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A rogues gallery of casual climate denial



From overly sheltered baby boomers to millennials too fatigued with the state of the world to care if another glacier dies, the reality of climate change can be a lot to handle. Sometimes ignorance is the more appealing option. Here's a snapshot of the people living with their heads in the sand, employing tactics including pessimism, cognitive dissonance and deflections to stay where they are.

People in lineup (Getty Images)Brett the Small: It's understandable that Brett feels powerless. He'd always thought that by 2030, he'd have kids, a spouse and a mortgage. In addition to his nuclear family, Brett also gets to look forward to climate catastrophe — not that he feels he has a say in the matter. 'Climate change isn't really something the average person can do something about. It's really up to other people to fix it, like scientists, corporations and the government. There's not really a lot I can do.' Even though he's right that reducing carbon emissions genuinely requires work on an intertwined corporate and political level, Brett has never heard of activism or completely underestimates what it can achieve.

Alice the Glossy: Unlike Brett, Alice understands that successfully reducing carbon emissions is something that everyone can work towards. While she understands that everyone can get involved in the fight against climate change, she misinterprets the real priority for reducing carbon. 'Look, I'm not really prepared to go zero-waste to reduce my carbon footprint. Or go vegan. It's just too hard for the average person to commit to.' Alice has illustrated a problem (e.g. how consumers are blamed for corporate misdeeds) but glossed over the problem.

Brenda the Meteorologist: Brenda sees all of these bizarre weather events and has a rational explanation: 'The climate is meant to change. It's natural for there to be increased cyclones, increased frequency and duration of droughts as well as losing entire glaciers. This kind of change is normal. That's what the weather does.' Maybe it's self-deception, maybe it's not understanding the difference between climate and weather.

Derek the Doorstep: While he finds it bewildering that the summers have been hotter than usual, Derek's not completely convinced that the climate is changing on an unprecedented scale. All the scary things about climate change that pop up in his Facebook feed (e.g. news of dead glaciers, melting ice sheets and starving polar bears) seem to be happening in another part of the world. The Arctic is a long way away from Derek's house, so it doesn't seem like climate change is on his doorstep — until it is.

Debbie the Radioactive Straw Man: In the face of calls for sustainability and reducing carbon emissions on a national scale, Debbie is gobsmacked that lefties don't tolerate the idea of nuclear power. 'You've got nuclear power all wrong, it's nothing like Chernobyl or Fukushima! Aside from all the toxic waste and radiation, there is truly no better low-carbon energy source!' You can keep dreaming if you think that Debbie also approves of wind and solar being decent low-carbon energy alternatives.

Rupert the Clean: Rupert thinks that the solution to all the carbon generated by burning coal is simple. 'Ever heard of clean coal?' Rupert reckons that clean coal has a reduced carbon footprint and that it's actually healthier for humans. While he'd never spread it on his toast (or live near places where it's burning), he's happy to parrot how great clean coal is until he's blue in the face.


"Undaunted by the words of a 'deeply disturbed messiah', Andrew spends more time criticising a teenage girl than listening to actual scientific experts."


Jenny the Canary: Jenny has a bone to pick with renewable energy, more specifically the people who would see it supplant the use of coal-fired power. 'It's not like the alternatives are any better,' she scoffs. 'Look at wind turbines: loud, ugly, and they're only effective at killing birds!' Her interest in avian welfare stops at black-throated finches or the droves of birds that die in heatwaves.

Andrew the Belligerent: When it comes to our changing climate, Andrew feels that the issue doesn't lie with the planet being on fire, but rather with Greta Thunberg's approach to confronting the people best equipped to take action. 'She should shut up and stay in school. Why should we listen to her? She's no scientific expert.' Undaunted by the words of a 'deeply disturbed messiah', Andrew spends more time criticising a teenage girl than listening to actual scientific experts.

Isabelle the Distracted: Rather than remember that she's not personally responsible for most of the carbon, Isabelle channels her ecological guilt into a range of deflections. Her life is a constant cycle of deflecting unnecessary guilt ('At least I'm not as bad as those people who drive a Hummer or people who eat red meat every day') and pondering over it a bit too much ('I left my metal straw at home today, I'm the worst person in the world!')

Scott the Working Class Hero: Despite never having worked in a coal mine or having any friends that went to public school, Scott is adamant that lowering carbon emissions by cutting coal power isn't worth compromising the economy. 'It'll financially ruin regional communities if we don't support coal mining. I know it looks like global warming is doing some crazy stuff, but it's not worth cutting jobs and growth for the working class because you don't like coal.' Even though Scott only interacts with the working class when he gets his Mercedes serviced, it's nice to know that he's thinking of others.

Peter the Joyful Pessimist: Peter likes to deflect any relevant discussion of his problems and insecurities with enthusiastic nihilism. 'Ate a smashed avo today, guess who won't be able to afford a house deposit!' His cynicism is unwavering and at times endearing, but Peter's not willing to hold an in-depth discussion of the reality of climate change. 'Yeah, the polar bears are starving, but what a mood, am I right? The Reef's getting pretty messed up by the rising temperatures, but I'm definitely more dead on the inside, lmao!'



Vivienne CowburnVivienne Coburn is an eclectic writer and ardent coffee snob from Brisbane. Her work has been featured in Junkee, Ibis House, PASTEL Magazine and on her mum's fridge. She is also the host of 'Spookzzz' on 4ZZZ (102.1 FM). You can follow her on Twitter @pearandivy

Image credit: Getty Images

Topic tags: Vivienne Cowburn, climate change, Covering Climate Now



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Existing comments

The climate debate has been lost by all sides due to misinformation and incorrect predictions. Is it high concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, a re-alignment of earth's orbit with the sun, the burning of trillions of liters of aviation kerosene in the stratosphere, volcanic eruptions, de-forestation?? who the hell really knows!!??. The answer may lie in reading the Bible!?.

Nickolas De Vuere | 17 September 2019  

Climate change deniers et al: know thyself.

Pam | 17 September 2019  

"From overly sheltered baby boomers to millennials too fatigued with the state of the world to care if another glacier dies, the reality of climate change can be a lot to handle". I think it is appalling that a Jesuit publication should open an article with such a gross generalisation, of both baby boomers and Millennials. I thought that that was the province of the tabloids. Don't you realise that most of those farmers engaged in the "Shut the Gate" exercise against coal seam fracking are baby boomers? And weren't a lot of those school students who wentr out on the Climate Change Sytrike on friday at the tail end of the Millennials? "Judge not, lest you be judged" (Matthew 7:1).

Bruce Stafford | 22 September 2019  

Nickolas, the climate “debate” is one of false balance induced by the sheer lobbying power of fossil fuel interests over governments. The climate science says we are in deep trouble. We must de-carbonise the world economy i.e. do away with the burning of fossil fuels and stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. To do nothing about this problem amounts to criminal negligence. The longer it goes on the greater the risk of irreversible changes in the dynamics of the climate of our only planet. Let's look after it and recognise the self interest of the fossil fuel lobby and their relentless disinformation campaign, which you have clearly bought into.

John McKeon | 22 September 2019  

You forgot Simon the evangelist. Sure the world is heating up but only God could do that. Who would question his power and purpose.

John Power | 22 September 2019  

The tragedy is when Bret the small & co die, and die they will; we all will die as well. And it will be followed by our planet. Unless we either educate or ignore and leave them behind, their collective idiocy must never become a barrier to our efforts to ensure that our children's children's future is guaranteed.

Alex Njoo | 23 September 2019  

The planets won't die until the sun finishes burning its fuel. Humans and life as we know it on this planet will die and become another historical era. The predicament is, do we care enough to sustain favourable conditions for human and other life? Clearly some don't.

Mary Cusack | 24 September 2019  

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