I Can Change Your Mind About Climate: predictable documentary drumming up controversy where none exists

Max Bourke, “I Can Change Your Mind About Climate” (2012)

It seemed like a good idea at the time: take two people with sharply opposed views on an issue – in this case, whether climate change is anthropogenic or not based on the known evidence, and whether people should act now to mitigate or prevent its worst effects – and get both of them to persuade the other to change his / her mind with support from people on their side whom they trust. Environmentalist activist Anna Rose Barry and Liberal Party politican Nick Minchin, a former Science Minister in John Howard’s government (1996 – 2007) in Australia, attempt to sway each other’s opinion and position on climate change with the help of ABC TV and lots of air travel and carbon dioxide emissions in the upper atmosphere at Australian taxpayers’ expense. Minchin meets Barry’s farmer uncle in Moree and a parade of earnest climate scientists and Barry meets a sceptical couple, a Washington DC political advisor, a scientist with a dodgy past and other assorted colourful types, all of whom present their case for believing or not believing in anthropogenic climate change, some of them quite forcefully and others in a way that tells viewers more about their political ideologies than about their beliefs on climate change.

After travelling tens of thousands of kilometres in the air and on ground, staying in comfortable hotels across the US and the UK, and taking a test on their stand on climate change that tells them as much about their general values and attitudes and what psychodemographic group they belong to, our protagonists at least come to a better understanding of where their opposite number is coming from in belief systems, values held and cherished, how they define climate change risk and what policies should be followed that will be supported by most people. At the film’s conclusion, Barry and Minchin find some “common ground” even though they agree to disagree on the causes of climate change but we viewers already knew the two weren’t going to change each other’s mind anyway.

Along the way Barry realises the documentary’s concept and format were never going to favour her position as the balance between her position and Minchin’s position is a false one favoured by the Western media in most reporting of supposedly controversial issues (supposedly because most “controversial” issues are made so by the media): while the evidence of anthropogenic climate change is in Barry’s favour, the program presents her position and camp of supporters as being equally valid and important as Minchin’s position and camp of supporters. The reality is that many of the people Minchin presents as trustworthy researchers turn out to have shady pasts or are so dogmatic and rigid in defending their opinions that something more than just climate change must be motivating them; in the case of the Perth-based blogger couple, they seem oddly insular and determined to shout down any idea that threatens their carefully constructed mental edifice.

Plenty of issues are acknowledged or faintly addressed along the way: the generation gap between Minchin (aged 50+ years) and Barry (in her 20s); the use or abuse of scientific models and data to support opinion; why people deny climate change, often strenuously; the influence of political and economic ideologies on forming personal opinions and how people view the world; the role of media in forming and directing opinion; disagreements about “feedback”; definitions of terms and assumptions about aspects of climate change discussion; and examining and questioning your own position, how fixed it may be and how that influences people to agree or disagree with you. Barry learns she and her fellow environmentalists have their work cut out communicating with and encouraging sceptics to enter into dialogue with them, rather than simply spout facts and argue and expect everyone to fall in line with their opinions.

The program was not a great eye-opener: most viewers would have expected neither Barry nor Minchin to budge at all from their respective positions. The program had been edited to an hour’s length, much of it at Barry’s expense: one US Navy researcher Barry took Minchin to see was completely cut out of the TV broadcast.

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