This morning’s climate change debate on Channel Seven’s Sunrise program demonstrates the fruitlessness of arguing the case for climate on the data alone. Not because the data is wrong, but because it’s child’s play for self-serving PR types and academics to sow confusion using their own counter-data. The media lap it up and the sole result is that we give the gift of free equal air time to absolutely delighted sceptics.

Dr Mark Diesendorf knows his stuff. And his opponent, a Newcastle Uni academic, managed, from his first sentence, to convert the story into a maze of complication with variations in the climate data from 1940 and 1975 or something. In fact I’m not sure because I couldn’t follow the debate, and neither could the Sunrise presenters or anyone else. As a result the audience went away thinking there’s no clear answer.

Here’s the point – this is incredibly easy to do. In fact, data-based public cases are gagging for this kind of attack.

It ignores the most important element the public messages – the messenger. In a recent post I noted that the messenger needs to be passionate-similar-connected-respected. Dr Mark Deisendorf ticks only one of these qualities – respected. And that’s only because the presenters told the audience that he’s a respected expert. But then, they practically told the audience the same thing about the other guy – simply by inviting him on the show. The result is that the audience have no way of testing who they believe.

So here’s a different approach. Stop marching scientists before the camera because this sort of thing will happen every time. And don’t parrot their arguments because that’s only slightly more useless. Instead, find someone passionate-similar-connected-respected and give them the opportunity to simply say this: “I believe the data. I care about my children’s future. And I’m already acting to reduce the amount of energy I use and the amount of miles I drive.” There are no lack of stories you could tell.

Why has Intel purchased $2.5 billion in carbon credits? Why is the City of Sydney spending millions on gas turbine technology to get off the grid? Why has the entire population of Armidale installed compact fluoro light bulbs? and so on…  These stories are winning arguments that are impossible to defeat. They are about respected institutions and people that believe the data and have put their money on the table.

Can we do that a little more often?