Voicing values and climate change

A short piece for the general audience of RTR radio, Perth, Australia.
(listen to the original audio podcast)

There is a fundamental fault line that runs through the heart of the climate change issue in Australia.  Privately,we take it seriously while publicly we do almost nothing. The horrendous floods in Queensland last month provide a glimpse of the social, environmental and economic impact that climate change is having on the Australian economy.  And yet organisations, including governments and corporate businesses, are seemingly incapable of developing an adequate response to the problem.The Gillard government’s extraordinarily hypocritical reduction in climate change funding to pay for flood damage is an example of the fickle nature of government policies on this issue, and the private sector has shown no concerted leadership for tackling climate change.

Three quarters of Australians acknowledge that climate change is happening and that it is caused by human activity (Newspoll, 2010).  The disparity between private attitudes and public equivocation seems mystifying.  It could be, as the historian of science Naomi Oreskes (2010) has recently shown, that the influential efforts of some conservative ideologues and think tanks havebolsteredscepticism towards climate science through the deliberate manufacturing of doubt. But this still does not account for the massive gap between private opinion and public action. 

The level of change needed to respond to climate change is daunting.  Real change requires resources, time and energy.  There’s also the need for new ways of thinking that makes transition difficult.  On the other hand, organisations stand to gain many benefits from addressing the crisis - greater economic efficiencies, the creation of news skills, and the development of values that support innovation.

So, given the high level of public awareness and the demonstrated benefits, why the ongoing prevarication and inaction?   It seems that, for various reasons,our private concerns about the climate crisis areseparated from the values expressed by the organisations we belong to and the businesses we work for.  The values that we hold at home are not being expressed publicly in the decisions we make and the conversations we have at work. 

We need to start holding these conversations and begin to voice our values and opinions in the workplace and in decision-making forums at all levels.  Climate change is a public,not a private issue.  Above all it is an organisational issue.  If governments and businesses don’t tackle this issue with the intensity and seriousness it deserves, then the climate crisis will continue to escalate and the droughts and extreme events like those we have recently seen will occur more frequently and with even greater severity. The cultural climates of organisations will need to change if we are to meet the challenge of global climate change.

To facilitate the conversations we must have, the climate science group at UWA will shortly be unveiling a blog that is dedicated to informed discussion about our society’s future. To find out more about this blog, visit www.skepticalscience.com or keep tuned for more climate casts right here on RTR.



Gentile, M (2010), Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

Newspoll 2010, Public attitudes towards climate change

Oreskes, Conway (2010), Merchants of doubt : how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming, 1st U.S. edn, Bloomsbury Press, New York.

There is much public demand for reasoned discussion about the way in which we can now move forward to tackle climate change. While there is much exciting science that remains to be discussed at www.skepticalscience.com, a different forum is required for development and discussion of ideas relating to the solutions to the climate emergency. There is much interest in such a forum, and the urgency of the issue is self-evident. The University of Western Australia is sponsoring the efforts of the university’s climate science group to set up such a discussion forum in the form of a high-quality blog that will be run by academics at the University of Western Australia and around the nation. This blog will be going live within the next few months and skepticalscience will keep you updated on developments.

Stephan Lewandowsky

Posted by Mark Edwards on Wednesday, 9 February, 2011

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