Cyanide is natural, too

If there was ever a polarising issue, then the carbon tax would have to be it. Each side feels that the truth is self-evident and the other lot are barking mad or positively dangerous. At the moment, it would appear that Tony Abbott’s “people’s revolt”, egged on by the talk-back kings, has the upper hand.

Of all the confounding ideas being thrown around by those opposing the tax is the idea that carbon is not pollution because it’s “everywhere” and it’s “natural”. Excuse me, but this is a very stupid argument (yes, the gloves are off). Cyanide is also natural. Cyanide is present in apple seeds. If you eat apple seeds in small doses (the odd apple seed, even quite a few of them) nothing terrible happens. But if you were to save up all your apple seeds and put them in a bowl and eat a dinner of them, you might not live to reach the bottom of the bowl.

Pollution is about unsafe concentrations of substances. We need carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to give us the greenhouse effect that nurtures life on earth. Without it, we’d freeze over. The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer we get. For years now, scientists from organisations like the CSIRO here in Australia and NASA in the United States have been trying to tell us that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reaching unsafe levels.

For all of human history up until very recently, we have had an atmospheric carbon concentration of 275 parts per million (ppm). We are now at 388ppm. Scientists agree that this particular rise cannot be explained by a “natural cycle”, but is the direct result of humanity burning fossil fuels since the industrial revolution. We’re concentrating our apple seeds, here. We need to throw this trend into reverse.

The most maddening thing about the “people’s revolt” is its reliance on a willful denial of scientific facts. It is one thing to oppose the carbon tax as policy, but quite another to encourage confusion about the mechanisms of climate change. Unfortunately, the science of climate change is hard to explain in eight-second sound grabs. A shock jock has no time for considered argument. He will cut you off if you disagree with him.
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Tracy Sorensen is the publicity officer for Bathurst Community Climate Action Network (BCCAN). Visit www.bccan.org.au. This piece was originally written for The Western Advocate, Bathurst’s daily newspaper.

PS: This just in: Atmospheric CO2 hit 391.76 ppm in Feb 2011 — the highest in 2.1 million years. http://co2now.org

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