This truism holds even with climate change deniers who ‘cherry pick’ evidence to support their case and ignore that information they dislike or are prejudiced against. It applies to the most rabid followers of Andrew Bolt and other reactionary, mercenary wordsmiths of the Murdoch monopoly (following Andrew Bolt on so complex a matter as climate change is like asking your local plumber how to carry out a heart operation). It applies to the editorial writer of the Bairnsdale Advertiser. For people are mistaken when they say they hold a belief or opinion on climate change. They are asking the wrong question when they say “Do you believe in climate change” for it is like asking “Do you believe in gravity?”
The science of climate change has been established for many years and is based on laws of physics – the Greenhouse effect, the law of conservation of mass, and the carbon cycle. The latter is fairly commonly known and understood and I have explained the greenhouse effect on a number of occasions in this column. (for the latest see here)
Hardest of all for me to explain is the ‘conservation of mass’ – that matter cannot be created or destroyed. As a non-scientist I sometimes get myself into difficulties over this. I use the example of burning one ton of anthracite – nearly pure carbon – in the atmosphere. To the naïve observer the coal has disappeared leaving a small pile of ash. But in the combustion process heat is released and the carbon atoms are joined by oxygen atoms. Each carbon atom is joined with two oxygen atoms to create the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. And as each oxygen atom is heavier than a carbon atom the combustion process turns the one ton of anthracite into about 3 tons of CO2. To be precise burning 1 (short) ton of ordinary black coal produces 2.86 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Since Arrhenious set his formula of the ‘forcing’ power of CO2 in 1896 little has changed except that his work has been continually refined. His conclusion that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere would increase earth’s average temperature more than 6 degrees may not be so wide of the mark. From all this we can deduce that climate change is not a matter of belief; that by burning coal we are gradually ‘forcing’ temperatures upwards and that if we can’t quickly kick this habit we humans are in diabolical trouble.