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The importance of being informed

By James Fairbairn - posted Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Earth’s climate is changing. Of that there is no doubt. Then again there is also no doubt that the Earth’s climate has always been changing, since day one. The debate that is raging is whether, this time, man in all his dark glory is causing it. This is not an article about the complex science of climate, it is an article about why it is important that each of us does our research and makes an informed decision. This topic is the single most important topic of our times. What governments do as a result will affect us all. None of us can afford to be agnostic or to go with the flow. It is not being overly dramatic to say that the entire future of the human race potentially depends upon the outcome.

The argument that you are presented with each day is very simple. It has to be. Our entire mass media system is based on short bursts of information: sound bites. The hypothesis is that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a “greenhouse gas” and its increasing concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere - from about 0.0290 per cent to 0.0385 per cent in the last 100 years - has been caused by mankind's use of fossil fuels. The CO2 is “polluting” the atmosphere and leading to a “runaway greenhouse effect” where the planet will get warmer and warmer, leading to mass extinctions, sea level rises and will threaten our entire civilisation. CO2 is to blame. And we have caused it. Therefore we must and can solve it.

The solutions presented are, again, pretty simple. Governments will tax CO2 emissions through a quota system by which companies will have to buy permits allowing them the right to “pollute” the Earth with additional CO2, and will be able to trade their quotas in a global carbon trading system. Over time the quotas will become more and more stringent, reducing CO2 envisions, and hence saving the planet from doom. It all sounds pretty sensible.


If only life and science were that simple in reality. As I said before this is not an article about the science of climate, however it is essential to briefly consider the Earth’s ever changing climate and the factors that have historically influenced it. So what are they?

The Sun, the source of our heat and light. Does its energy output ever vary, and what impact does that have on climate?

Volcanoes. Do the vast releases of gases and heat from surface and submarine volcanoes influence climate? Are we measuring all these releases?

Water Vapour. It too is a greenhouse gas, and it is more than 30 times more prevalent in the atmosphere than CO2. Does the cloud cover of Earth affect climate, and if so what affects this cloud cover?

Further considerations include other greenhouse gases, such as methane; the inter-action of gases between the air, plants, oceans, bacteria, animals; wobbles in the Earth’s orbit, and its movement through the universe in general …

And I’m afraid that is just the tip of the mountain of information with which you will need to familiarise yourself. I bet you wish you had paid more attention during school geography and science lessons now, don’t you?


So what other questions do you need to ask?

Is the recent CO2 increase being caused by man? Does the increase in CO2 cause climate to change or is it caused by changing climate? Is the speed and amount of modern climate change unprecedented? Is the temperature range in the last 100 years outside normal variability? Has CO2 been considerably higher, and lower, than present and yet the Earth’s oceans have neither boiled away nor permanently frozen solid? Is CO2 actually pollution? Plants rather thrive on it after all.

So why is all this important? If we are to believe that “CO2 is a pollutant” and it is the only problem, then you have a problem because, if you take the argument to its ultimate conclusion then you are the problem. You exhale more than 350kg of CO2 each year. Your lifestyle leads to further CO2 emissions through the use of transportation, your consumables and your food supply - whether it be methane emitting livestock or the transportation of your food from the farm to your table.

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About the Author

James Fairbairn, "The Historian", is co-Founder and editor of and is also Vice-President of The Humanist Society of Western Australia. A historian by training, prior to emigrating to Australia he was a parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party in the UK (2005 General Election).

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