Year

2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Social Sciences, Media and Communication

Abstract

Climate change is bitterly controversial in public and political debate despite mainstream scientific consensus on its causes and consequences. Through a series of case studies I examine the strategies and tactics of three key players – government, industry, and scientists. I develop a framework adapted from Brian Martin‘s backfire model of outrage management to classify and compare the tactics of these groups. Applying a framework of tactics to the climate change debate gives insight into a pattern of techniques used by the protagonists.

Governments and industry are powerful players with access to a wide range of tactics. The Australian government led by John Howard relied mainly on denial, devaluation, deception, minimisation, framing, pressure, and some aspects of cover-up to manage its agenda. In comparison, Prime Minister Rudd‘s principal tactic was a sophisticated use of official channels to convey the impression his government was taking serious action on climate change. Australian industry has resourced a lobby group and a front group to exert a complementary strategic influence on both formal and public agendas. The lobby group used cover-up, reframing, participation in official channels, pressure, and political donations. The front group engaged in devaluation of scientists, deception, and denial of climate change. Sceptical commentators in the Australian print media are treated as a facet of the industry campaign. They used mainly rhetorical techniques including devaluation, reinterpretation, and reframing. Scientists are more restricted in their tactical repertoire and relied heavily on the legitimacy and authority of official channels. In the 'hockey stick' dispute between scientists and their critics where the resources of both sides are relatively evenly balanced, the response of observers indicates that perceptions of scientific conduct are crucial to the outcomes of the dispute. On a practical level, my analysis may enable participants to evaluate the potential choices and risks of various tactics in a strategic engagement.

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