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What is the greenhouse effect and how does climate change come into it?

The greenhouse effect is a good thing. Greenhouse gases in our atmosphere trap heat, warm our atmosphere and keep our Earth at a comfortable 15 degrees. Extra greenhouse gases are released when we burn fossil fuels. We mostly do this to generate energy for industry, our homes and schools. Burning fuel to transport us and our stuff around the place creates more greenhouse gas. Deforestation, and burping and farting cows are also large contributors. These gases put more energy into our atmosphere and are starting to affect our climate with more intense weather events and increased temperatures.

Why is there so much debate about climate change?

Our way of life depends on energy generated from burning fossil fuels (that put extra greenhouse gases into our atmosphere) for energy and transportation. Our entire food production depends upon it. It will be a huge challenge for the corporations who make money out of pumping greenhouse gases into our atmosphere for free to change the way they do business. If you were in charge of one of these big corporations what would you do? Climate science is very complex but it seems everyone is suddenly an expert. Why do we debate the peer-reviewed science on climate change?

Why has understanding climate change science split along political lines in Australia and the USA?

Some people think that government should be small and stay out of our lives. Everyone should look out for himself or herself. If you make more money than you need, good for you. Sometimes this may be bad for other people and our environment. But because it’s good for some it’s okay – after all, they have earned it.

Others want to care for those less able to look after themselves. To spend money on people, education, health and our environment for the good of everyone. They think that big business needs to be regulated otherwise it will run out of control. Can you see where this is headed? Australia and the USA is where this debate is fiercest. Why is this happening?

What role has the media played?

A recent American study found that 928 scientific studies were published in scientific journals (1994 – 2004) about climate change. The ones who disagreed that greenhouse gas pollution from human activity has caused most of the warming in the past 50 years was 0%. In the popular press (the stuff we read every day), 53% doubted the cause. What happened here? The media loves conflict. No wonder people are confused and don’t know what to think. What role is the media playing in Australia? Has it changed in any way?

Is Australia doing a good job at tackling climate change?

Australia only creates around 2% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Australia is in the top five countries for greenhouse gas pollution per person. Whatever Australia does will not make a difference. Australia is best placed to take advantage of a low carbon economy and export clean technology to the world. Australia has so much coal, we can’t afford to leave it in the ground. Australia is one of the most exposed countries to climate change. It’s all about jobs – towns will die. It’s all about new jobs – other towns will thrive. How did we get into such a mess? Is there a way out?

What can we do?

We can’t ignore the impact of climate change forever. The sooner we start the less difficult it will be later. Each of us can take action to push for a clean energy future. How might we get our school to shift to clean energy? Is your family interested in clean energy? How can you get other people to shift to clean energy?

Our future will be a lower energy future. So, how do we get people to start now, so there will be less damage to our economy and our climate system when we try to catch up later?