Some lessons in manipulation of the public from Australian Labor’s former leader.
As communicators, there are two types of politicians: those who seek to persuade the public to their point of view, and those who try to scare them.
If Tim Flannery, Australia’s chief climate commissioner, were a politician, he would be in the latter category.
In one of the worst own-goals of the climate-change debate, Flannery is running the mother of all fear campaigns. Instead of trying to persuade people of the scientific facts of global warming, he hopes to scare them into accepting his views.
This was evident in the release last week of the Climate Commission’s report on western Sydney. Earlier this year, the region had its mildest and wettest summer in memory.
Strangely, there were no heatwave days, those 40 degree infernos we have come to expect in January and February.
Against the grain of this experience, Flannery’s commission declared that “heatwaves in greater Sydney, especially in the western suburbs, have increased in duration and intensity”.
It forecast an increase in oven-hot days, contributing to higher rates of crime, violence and death in the region.
Not surprisingly, the report was dismissed as scaremongering, a continuation of Flannery’s apocalyptic focus on rising sea levels, bushfires and natural disasters.
The Climate Commission has made a tactical error in concentrating on short-term weather events and catastrophes.
Better results would be achieved from explaining, calmly and methodically, the changing nature of Australia’s climate, focusing on long-term average temperatures and their impact on ecosystems. In western Sydney, our winters are noticeably warmer than 30 and 40 years ago, accompanied by changes in plant and animal life.
This should be the topic of the region’s conversation about climate change, instead of scare campaigns about summer heatwaves and crime sprees.
While fear tactics can work in election campaigns, they often backfire when applied to strongly held emotions. Faced with predictions of floods and infernos, people become defensive about their homes and families – a natural instinct.