By Claire

I was reading through the comments section of an article on the Canberra Times website titled, “Where even the Earth is melting,” (an interesting article on the rate of permafrost melt and its impact on methane emissions), when I came across a series of comments that got me frustrated.

…Do you understand that there is a difference between smog and carbon dioxide. Its not CO2 that obscures your view of the sky in Mumbai and Shanghai. Its smog.

Everyone agrees that smog is bad. However, its just the left who are nuts over carbon dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide is a tasteless odourless gas that is essential to life on Earth.

I am just curious, do you drink carbonated soft drinks like Coca-cola, Fanta, carbonated water etc? Do you know that these drinks have carbon dioxide in them. Thats why they have bubbles. Why do you drink pollution?

Unfortunately, this inaccuracy has been put forth by my mortal enemy (thanks to Sheldon for this descriptor), Alan Jones. Those of us with any kind of discernment realise that Alan Jones is full of crap, but it is clear, that there are still people who take the dribble that comes out of his mouth as gospel.

“You’ve heard me a million times about this: carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Plants thrive on it. It’s in our fizzy drinks, beer and champagne. It’s non-toxic, it doesn’t discolour, it’s not a pollution.”
— 2GB, The Alan Jones Breakfast Show, 30th March, 2012

Notice any similarities between these two comments?

Luckily, Alan Jones has now been ordered to undergo media training to ensure that his on-air claims are accurate, following a ruling by ACMA, which found that Jones breached the broadcasting code through his use of inaccurate “facts”.

Unfortunately, a lot of damage has already been done when it comes to the notion of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and I would like to try to do my part to correct this misunderstanding.

By definition, a pollutant is something that “contaminates”, occurring in “harmful concentrations” and is the “waste product of an industrial process”. I think that human carbon dioxide emissions certainly fit into that category.

It’s true, that carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring substance that’s essential for life. High school biology told us that it’s a key reactant in photosynthesis, whereby trees take it in to produce oxygen.

The real issue with current levels of carbon dioxide, is that they are the highest they have been for at least the last 400 000 years, and show no sign of slowing.

Essentially, what we have done by digging up and burning fossil fuels, is release a whole lot of carbon back into the carbon cycle that naturally, would have remained locked away for thousands – even millions – of years. The Earth’s carbon cycle naturally cycles carbon through the atmosphere and biosphere, but it also acts to lock carbon away in reserves, removing it from the carbon cycle.

We have upset this natural process by releasing 9 billion tonnes of carbon each year to the atmosphere. This extra carbon is interfering with the global energy budget, causing the earth to warm and the negative impacts of climate change that we hear about all the time.

Climate change is real and is happening now and no amount of denying it will change that fact. We need to do something now to reduce emissions and limit the impacts of climate change as much as possible.

Right now, negotiations are underway in Qatar to agree on new emissions targets for the next decade or so, to develop a global framework for limiting CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Fingers crossed an agreement can be made so that the worst impacts of climate change can be avoided.