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

The greenhouse effect is a good thing. Greenhouse gases (GHG) in our atmosphere trap heat, warms our atmosphere and keeps our Earth at a comfortable 15 degrees. Additional greenhouse gases are released when we burn fossil fuels to generate energy and to transport us and our stuff around our Earth. Deforestation, and burping and farting cows are also large contributors of greenhouse gas. These gases put more energy into our atmosphere and are starting to affect our climate with more intense weather events and increased temperatures.

What are the biggest polluters doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?Who is taking action?

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 gas into our atmosphere) for energy and transportation. Our entire food production depends upon it. It’s a huge challenge for the corporations who make money out of pumping greenhouse gases into our atmosphere to change the way they do business. If you ran one of these huge corporations what would you do? Climate science is very complex, but it seems everyone is suddenly an expert according to their vested interest, view of the world and political views. Why do we debate the peer-reviewed science on climate change?

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

Some people think that government should be small and stay out of our lives. They think that everyone should lookout for himself or herself and that making more money than you need is a good, competitive thing. Sometimes this may have a negative impact on other people and our environment, but because it’s good for some it’s okay – after all, they have earned it.

Others think it is important to care for those less able to care for themselves and to invest in people, education, and our environment for the greater good. They also think that big business needs to be regulated otherwise it will run out of control. Can you see where this is headed? Interestingly Australia and the USA, two so-called frontier nations, are where this debate is fiercest. Why is this happening?

What role has the media played?

The peer-reviewed papers in the climate science community have found that human activity has undoubtedly been the major contributor to climate change in the past 50 years. A recent American study found that of the 928 scientific studies published in scientific journals (1994 – 2004) that disagreed with the finding that greenhouse gas pollution from human activity has caused most of the warming in the past 50 years was 0%. During the same period 636 articles appeared in the popular press and 53% doubted the cause. What happened here? The media love 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?

Why isn’t Australia doing a better job at tackling climate change?

Australia only creates around 2% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Australia is ranked in the top few 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. We cannot afford to lead. We are ranked 47th in nations acting on climate. 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 – towns will thrive. The carbon tax will do nothing. The carbon tax is an imperfect start. 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 is less damage to our economy and our climate system when we try to catch up later?