350.org is a grassroots organisation promoting the idea that reducing carbon (CO2) emissions from current levels (I think around 390 parts per million) to 350ppm (the agreed level at which humans, animals and plants can live comfortably on this earth) means we (the global community) will reduce the effects of green-house warming, increased weather events (flooding, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc), among other effects.

Seems simple enough, however, for some reason contesting this idea are climate deniers (I don’t call them sceptics because they are not true sceptics in the scientific sense). These people (Ian Plimer, Lord Monckton, Fred Singer to name a few) have spent their time obfuscating, misleading and cherry picking the science they deny to prove their view that climate change is not happening and it hasn’t been caused by man.

Half the time these deniers are connected to ‘think tanks’ (IPA, Heartland) of the ultra conservative type who are often funded by coal and oil organisations (although they are often not up front about who funds them). Sadly, the coal and oil industry (I’m being very general here) don’t seem to have it in them (at least I haven’t seen, heard or read anything) to close down (the only alternative?) dirty, polluting, destructive and poisonous to life mining activities.

I hope I’m wrong …

Recently I discovered a site called Skeptical Science (run by John Cook). This site provides excellent information on various arguments put forward by the climate deniers, for example (the below has been taken from What does past climate change tell us about global warming?),

Climate’s changed before
“Climate is always changing. We have had ice ages and warmer periods when alligators were found in Spitzbergen. Ice ages have occurred in a hundred thousand year cycle for the last 700 thousand years, and there have been previous periods that appear to have been warmer than the present despite CO2 levels being lower than they are now. More recently, we have had the medieval warm period and the little ice age. (Richard Lindzen)”

What the science says
“A common skeptic argument is that climate has changed naturally in the past, long before SUVs and coal-fired power plants, so therefore humans cannot be causing global warming now. Interestingly, the peer-reviewed research into past climate change comes to the opposite conclusion. To understand this, first you have to ask why climate has changed in the past. It doesn’t happen by magic. Climate changes when it’s forced to change. When our planet suffers an energy imbalance and gains or loses heat, global temperature changes.

There are a number of different forces which can influence the Earth’s climate. When the sun gets brighter, the planet receives more energy and warms. When volcanoes erupt, they emit particles into the atmosphere which reflect sunlight, and the planet cools. When there are more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the planet warms. These effects are referred to as external forcings because by changing the planet’s energy balance, they force climate to change.

It is obviously true that past climate change was caused by natural forcings. However, to argue that this means we can’t cause climate change is like arguing that humans can’t start bushfires because in the past they’ve happened naturally. Greenhouse gas increases have caused climate change many times in Earth’s history, and we are now adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere at a increasingly rapid rate.

Looking at the past gives us insight into how our climate responds to external forcings. Using ice cores, for instance, we can work out the degree of past temperature change, the level of solar activity, and the amount of greenhouse gases and volcanic dust in the atmosphere. From this, we can determine how temperature has changed due to past energy imbalances. What we have found, looking at many different periods and timescales in Earth’s history, is that when the Earth gains heat, positive feedbacks amplify the warming. This is why we’ve experienced such dramatic changes in temperature in the past. Our climate is highly sensitive to changes in heat. We can even quantify this: when you include positive feedbacks, a doubling of CO2 causes a warming of around 3°C.

What does that mean for today? Rising greenhouse gas levels are an external forcing, which has caused climate changes many times in Earth’s history. They’re causing an energy imbalance and the planet is building up heat. From Earth’s history, we know that positive feedbacks will amplify the greenhouse warming. So past climate change doesn’t tell us that humans can’t influence climate; on the contrary, it tells us that climate is highly sensitive to the greenhouse warming we’re now causing.”

From what I’ve been reading it seems Australia and the US appear to be the only(?) two countries arguing over whether or not climate change is happening and whether or not it’s caused by humans. Europe, UK and others are getting on with changing their economy to reduce their carbon emissions, admittedly with varying degrees of success. It’s complex but here’s something that explains the above quite well:

It was also heartening to read from MotherJones via 350.org that stopping climate change is much cheaper than you think. What this article reports on is recent research conducted by the Climate Change Committee (for the UK Government) which suggests that,

“… a rough comparison (of cost, is), 1 percent of the UK’s 2011 GDP is a little more than what the country currently spends on public housing and community amenities and is no where near the big-ticket public spending items like health care.”

Bottom line? Cost is not an impediment. And many economists agree that the benefits of action outweigh the cost.

So, WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT?

In Australia, (where I live), our Government will be implementing the carbon price scheme on 1 July 2012. There was lots of argy bargy from the opposition (the conservatives and other powerful lobby groups read, oil, coal and iron ore miners) such as electricity prices will rise (never mind the fact that electricity prices have risen in recent years due to desperately needed infrastructure maintenance and new work), that food prices will rise, that life as we know it will end, to not see this legislation through but luckily the Government were able to thrash out a deal with the Independents and Greens.

So what am I getting at here? I have always thought that many of the things we take for granted like the mining of iron ore for steel, oil for petrol and coal for energy have never been truly costed (particularly the environmental impact) so for well over 50 years the big polluters and therefore consumers have had it pretty good.  I am very happy for the carbon price to begin and for those big polluting organisations to start paying the true price of their activities.

Now it’s time for me to pay the true cost, to reduce my footprint on the one and only planet that sustains me.

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