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Do emus bury their heads in the sand?

By Campbell Macpherson - posted Thursday, 18 February 2021

When it comes to climate change, the land of my birth seems to be spending far too much time looking on the rear vision mirror when it could be embracing the future with gusto and excitement.

Too many Australian politicians appear to be stuck in the 'Denial' phase of the Kubler-Ross change curve – unable or unwilling to accept the reality of climate change. Leadership today is all about helping people to want to change. Too many of Australia's leaders seem to be exhibiting the polar opposite.

Even after years of increasingly devastating bushfires, more frequent wild weather events and the dramatic bleaching of our precious Great Barrier Reef, Australia boasts the second highest proportion of climate change sceptics of any nation, behind the US. More than one in five Australians declared that "global warming is a hoax perpetrated by scientists" in a 2017 study of 1000 Australians by Essential Research. Meanwhile, we are the second highest producer of CO2 gases per head of population among large, industrialised countries - again, behind the US.


Yet, we accepted the science of global warming once before. When the global use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) opened an enormous and deadly hole in the ozone layer, we didn't dispute the science. We simply accepted the facts, removed CFCs and adapted our lives accordingly.

But today we seem to be frightened of making the change. This fear is an entirely normal reaction to change, but rather than working to quell our fears, our leaders have decided to stoke them instead. Playing on fear is lazy politics. It may win elections, but it is a disastrous strategy for the future of our nation.

There are three undeniable truths when it comes to climate change that even the most climate-change sceptic will acknowledge:

1. The greenhouse effect is real.Solar energy absorbed at the Earth's surface is radiated and absorbed by 'greenhouse gases' in our atmosphere, keeping the planet 'warm'. Without it, most of the Earth would be a frozen wasteland and we probably wouldn't even exist.

2. Global CO2 levels in our atmosphere have increased dramaticallysince the industrial revolution. According to NASA, atmospheric CO2 levels have fluctuated between 180 and 290 parts per million (ppm) for the last 400,000 years. In the last century it has shot up to more than 409 ppm and is still rising.

3. This dramatic increase in CO2 levels has coincided with a ten-fold increase in human-produced CO2 emissions during the same period.


What seems to be disputed by populist politicians and their media cheerleaders is any link between #3 and #2; that the dramatic increase in human-produced CO2 is the likely cause of the dramatic rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

The lazy politics that is anchoring the nation to a 'lucky' but finite past appears to be fuelled by the simple fact that Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal.

"From a climate perspective, nothing is worse than burning coal"

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About the Author

Campbell Macpherson is a speaker and international business adviser on leadership, strategy and change who splits his time between Australia and the UK. He is an Executive Fellow of Henley Business School and author. His first book, The Change Catalyst (Wiley 2017), won 2018 Business Book of the Year in London. His latest book, The Power to Change (Kogan Page 2020) is out now and available from Booktopia (RRP $34.50). More information about Campbell can be found at:

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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