Talking to Australia About Climate Change

Nick Minchin, Professor Richard Muller and I at the University of Berkeley, San Francisco

Tomorrow, I’m co-starring in a climate change documentary aiming to reach those Australians who still have questions about the science of climate change.

On Friday, Melbourne University Press is releasing my first full-length book. It answers all the questions a soft sceptic would have about climate change science and impacts, in an easily digestible way.

And on Monday, I’m embarking on a 100 day book tour with a group of up-and-coming AYCC leaders to change hearts and minds in person as we travel to outer suburban, regional and rural Australia.

How did I get to this point?

Wind back the clock six and a half years ago to December 2005, in the middle of a snow-filled winter in Montreal.

I wake up in a small loft filled with young climate activists from around the world. To my left is Fawzia, an environmental journalist from Bangladesh. To my right is Ben, an environmental educator from Micronesia. I can smell coffee coming from our kitchen downstairs. As I walk down in my pyjamas, I see a group huddled around their laptops, writing media releases, blogging, reading the day’s agenda and preparing policy responses. We are the youth delegation at the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, and we’re there to make an impact.

I will always remember those mornings in Montreal, because they helped shape the course of my life up to this point.

It was the end of 2005. I’d spent the year travelling from University to University – all over Australia – working with other students to organise and win campus clean energy victories. We campaigned and won major new initiatives for energy efficiency, climate and sustainability programs.

At my campus, Sydney University, a 2-year campaign convinced the Vice Chancellor to invest $1 million in renewable energy research & development. Monash, Melbourne, ANU and Newcastle University also had important victories. I’d dropped out of my law degree that year, to work as National Environment Officer for the National Union of Students. And I was supposed to go back and finish the last year of my degree.

But in Montreal, I met young people like Ben and Fawzia feeling severe impacts of climate change on their countries. For them, climate change was a matter of survival for their people. I realised I needed to do more – much more – than what I’d been doing up to this point.

I knew that we needed to take the youth climate movement beyond small groups of students on University campuses, and onto the national political stage. We needed to turn young Australians from a demographic into a constituency who would make decisions on the basis of climate change.

We needed young Australians to make it harder for our political and business leaders to continue the status quo, which was harming our futures, than to give in to our simple demand for a safe climate with enough clean air, water and soil for everyone.

The idea for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition was born.

And with a lot of hard work by the small group of young people who organised the founding summit in 2006 and the first few campaigns in 2007 (one of whom is now my husband!) the idea took off and became a fully-fledged movement of which you, reading this, are now a part.

I left AYCC as Co-Director in 2010, but remained Chair of the Board. And I embarked on a number of different projects, including completing a Churchill fellowship on peer-to-peer environmental education in China, the UK and the USA. I also worked as Senior campaigns Director at the strategy and communications consultancy Make Believe.

But I left Make Believe at the end of last year to work on the next stage of my original vision of ‘making green mainstream’. I decided to make a concerted effort to reach out to climate sceptics. My aim? To re-establish the foundational case for the science and the need to act. In the heat of the debate about the carbon price, many Australians have forgetten why we needed to cut carbon pollution in the first place.

Through a mutual friend, I was approached by a TV producer called Simon Nasht. He wanted to create a TV program to be aired on the ABC that reached beyond the sound bites on climate change science. His vision was to send a film crew to capture the journey of a climate activist and a climate sceptic as they took each other around the world trying to change each other’s minds.

Simon Nasht had secured one of the remaining few high-profile climate sceptics in Australia, Nick Minchin, to be part of the project. (I say remaining because many other former sceptics in business and government, even the former head of Exxon Mobil, John Schubert, have now accepted the science.) Now, Simon required someone willing to go head to head with Nick to argue the case for the science and the need to act on climate change.

After a lot of reflection (which you can read about in my book!) I decided to say yes. And so began an extrardinary journey, of which the documentary is the first, not the last, step. Along the way I wrote a 90,000 word book in two months, and decided to take a group of AYCC volunteers with me on the road to travel around the country reaching out to people who still have questions about the science and the need to act.

I’m so proud to be part of the AYCC and the youth climate movement in Australia. Ellen, Kirsty and the team of staff and volunteers and state coordinators and local group members inspire me every single day. I look forward to the Repower campaign update emails as the highlight of my week and I get so excited to read about what’s been happening with the grassroots.

If anyone can change a sceptic’s mind, it’s the young people in their lives. So if you have a climate sceptic uncle or grandfather or friend of a friend, make sure you sit down with them to watch the documentary on Thursday night – and then order them a copy of Madlands: A Journey to Change the Mind of a Climate Sceptic. 

About annastarrrose

Author & environmentalist
This entry was posted in change, climate change, I Can Change Your Mind on Climate, learning, life, Madlands book, Qanda. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Talking to Australia About Climate Change

  1. Christina says:

    I love reading your blogs Anna, every amazing feat you achieve, is generally always reflected as “just the first step”… Keep it up.

  2. Mike Wellington says:

    I just wanted to say that response where you said “australia is the worlds grandfather” made me fall out of my chair laughing. You have a ridiculously large delusion of granduer, and I highly recommend stepping out of your inner city hipster cafe and check out the real world. Thanks sweetie

  3. Peter studley says:

    Well done on Q&A. It’s a hard gig to persuade Nick “I’ll procrastinate as eloquently as I can” Minchin and Clive ” I’m getting richer every day selling coal for 40 bucks a tonne so why worry” Palmer, but if you can at least communicate basic things like the benefits of carbon pricing and the facts about climate science then you are acheiving a lot.


  4. Jade says:

    Getting people to believe may not be as important as getting them to act. Point out the positives of living greener in ways that people can relate to, eg cost of living etc. Over the long term…
    Points such as coal miners wouldn’t be out of work if we stopped producing coal for fuel as we would need many people to set up and run green energy plants. Point out the jobs being green will create.

    As we know, noone likes to be told that what they currently think is ‘wrong’ or that they are to ‘blame’ for any wrong doing (let alone ruing the planet!) so I feel the conversion to green energy needs to be ‘sold’ in a creative and positive way for it to succeed in the near future.
    I feel that modern human kind needs to admit that if there is even a slight possibility that living greener could help the planet and all living creatures on it to have a longer and possibly healthier exsistance, it is our moral duty to act upon this possibility.
    I can not think of a good reason to not strive to live a more environmentally friendly existance!

    Anna you have your heart in the right place, spend your energy on positive activities and projects that will bring a greener future. Dont waste your energy trying to convert the closed minded (I dont believe you are wasting your time in you endeavours, I simply believe you will achieve far more by focusing on the positives of what you are doing and what you will achieve in your life)

    You are an incredibly strong young woman
    Thankyou for standing up for the healthy future of our planet and speaking out.

  5. Jack says:

    Anna, as a sceptic towards anthropogenic warming, with a science background, I have enormous admiration for the way you presented your side of the debate. My main concern is that you alarmists are treating global warming as a fact, a law. My background (and logic) tells me that unless a hypothesis can be replicated many times experimentally and is universally accepted by all scientists, it remains nothing more than a theory. Nevertheless, I agree that we need to look at means of energy production other than burning fossils. But don’t let us get our knickers in a knot about it

    • Peter says:

      Jack, I find your position on this is a bit puzzling at a number of levels. Firstly, since when has universal acceptance of a hypothesis ever been part of the scientific process? If you really have a science background you would know that 100% acceptance of any theory is almost impossible, so for you to make it a pre-condition for action on climate change seems a bit mischievous and it leads me to think your mind already is made up for reasons unrelated to the science. Secondly where is there any large scale disagreement in the peer-reviewed scientific community on human contribution to global warming? It seems to me the kooky minority in this debate is on the Denial side. Is Anna really an Alarmist for relaying the findings of 95% of reputable scientists?

      • Jack says:

        Whoa there Peter! My mind is far from made up. And where did you get that statistic of 95% of reputable scientists? For the record, I might be mischievous, but not on this occasion. I watched the Nick Minchin/ Anna Rose doco in the hope that some tangible proof might emerge to support the alarmist view, but there was nothing. Skeptics are people who query assersions and are not convinced by dodgy evidence. The doco was exceptionally well produced but to any logical thinker, solved nothing for either side of the argument from a science point of view. Having said that, the graph of atmospheric CO2 levels as recorded by the Mauna Loa observatory was of great interest and the conclusion that increase was due to burning of fossil fuels seems a compelling argument. The problem remains however that it seems the correlation between atmospheric CO2 and global mean temperature is still well and truly open to debate.

      • Peter says:

        One of the problems with this issue is that few ordinary individuals have time to each get across all the scientific research on this themselves. However, if you look at organisations like CSIRO and the Royal Society UK and heaps of other ones around the world, they have reviewed the scientific research and concluded there is a link between human activity and climate change. Hence it puzzles me that this is still even debated as though there is serious disagreement. Methinks people stirring up the debate use it as a device to slow/obstruct/undermine action. I agree with other bloggers that the key to getting things done involves finding positive messages about the advantages of change.

      • Jack says:

        “One of the problems with this issue is that few ordinary individuals have time to each get across all the scientific research on this themselves.”
        Peter, that’s an understatement. I’m a retired engineer, and I don’t have the time. I’ve read the papers, watched TV and spent some time on internet research, but that’s literally never-ending. I can find heaps of stuff de-bunking warming theory, but all too bizarre and/or too technical even for me, and remember I’m no slouch when it comes to chemistry, physics and maths! On the warmist’s side, all I get is statements such as the CSIRO (an organisation I once held in high regard, but now despise since it became a commercial operation) and the IPCC say warming is man made, so therefore it’s gospel. So really what I’m saying is if the correlation between global warming and human activity can’t be explained reasonably clearly, then why not? Look I’m trying to help you guys here because you’re losing ground at a rapid rate as people gradually wake from their lethargy with the carbon tax happening soon and they say “hang on a minute, how much did you say my electricity bill will go up?

    • Cass says:

      Hi Jack,
      Thanks firstly for remaining open minded about anthropogenic climate change. You stated that you found no evidence from the documentary to support human induced climate change, I have a feeling this may be because there were quite a lot of incorrect facts relayed by the skeptics. One that cropped up a lot was “global temperatures peaked in 1998” which just isn’t true, 2010 was hotter than 1998.
      As for Peter’s comment about “95% of reputable scientists”, it is actually 97% percent of climate researchers actively publishing in the field of climate science that agree humans are causing climate change ( This website is very good for answering many questions you may have about the science on climate change.
      You mentioned you read newspapers, watch TV and do research on the internet but many of these forms of media just (again) relay incorrect facts which are hard to realise are untrue if you haven’t heard them before. There is also no way for these facts to be rectified as they aren’t checked by people who would know if they are untrue before they are published. I am currently studying at university, doing my honours degree in climatology and have read a decent amount of peer-reviewed scientific papers about climate change. These are thoroughly checked to ensure their accuracy so if you are looking for reliable sources of information these are what you should be reading. So far I have not encountered a single paper that doesn’t support the theory that carbon dioxide causes climate change.

      • Jack says:

        Cass, I thank YOU for your intelligent reply. I’m sure you realise as clearly as I do that the confusion on this topic is due mainly to uninformed members of the public coming out and spouting rubbish. Not only in the skeptics corner but also in the warmist camp.
        I read those links you kindly supplied, but Oh Dear, I’ve still a long long way to go. I’m thinking perhaps climate scientists are like engineers, in that they are by reputation not great communicators. Cass, in you I have great faith to lead the charge to convince me and some other thinking skeptics. What we require is so simple. May I suggest a format:
        *Global mean temperatures have been observed to be increasing from the following data:………..
        *Global mean CO2 levels have been observed to be increasing from the following data………..
        *A reasonable explanation for the CO2 increase is burning of fossil fuels.
        * CO2 causes greenhouse effect because………..
        * Therefore, by logical deduction, the world is warming, and it’s dangerous and it’s due to you bastards keeping warm in winter and cool in summer and driving your cars and flying overseas on vacation, blah blah. 🙂

        Please cease defending against the skeptical counter-arguments, most of which are blatantly flawed. We need to get the truth, not the interminable emotive rubbish that appears in the mainstream media and the internet.

  6. Ralph Bazley says:

    Hi Anna, I would like to converse with you on this subject. If you are speaking near Dalby, I will come to hear you. To my mind, it is very confusing. Today Julia Creek had the lowest temperature ever recorded for April, and I know that our summers here are definitely getting cooler, or at least are a lot cooler than they used to be years ago. Science is my favourite subject, although I am 58.

    • Cass says:

      Hi Ralph,
      While local temperatures (such as in Julia Creek) vary, overall global temperatures are increasing. In the past 100 years we have experienced a global temperature increase of about 0.74 degrees C. The IPCC website has reports about climate change and this link has a couple graphs that demonstrate that while temperatures have gone up and down the underlying trend is upwards
      Julia Creek has most likely experienced cooler than average summers because of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation which is different to climate change. Currently we are in a phase where Australia is colder and wetter than usual. This is a natural cycle which reverses every few years.

  7. JudiGenX says:

    Really loved watching your documentary & debate last night Anna. I especially liked your reaction to the surprise meeting in Washington with the climate skeptic Marc Morano (whose reputation is quite disturbing and he seems a pathetic advocate for the climate change skeptics to choose to meet with you)…may I quote George Bernard Shaw- ‘Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn’. Better not to argue with a mad man and stick to reasonable debate on perfecting and producing alternative energy sources. We are all in this together, the aim is not to create enemies but to work as a team to find solutions. Your calm, level headed attitude is refreshing Anna. I look forward to reading your book shortly. 🙂

    • Jack says:

      Couldn’t agree more, Judi. Anna’s reference to Marc Marano as an attack dog was delightfully appropriate. I’m in awe of Anna’s coolness when confronted by such a Rottweiler, and it’s to her credit that she was smart enough not to get drawn in to a debate with a fanatic. Nevertheless, the message is to global warming alarmists that you have to be like Anna if you are to have any hope of achieving your aims. Downcrying the other side as ignoramuses, the mantra of the bulk of alarmists, just won’t work. The path to a democratic solution to this issue is surely to talk rationally and unemotionally about science and economics.

  8. Pingback: Link Loving 27.04.12 « Casper ter Kuile

  9. Gerard Bruitzman says:

    Anna, Let me thank you and your colleagues for producing ‘I Can Change Your Mind on Climate’. This documentary is an important step in the right direction towards mutually agreeable dialogues, transpartisan policies, and transversal outcomes.
    In the USA and other countries transpartisan initiatives are arising because many people, challenged with planetary problems that are pluri-dimensional and pluri-developmental across multiple contexts from local to regional to national to global, can no longer identify with and uphold exclusive limited partisan views and values. When two people actually generate a dialogue in which each party feels truly heard and appreciated by the other party and feels that genuine mutual resonance is happening a miracle called ‘we’ occurs. More miracles of ‘we’ — mutual engagement of self with others to generate more communities of transversal understanding — are needed to truly address the diverse bio-psycho-socio-cultural developmental issues related to climate change.
    I met Mike Hulme after he gave a talk at University of Melbourne in 2011. His book ‘Why We Disagree About Climate Change’ attempts to fathom many complexities involved in climate change. He is one of the few wiser people in climate change discussions. He understands the limits of science and democracy, the different ways people interpret facts and values, the necessity of resonating with people in dialogue, and how to tell wonderful stories using a library of metaphors to illustrate what he means. I’m glad he featured in your documentary.
    If you feel you would like to learn more about the complexities of climate change, when you at last have some relatively free time probably after launching your book ‘Madlands’, I suggest you have a look at the following articles most of which are available in the two climate change issues of the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, a leader in integral ecology and sustainability at Integral Ecology Center, Enact Integral and MetaIntegral, takes climate change discussions to a more inclusive and transversal level in ‘An Integral Overview of Climate Change: Why Truth is not Enough’ & ‘An Ontology of Climate Change: Integral Pluralism and the Enactment of Multiple Objects’. Karen O’Brien, a leader in ethics, human security and cultural values in climate change at the University of Oslo and a lead author in the last IPCC report, & Gail Hochachka, a leader in integral international and community development at Integral Without Borders and Drishti, describe an ‘Integral Adaptation to Climate Change’. Michael E Zimmerman, a leader in environmental philosophy and integral ecology at the University of Colorado interested in science-policy interconnections, provides a richly nuanced account in ‘Including and Differentiating among Perspectives: An Integral Approach to Climate Change’. Chris Riedy, a leader in integral sustainability at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology in Sydney offers valuable context in ‘Futures of the Climate Action Movement: Insights from an Integral Futures Approach’. Barrett C Brown, another leader in integral sustainability at Experience Integral, Integral Leadership Collaborative and Integral Thinkers, especially the executive summary of his PhD dissertation ‘Conscious Leadership for Sustainability: How Leaders with a Late-Stage Action Logic Design and Engage in Sustainability Initiatives’. Reading these papers, I assure you, will take your understanding and appreciation of climate change to a whole new level of transversal theory and praxis.
    Who knows where the winds of change will take us in the 21st century. Your doco with Nick Minchin is a move in the right direction towards mutually agreeable global cooperation. I hope you continue to have fun doing your good work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s