Know any climate change sceptics? Turn off their air conditioning
This article first appeared in The Guardian Australia’s Comment Is Free section.
The science of climate change remains the same every day, regardless of whether it’s a sub-20 degree day in Ohio or a 46 plus scorcher in Adelaide. Nevertheless, it’s no surprise that people are less likely to be sceptical about global warming when they’re sweating from the heat.
As horrible as this week’s weather is on South Australians and Canadian tennis players alike, it provides climate change advocates with an invaluable opportunity. If we want to convince our climate sceptic friends and colleagues that climate change is not just a mass conspiracy invented by the left (each of whom clearly have shares in solar panel companies), this is our chance. And not just because the heat is making everybody a little delusional or too exhausted to argue.
I vote we hit them where it hurts: turn off their air conditioners.
Australia is uniquely framed in the climate change debate. As the OECD’s second highest polluter per capita, you would think we would feel morally obliged to be at the forefront of instigating policy changes. On the contrary, Australia – under both the Labor and Liberal governments – has commonly been referred to as a climate laggard. Over the next six months we are likely to sink to a new low, with our landmark carbon legislation likely to be repealed and our renewable energy targets expected to face delays.
Now more than ever, this country can ill afford to have climate change sceptics making noise, backing our government’s irresponsible actions or non-actions. We can’t be resigned to thinking that Labor and the Greens will restore the status quo in three to six years; we need attitudes to change now.
The air conditioner is a powerful defence mechanism against the heat, used by climate change believers and sceptics alike. It gives us a false sense of security that the changing climate is not a problem. What an air conditioner cannot stop, however, are the rising sea levels, the increased threat of natural disasters, and the unexpected fluctuations of weather. As such, we can’t rely on them to protect us forever.
Furthermore, air conditioners are a luxury accessible only to the richest of the rich, whereas climate change is a phenomenon that most affects the poorest of the poor. A combination of geography, economics, and political freedoms means people living in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia will suffer the consequences of a warming planet sooner and more severely than those of us working in high-rise office blocks in the Melbourne CBD.
In countries in those regions, subsistence farming and fishing are essential to the livelihoods of millions upon millions of families. This strenuous outdoor work is not only financially unrewarding, but subjects its employees to the hot sun for long hours on a daily basis. Then there are those who have to walk kilometres upon kilometres just to get access to clean water. And as you can imagine, you are thirstier on hot days, meaning trips to the local well become proportionally more necessary as the mercury rises.
Even within Australia, there is class divide when it comes to air conditioner access, with those of us working in white collar occupations getting a better deal than farmers, construction workers, or those working in tin-roofed warehouse ovens.
The best way to stop complacency is to attack it at its source. That’s why it’s imperative for us to meddle with our workmates’ air conditioning. I recommend loitering around their office, waiting for them to duck off to the bathroom, and quickly fiddling with their cooling unit. Then, at lunchtime, make an effort to steer your conversation towards the weather, the government’s so-called mandate, and the plight of Southeast Asian fishermen.
Because if you can’t convince them now, you never will.