Climate change science lost in political debate

I've been watching events unfolding in London over the last few days, as thousands of climate activists take part in protests across the city, urging Government action on climate change.

This has coincided with the United Nations "Mother Earth Day" - a day promoting living in harmony with nature and mending our sometimes "troubled" relationship with our planet. In Australia we're rapidly heading towards a federal election - and the environment is becoming a hot election issue.

There is a real buzz in the air about climate change. For decades scientists have presented evidence that our climate is changing, and the overwhelming scientific opinion is that human activity is to blame. The twenty warmest years in recorded history have occurred within the last twenty-two years, and in the next twelve years we'll hit a global increase in temperature of 1.5 degrees since pre-industrial times.

Here is Australia we're seeing destruction of natural wonders like our Great Barrier reef, we're experiencing increased temperatures, widespread drought, and increasing frequency of natural disasters.

Yet there's still scepticism that climate change exists - or that it's a result of human activities. I find this interesting. When scientists recently announced the first image of a black hole, the world was in awe.

When scientists demonstrate that 3D printing new organs like hearts could be a reality in the next decade or so, the world celebrates. When scientists develop new technology that allows us to communicate more easily and efficiently than ever before, the world embraces it.

But when scientists collect data to show that our world is warming as a result of human activity, many in the world question it. Like the vast majority of scientists, I believe the data. But can we convince others?

More and more I see people calling climate deniers crazy, or referring to them as idiots. Changing people's minds about controversial issues isn't easy - and calling them names isn't going to help. There's also so much information - both real and fake - floating around about issues like climate change, that it can be a confusing space for people to navigate. Education, and talking about climate change in an accessible way, can cut through this mire. But we have to remember climate change is about more than just facts - it's a political issue.

Instead of promoting this division of "us" versus "them" we need to find ways to come together. All of our futures depend on it.

Dr Mary McMillan is a lecturer at the School of Science and Technology, University of New England