Steam billows from the cooling towers of Vattenfall's Jaenschwalde brown coal power station behind wind turbines near Cottbus, eastern Germany.

Bill Shorten says too many Australians took the popular support for action on climate change for granted. Photo: Pawel Kopczynski

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has lashed out at the conspiracy theorists, keyboard warriors and social media trolls who have hijacked the debate about man-made climate change.

There's an important difference between tackling the misinformation peddled by climate change deniers, and stooping to their level. 

And Mr Shorten has pledged to be a “disciple of science and innovation”, promising the Labor Party will encourage risk-taking and entrepreneurialism and warning “Australia can either get smarter or get poorer – we can choose to compete or give up”.

The Opposition Leader has been under sustained political pressure from the federal government to support the repeal of the carbon tax, but he has promised to vote against repeal if the alternative is the government's Direct Action policy.

He has also committed to taking a market-based system for pricing carbon to the 2016 election.

“Labor won't be walking away from our action on climate change – or bowing to the will of a Prime Minister who offers cynical nostrums that emissions trading is rendered meaningless because it deals with an 'invisible, odourless substance'," he said.

Mr Shorten told the annual Science Meets Parliament conference in Canberra on Monday the climate change debate was a “cautionary tale for what happens if we abandon the field to the conspiracy theorists and keyboard warriors, the social media trolls and the angry shouts of talkback radio”.

“Too many of us took the popular support for action on climate change for granted," he said.

“A mistake that has seen Australia move from a co-operative conversation on the best international method for dealing with the causes of climate change and mitigating against its effects to an argument poisoned by allegations of conspiracy and alarmist 'warmism'.”

“There's an important difference between tackling the misinformation peddled by climate change deniers, and stooping to their level.”

But the Opposition Leader also cautioned environmentalists against seizing on individual extreme weather events to highlight the impact of climate change.

Such arguments were “far too easy for climate-change deniers to rebut by seizing on any unseasonably cold weather”.

Mr Shorten told the room of about 150 scientists that Australia needed to make science a national priority, but that it could take years to build the public case for this – as it had taken years to build support for a National Disability Insurance scheme.

“I believe that making science and innovation a national policy and political priority is nothing less than an investment in Australian brainpower," he said.

It will not be easy at a time of slowing growth and downgraded revenue – but there are no shortcuts. After all, the NDIS was born in the midst of the greatest financial crisis since the great depression.”

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