NSW education minister Rob Stokes has taken a thinly veiled swipe at former prime minister Tony Abbott over his position on climate change, warning that “populist anti-intellectualism” from public figures undermines faith in schools and universities.
In an address on Tuesday to the Committee for Sydney, Mr Stokes took aim at politicians “wilfully ignoring empirical evidence and expert advice” on climate change.
He said sceptics accuse scientists and academics of being part of an out of touch “establishment elite” and argue that by applying “common sense” they would see though the “dogma”.
“This ‘common sense’ approach to climate change is why some politicians assert that satellite data evincing a global sea level rise of 3.4mm per year since 1993 must be incorrect because photographs of their local beach have looked pretty similar for the past 100 years,” Mr Stokes said.
“Or that the climate can’t possibly be warming because we had a cold snap in the middle of December a couple of years back.”
While not naming Mr Abbott it was a clear reference to the former prime minister’s speech in October to the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London.
In it Mr Abbott said that 100 years of photographs of Manly beach in his electorate on Sydney’s northern beaches do not suggest that sea levels have risen.
Mr Stokes – a fellow Liberal and former planning and environment minister who holds the northern beaches seat of Pittwater – warned this type of position “can have tremendously adverse effects on our education system”.
He argued that “arriving at an informed explanation of any phenomena – whether it is scientific, political or historical – requires the examination and analysis of structures and processes that are not always directly observable”.
“Yet if a student comes home from school having learnt about the greenhouse effect – only to turn on the TV and see a public leader dismiss the subject as an elitist falsehood not supported by ‘common sense’ evidence – whom are they supposed to believe?” Mr Stokes asked.
“Do they trust the word of their teacher? Or do they trust the word of our leaders in public life?”
Mr Stokes said a successful society “obviously needs trust in both” but the embrace of anti-intellectualism by public figures “has made this difficult”.
“Which is why anti-intellectualism is so dangerous: it undermines public faith in our education sector, thus eroding the very foundations of the schools and universities that have made Australia one of the most successful and competitive nations of the 21st Century,” he said.
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