Denial Nation: Australia and Climate Change

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Denial Nation: Australia and the Social Construction of Ecological Privilege & Climate Change Inaction

Invaluable research has been undertaken into climate change denial by many outstanding scholars.

However I would contend there are some – essential – missing pieces. If we stand back and look at both history and our culture it is possible to see climate change denial as part of a broader pattern.

Denial Nation is the working title for a short text I hope to have published. It is here you will find articles, draft chapters and research materials related to this ongoing project.

It’s a work in progress so it will change as I conduct further research, speak to experts and respond to feedback.

Australia and a culture of denial?

I don’t think there can be any argument that Australia, a rich industrialised nation, has failed to deal with the challenge of climate change.

However we cannot attribute this failure to a few “climate change sceptics”, right-wing think tanks or timid politicians.

I propose that as a nation and culture we constructed a myth centered on denying our collective and individual impact on the environment. It was done to protect what one could term “ecological privilege”.

The antecedents of this mythology of denial have their roots in our settler colonial past, were then further shaped by our “growth fetish” and informed by a culture obsessed with consumption.

I propose that all levels of Australian society – business, the media, sections of government and large numbers of the public – entered into a “compact” to deny the urgency of climate change and other environmental challenges.

Attributes of this “mythology of denial” find expression in many of the arguments made against attempts to deal with climate change (and environmental issues):

  • That what we did would be of little difference;
  • That we could not risk our nation’s economic growth;
  • That we did not want to compromise our individual lifestyles;
  • Environmentalism was seen a conspiracy or philosophy designed to deny us the things we wanted.

This mythology is a reflexive pattern of thought fabricated to protect a long standing sense of “ecological privilege” prevalent within Australian society.

Axe the Tax: What is ecological privilege?

Ecological privilege is the (mostly unspoken) belief that the society and lifestyle we have constructed can – indeed must – assert it’s primacy over the resources we use at the local, national and global level.

The introduction of the so called “Carbon Tax” under the Gillard Labor government, and it’s swift removal less than two years later under the conservative Abbott government, is perhaps the most telling evidence of this hypothesis.

Australia is one of the richest countries in the world, and yet one of the worst performing when it comes to per capita greenhouse emissions.

The price on carbon was moderately effective and placed no serious economic burden on the economy or individual. And yet Australian society entered into a period of profound panic and political instability in the attempt to put a price on carbon.

Rather than progressing, Australia seems to be either stuck or going backwards when it comes to both addressing climate change and environmental issues. Could ecological privilege explain some of this?

This is one of the questions I hope to explore on Eve of Disruption.

Denial Nation versus Environmentalism?

This hypothesis may also explain why the environmental movement has failed – at some levels – to cut through to the broader mass of the Australian public.

Indeed the language, strategies and campaigns designed to raise awareness and modify behavior have not had the impact they could have due to the culture and mythology of denial deeply encoded into Australian society.

Perhaps it is time to adopt new strategies and tactics to effect the change we need to make at the individual and societal level.