“A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims... but accomplices” - George Orwell
If the recent election results in Australia taught us anything, it’s that most people still put self interest and personal economic concerns ahead of environmental protection. In the long run, these priorities are intertwined of course, but that isn’t our focus here. In the view of many observers, the conservative coalition government’s record on the environment, sustainability, climate change and so on, ranges from poor to abysmal. In the final reckoning, though, the blame lies fairly and squarely with the public at large; politicians dismissive of these issues or merely paying them lip service would find their political career short-lived in the presence of an educated, aware and politically engaged population. I would argue that such a populace would inevitably be all too aware of the increasingly dire state of the planet.
Ignorance is not bliss.
This isn’t the world we live in, though. So, the question is: “Do Aussies Care Enough?”
There is no lack of scientific studies that have examined relevant questions on a national level. Attitudes are clearly informed and affected by arrange of factors such as economic development, direct experience of environmental problems (pollution, depleted fish stocks, prolonged and worsening droughts …), political and social structures, et cetera. Nevertheless, is level of education a significant if not key influence?
The issue of Climate Change seems a particularly useful litmus test on prevailing attitudes towards the environment. After all, a dismissive attitude here doesn’t bode well for an individual’s sensitivity to addressing deforestation, loss of biodiversity and so on.
I’d like draw attention to one survey in particular, undertaken by the highly regarded Pew Research Center, conducted in April of 2019 (report here). Among 26 countries surveyed, Australia ranked 19th on regarding climate change as viewing climate change as a major threat. Drilling down deeper, we find that there is a statistically significant difference based on education. Post-secondary study or above resulted in a 16-percentage-point increase in those that fall in the ‘major concern’ category.
It’s one thing to see climate change as a major threat, yet harbour worries about the loss of one’s livelihood in older, polluting industry. Take coal mining, for example. (Tackling climate change, in fact, would herald tremendous opportunity in the new, “green” economy.) It’s quite another to see it as a minor or non-existent problem. In the Australian context, it would seem abundantly clear that cynical politicians—almost exclusively from the political right—have deliberately stoked fear and uncertainty for political (and often financial) gain. To put it bluntly, the lesser educated have been hoodwinked.
Meanwhile, the natural world suffers. An impoverished environment means an impoverished society, sooner or later. And there’s no getting around that fact.