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The Best Evidence Yet Of A Seismic Shift In Opinion On Climate Change

'I actually think we're winning.'

05/09/2017 7:01 PM AEST | Updated 05/09/2017 7:18 PM AEST
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These guys clearly forgot the golden rule of NEVER discussing climate change at family gatherings.

Amanda McKenzie spends her life talking about climate change.

McKenzie, 34, is CEO of the Climate Council -- the publicly-funded body which provides independent, authoritative climate change information to the Australian public. And she says opinion is shifting in terms of the number of people who accept climate science.

How does McKenzie know?

Climate Council

Because of two of the oldest, most reliable barometers of public opinion -- barbies and cabbies.

"Over the time I've been working in climate change we've seen a massive decline in people who don't think it's happening, or who don't think that humans have any role to play," McKenzie told HuffPost Australia in the latest episode of our Breaking The Ice podcast.

"In the past, people at a BBQ or somewhere like that would get me in a corner and start raving about how climate change isn't happening. That actually doesn't happen anymore.

"One of the barometers I have of public opinion is the views of taxi drivers... and for the last two or three years, you're just hearing less and less commentary from taxi drivers about climate change being something that is NOT happening, and much more concern about extreme weather events getting worse, and enthusiasm for renewable energy."

You can listen to our whole podcast with Amanda in the player below (or here, along with other episodes from both series 1 and 2).

A fascinating thing that emerged in the podcast was the way that bodies like the Climate Council use almost identical communications tactics as groups who oppose climate change action.

A little background to how that works. In episodes 4 and 5 of the current series of Breaking The Ice, we learned how U.S. Republican political strategist Frank Luntz first set in motion attacks on climate science.

"One of his most famous quotes was if you want to get a message across, you say it over and over and over and over again, until you're sick to death of saying it. And only then people are hearing it for the first time," climate science communications expert John Cook told us.

Amanda McKenzie said something almost identical in Breaking The Ice.

"I suppose it's not rocket science in terms of how you change public opinion. We can think facts will win the day which isn't necessarily the case. It is really what gets said the most.

"We we have facts on our side and we have the expert opinion, but we also need to package it up in lots of different ways that are relevant to people and say it over and over again."

"I think that ultimately we are winning the public debate. Most people in Australia -- and this is brought out by the polling -- they say that climate change is happening," McKenzie said.

"They understand that renewable energy is a solution, that it's positive, that it's cheaper than fossil fuels and we'll need to invest in it heavily."

One poll of the type to which McKenzie referred was this Essential Report poll published in February.

Essential Report

An interesting thing about the poll is how belief in accepted climate science was at its lowest in 2012 around the time Tony Abbott -- who was openly dismissive of accepted climate science -- was coming to power. Belief has since rebounded.

By the way, if you're interested in the work of the Climate Council, you really should take a look at its reports page. There you will find super helpful info on everything from clean coal to renewables to extreme weather events to you name it.

You might also be interested to know that The Climate Council used to be known as the Climate Commission and was government-funded before it was abolished under Tony Abbott.

It's now independent and McKenzie said they'd be reluctant to go back to being a government body.

"We were independent as the Climate Commission, but being outside government entirely there is an additional perception that you're independent, and that does give you more freedom.

"We wouldn't go back."

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