesn’t consider any future changes in attitudes within cohorts (which may also make a big difference).

The key implication is simple. If Australian political leaders pursued stronger climate action, they could rest assured most of the voting population will broadly support them, along with most of their own voter base — regardless of which party is in power.

This will become only more pronounced with gradual generational change, and likely changes in attitudes within age groups. In any case, it’s clear divisive politics that result in climate delay have a limited shelf life.




Read more:
Nearly 80% of Australians affected in some way by the bushfires, new survey shows


The Conversation


Rebecca Colvin, Senior lecturer, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Australian National University

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

Australia, you have unfinished business. It’s time to let our ‘fire people’ care for this land



Rangers from Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa, conducting cool season burning on Martu Country.
Tony Jupp,The Nature Conservancy

David Bowman, University of Tasmania and Greg Lehman, University of Tasmania

Since last summer’s bushfire crisis, there’s been a quantum shift in public awareness of Aboriginal fire management. It’s now more widely understood that Aboriginal people used landscape burning to sustain biodiversity and suppress large bushfires.

The Morrison government’s bushfire royal commission, which began hearings this week, recognises the potential of incorporating Aboriginal knowledge into mainstream fire management.

Its terms of reference seek to understand ways “the traditional land and fire management practices of Indigenous Australians could improve Australia’s resilience to natural disasters”.

Incorporating Aboriginal knowledge is essential to tackling future bushfire crises. But it risks perpetuating historical injustices, by appropriating Aboriginal knowledge without recognition or compensation. So while the bushfire threat demands urgent action, we must also take care.

Accommodating traditional fire knowledge is a long-overdue accompaniment to recent advances in land rights and native title. It is an essential part of the unfinished business of post-colonial Australia.

Grant Stewart, a ranger from Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa. The benefits of Indigenous fire practices are becoming well-known.
Louie Davis

A living record

Before 1788, Aboriginal cultures across Australia used fire to deliberately and skilfully manage the bush.

Broadly, it involved numerous, frequent fires that created fine-scale mosaics of burnt and unburnt patches. Developed over thousands of years, such burning made intense bushfires uncommon and made plant and animal foods more abundant. This benefited wildlife and sustained a biodiversity of animals and plants.

Following European settlement, Aboriginal people were dispossessed of their land and the opportunity to manage it with fire. Since then, the Australian bush has seen dramatic biodiversity declines, tree invasion of grasslands and more frequent and destructive bushfires.




Read more:
A surprising answer to a hot question: controlled burns often fail to slow a bushfire


In many parts of Australia, particularly densely settled areas, cultural burning practices have been severely disrupted. But in some regions, such as clan estates in Arnhem Land, unbroken traditions of fire management date back to the mid to late Pleistocene some 50,000 years ago.

Not all nations can draw on these living records of traditional fire management.

Indigenous people around the world, including in western Europe, used fire to manage flammable landscapes. But industrialisation, intensive agriculture and colonisation led to these practices being lost.

In most cases, historical records are the only way to learn about them.

Aborigines Using Fire to Hunt Kangaroos, by Joseph Lycett. Indigenous people have used cultural fire practices for thousands of years.
National Library of Australia

Rising from the ashes

In Australia, many Aboriginal people are rekindling cultural practices, sometimes in collaboration with non-indigenous land managers. They are drawing on retained community knowledge of past fire practices – and in some cases, embracing practices from other regions.

Burning programs can be adapted to the challenges of a rapidly changing world. These include the need to protect assets, and new threats such as weeds, climate change, forest disturbances from logging and fire, and feral animals.




Read more:
There’s no evidence ‘greenies’ block bushfire hazard reduction but here’s a controlled burn idea worth trying


This process is outlined well in Victor Steffensen’s recent book Fire Country: How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia. Steffensen describes how, as an Aboriginal man born into two cultures, he made a journey of self-discovery – learning about fire management while being guided and mentored by two Aboriginal elders.

Together, they reintroduced fire into traditional lands on Cape York. These practices had been prohibited after European-based systems of land tenure and management were imposed.

Steffensen extended his experience to cultural renewal and ecological restoration across Australia, arguing this was critical to addressing the bushfire crisis:

The bottom line for me is that we need to work towards a whole other division of fire managers on the land […] A skilled team of indigenous and non-indigenous people that works in with the entire community, agencies and emergency services to deliver an effective and educational strategy into the future. One that is culturally based and connects to all the benefits for the community.

Making it happen

So how do we realise this ideal? Explicit affirmative action policies, funded by state and federal governments, are a practical way to protect and extend Aboriginal burning cultures.

Specifically, such programs should provide ways for Aboriginal people and communities to:

  • develop their fire management knowledge and capacity
  • maintain and renew traditional cultural practices
  • enter mainstream fire management, including in leadership roles
  • enter a broad cross section of agencies, and community groups involved in fire management.

This will require rapidly building capacity to train and employ Aboriginal fire practitioners.

In some instances, where the impact of colonisation has been most intense, action is needed to support Aboriginal communities to re-establish relationships with forested areas, following generations of forced removal from their Country.




Read more:
Our land is burning, and western science does not have all the answers


Importantly, this empowerment will enable Aboriginal communities to re-establish their own cultural priorities and practices in caring for Country. Where these differ from the Eurocentric values of mainstream Australia, we must understand and respect the wisdom of those who have been custodians of this flammable landscape for millennia.

Non-indigenous Australians should also pay for these ancient skills. Funding schemes could include training, and ensuring affirmative action programs are implemented and achieve their goals.

Involving Aboriginal people and communities in the development of fire management will ensure cultural knowledge is shared on culturally agreed terms.

Fire people, fire country

In many ways, last summer’s fire season is a reminder of the brutal acquisition of land in Australia and its ongoing consequences for all Australians.

The challenges involved in helping to right this wrong, by enabling Aboriginal people to use their fire management practices, are complex. They span social justice, funding, legal liability, cultural rights, fire management and science.

Fundamentally, we must recognise that Aborigines are “fire people” who live on “fire country”. It’s time to embrace this ancient fact.

Andry Sculthorpe of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre contributed to this article.The Conversation

David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania and Greg Lehman, Pro Vice Chancellor, Aboriginal Leadership, University of Tasmania

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

Children are our future, and the planet’s. Here’s how you can teach them to take care of it



Contact with nature is a crucial part of sustainability education in preschool.
from shutterstock.com

Wendy Boyd, Southern Cross University and Ann-Christin Furu, University of Helsinki

As the global climate crisis accelerates, early childhood teachers and researchers are considering whether and how to approach the issue with children. Should we talk openly about the crisis and encourage children to change their daily practices? Or is there a risk that in doing so, we are inflicting anxiety on young minds, still in critical and early stages of development?

The UN sustainable development goals note that children are

critical agents of change and will find in the new goals a platform to channel their infinite capacities for activism into the creation of a better world.

Australia’s quality standards on early childhood education and care call for childcare services to support children to become environmentally responsible. But how can this policy be turned into a living practice?

Contact with nature is a crucial part of sustainability education in early childhood education and care. This helps children develop an appreciation for the Earth and all its inhabitants. Educators in childcare settings can provide a learning culture where children develop skills to take care of nature through play and creativity, without inflicting mass anxiety on them.

Children could build a scarecrow together, which would engage them in caring for the garden.
from shutterstock.com

Programs to helps kids learn

There are many ways play can help children love the world around them. For instance, the nursery rhyme about Dingle Dangle Scarecrow could help engage children in vegetable gardening. Children can pretend the scarecrow will keep the garden safe.

They could build a scarecrow themselves, which would inspire creativity and educate them about the living environment at the same time.

Our recent research (not yet published) explored an educational program with 200 children between the ages of three and five. The children learnt how to sort, reduce and recycle waste into different colour-coded bins. As they sorted food waste, the children also fed chickens and compost worms.

Educators expanded on these activities by telling the children how living things are connected, which the children had themselves witnessed when feeding the chickens and worms. This new knowledge carried over into the children’s home environments, where we found children reminded families about sorting household waste. This then impacted on parents’ recycling practices.




Read more:
Being in nature is good for learning, here’s how to get kids off screens and outside


In New South Wales a program helped children learn about water. Children in three pre-schools (aged three to five) were asked to report dripping taps, taught about half-flush toilets and told to advise families to take shorter showers. An evaluation of this program found children had developed courage and agency when it came to water awareness, because their feelings, thoughts, and questions were taken seriously and met with empathy and interest by adults.

From despair to hope

Adults are strong role models for the way children understand the importance of the world around them. If adults act in a respectful way towards animals, and even creatures such as spiders, children will receive the message these creatures are entitled to care and protection.

If you’re quick to swipe a spider in front of a child, this may create biophobia, where creatures are considered as fearsome pests.

Studies have found including sustainability practices into early childhood education may make educators uncomfortable. Studies show educators may have a limited understanding of sustainability issues, and little confidence in teaching such a values-laden topic.

But teachers don’t need to know the ins and outs of climate change to teach children how to respect the planet. They could simply encourage children to play in nature and role model behaviours that show appreciation for the environment.

Teaching children we’re all connected can help them understand their role in nature.
from shutterstock.com

Finland’s approach to early childhood education and care offers a good case study for how to incorporate sustainability practice into preschool education. The Finnish curriculum is based on a playful learning approach where respectful dialogue between children and adults supports learning.

The curriculum gives teachers tools to meet children´s worries with approaches that encourage actions, which create hope. Young children see themselves as more a natural part of the environment than older children. Teachers can support young children’s actions from this position.

For example, an adult could relocate a spider to a position where it won’t be trod on. Children could then watch to ensure it is safe, which gives them a sense of agency in their environment. In this way, children can feel they have control over the smaller elements of nature and that they can have an effect on it. This gives them a sense of empowerment rather than feeling overwhelmed and helpless, which leads to despair and anxiety.




Read more:
Hug a tree – the evidence shows it really will make you feel better


Sustainability education for children can best be approached by helping them understand their place in the web of life, which supports their existence in terms of clean air and water, food and clothes, and other necessities for a decent life.

It’s about fostering a sense of belonging, respect and care for all living creatures, and an understanding of how to handle material resources in a limited world. Sustainability education is about fostering the world-view that we are in this together. Only through our common actions can despair be turned into hope.The Conversation

Wendy Boyd, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, Southern Cross University and Ann-Christin Furu, Lecturer, University of Helsinki

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