Influencing the influencers

Earth in HandsPublicity uses the power of influence. It benefits from influence, the trusted relationship between the publisher and the audience. Your strategy in getting publicity is to influence the influencers.

I am prompted to write about influencing the influencers because I notice media influence, and its having an impact. Right now, Australia is in the midst of a highly charged debate about global warming, mainly because we have an election at the end of this year. At the core of the debate (campaign) is the question – is global warming a threat to us and future generations, one that demands an urgent response to mitigate environmental risk? Or is it an economic issue, that we should manage gradually to avoid financial disadvantage?

Some people argue that it doesn’t matter what Australia does. That the problem will only be solved with the big emitters – the US and China – on board. Here is a quote from today’s local paper, The West Australian:

In terms of the future of the planet, it doesn’t really matter what Australia does.
Paul Murray (a former editor of the same newspaper)

Here are two interesting pieces of information:

  • Australia contributes around 1.5% of global emissions(1)
  • Australia is one of the highest – if not the highest – emitters on a per capita basis(2)

The argument that Australia’s actions don’t matter has two flaws.

Firstly, 1.5% of global emissions may appear to make Australia an insignificant participant. But lets look at this again:

  • Australia is one of the top 25 emitters globally (ranked 17, according to Pew(1)).
  • Australia is the 15th largest economy by GDP in the world, only just behind India, and ranked 14th in per capita income.

If Australia – at 1.5% of global emissions – is too small to make a difference, maybe ‘only’ 5.7% wouldn’t make a difference either? Trouble is, using the 5.7% threshold, both India and Russia can rest easy, leaving only 2 countries in the world who ‘matter’ – the US and China. And they might argue (justifiably), since together they contribute less than a third of the world’s greenhouse gases, without the rest of the world on board, change can’t happen. Who matters? The top emitter? Top two? Top five? Top sixteen?

Secondly, and more importantly, the notion that Australia’s actions don’t matter ignores the issue of influence. The argument ignores the role Australia plays as the trusted friend of other countries – the US and China included. We have significant influence. Don’t newspapers themselves have a lot of influence? I’m sure in his role as editor of a newspaper, Paul Murray would have seen influence exercised – by individuals, newspapers and countries. Australia can play its small (but important) role in reducing emissions, as well as exercising our ability to influence the response of other countries.

The argument that it doesn’t matter what Australia does regarding global warming can be contrasted to many situations where we can see that our (small) actions do matter:

  • We only produce about 3% of the world’s wheat, but it does matter whether we have a single desk or not (just ask US wheat farmers).
  • We don’t dominate world trade, but we do have influence in trade negotiations through the Cairns Group.
  • It apparently does matter what we do with troop deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan – even with a tiny number of troops, our involvement is influential – just ask the US
  • For many it does matter whether our cricket team visits Zimbabwe – stopping the cricket might not stop the abuses, but for Australia to play cricket is seen as influential.

Anyway, you get the idea.

In short, a lot of people understand the power of influence. What I’d like to see is the role of influence brought in to the debate about Australia’s response to global warming. Neglecting the issue of influence represents a serious gap.

How Australia responds to global warming does matter. Australia is an influential country. In my view, we have the opportunity not only to be effective in reducing our own emissions, but in positively influencing other nations to do the same. In particular we can influence China and the US – not to tell them what to do, but we can influence them.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves – by choosing not to act on global warming, we’ll be influencing others to do the same.


(1) Source: There are various sources of information that support this view. Pew Centre Report SMH report on OECD International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
(2)Source: Australian Government, Department of The Environment and Water Resources. http://www.environment.gov.au/soe/2006/publications/report/atmosphere-2.html