I teach and research environmental politics and policy at Flinders University, Adelaide. My research is focused on the politics of objectivity; how the truth claims and privileged status of experts can influence democratic governance, policymaking and media communication. You can find a list of my publications here, and my academic profile here.
Ask many Australians why we haven’t yet solved the climate change problem and you will likely hear blame being distributed between profit-seeking mining corporations, corrupt governments and the failings of our capitalist economy. This perspective aligns with what I call the ‘Boo-Hiss!’ model of climate change politics. I believe this perspective is often quite unhelpful.
The Boo-Hiss narrative holds that institutions and corporations with vested interests inevitably ignore evidence and make self-serving judgements. But dogmatic adherence to this narrative can lead to very slow and difficult political progress, regardless of how true it is. When experts and the concerned public view the lack of progress in solving climate and other environmental problems as being entirely the fault of greedy and corrupt institutions or institutional actors, the result is a political advocacy largely dependent on transformative changes to our political-economic system that can struggle to attain bipartisan support.
Much of my research investigates how evidence is (and can be) used by policymakers. Common expectations for how we ought to address problems like climate change still assume that there are unambiguously correct answers to the policymaking challenges that governments face: ‘Why didn’t they just follow the experts and then we wouldn’t be in all this environmental trouble’.
From this viewpoint, however, we often misinterpret the choices of those who fail to act on climate change as being simply ignorant or corrupt, or both. We assume the decisions are as easy as scientists often portray them to be (they rarely are), and that those in power are wilfully ignoring either the evidence or obvious problem solutions. In response, we often repeat messages of impending catastrophe and seek to publicly shame policymakers for their inaction (Boo-Hiss!). This tactic has been deployed in climate change political debates for at least 40 years with, at best, mixed results.
My most recent research demonstrates the contrasting ways one can reason under the weight of evidence that do not always align with the judgements of experts but are still underpinned by ethically sound principles. Instead of chanting about expert consensus or repeating scientific conclusions ad nauseum, therefore, in conservative constituencies we should seek to frame policy options in a way that would be more amenable to the perspectives of those who appear to be unmotivated by the problem. To address the most polarised politics of climate change, we must present solutions to policymakers in a way that best aligns with their values, priorities and ideals.