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Top 6 climate change myths. Busted.

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As the Federal Government’s climate change ‘carbon pollution’ legislation gets debated in Parliament, we’ve decided to run the ultimate climate change reference post. You’ve heard from Tony Abbott, and from Minister Jenny Macklin. Now, hear the view from The Climate Institute, an independent research body. Giulia Baggio writes:

Climate Change Mythbusters

1. Myth: Taking action on climate change will make my household bills go through the roof.

Fact: The pollution tax proposed by the Government is not a tax on households. It’s a tax on pollution caused by big industrial polluters. You will not see it appearing on your tax return, electricity bill or your shopping bill.

Any costs passed through to households are expected to be small – around $9.90 a week. Most households will receive financial support to cover all or part of this.

2. Myth: Australia does not create much pollution

Fact: Australians create the most pollution, per person, in the developed world – mainly because we burn heavy-polluting coal to create most of our electricity. Our economy compared with other major economies is the 15th biggest polluter in the world.

3. Myth: Cutting Australia’s pollution will not have any effect on global pollution levels

Fact: Australia’s pollution levels might look small compared with China or the US, but in fact they are similar in size to the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, South Korea and a range of other mid-sized countries. Acting together, our countries can cut up to a third of global pollution – and that’s the point: we all have to act together to make it effective.

As a big polluter, and the one of the world’s largest coal exporters, other countries take note of Australia’s actions.

4. Myth: Other countries are not doing anything about climate change

Fact: All major economies are acting on climate change. More than 100 have renewable energy policies and many are developing clean energy industries worth billions of dollars. More than 30 have emissions trading schemes including all of Europe, the UK, New Zealand, a number of US states and, by 2015, a pilot scheme in China too. The danger for Australia is falling behind the rest of the world.

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5. Myth: Scientists don’t agree climate change is really happening

Fact: A vast majority of working climate scientists (97%) agree that climate change is happening and human activity is largely responsible.

All the scientific academies and associations around the world, including the Australian Academy and CSIRO, support this majority scientific view and agree that prompt action is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change, with scientific evidence growing stronger every year.

This includes the leading academies in 19 of the world’s most powerful developed and developing countries such as the US, Japan, the UK, Germany, Canada, China, Russia and India.

6. Myth: A price on pollution will just churn money through the economy and will not do anything to help the environment.

Fact: A price on pollution or pollution tax will make clean energy like solar and wind power relatively cheaper than older, dirtier electricity sources. As products and services made from cleaner energy sources become cheaper, businesses and households will switch over to save money. This will drive our economy to use even more clean energy and this, in time, will cut the amount of carbon pollution going into our atmosphere.

To be most effective, the pollution tax needs to be coupled with other policies like the Renewable Energy Target (RET) which aims to have Australia using 20% renewable energy by 2020.

The background

Like a lot of women, I have 2 jobs.

I’m a mum raising 2 kids, and I also work in the field of climate change research. Both feel full-time but I’ve decided they’re the 2 most useful things I could be doing.

As a mother I instinctively want to make sure my children don’t inherit a hot, harsh environment with nasty extremes of weather brought on by a polluted atmosphere.

As part of a climate research team, I know there are already ways we can undo some of the damage but it’s a big job and we have to get on with it – right now – if the kids are going to be ok down the track.

First, some facts.

Since the 1950s, scientists have been measuring a rapid build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Co2 is a natural part of the atmosphere and acts like a blanket around the earth.

But because so much man-made carbon dioxide is now being pumped into the air, it’s like we’re adding extra blankets and trapping too much heat.

This is melting the Arctic ice cap and also causing the sea level to rise. Bad news if you’re a Pacific Islander …or, in years to come, a coastal-dwelling Aussie.

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It’s also warming the sea, which scientists say is driving more intense storms and hostile weather.

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On land, the trapped heat intensifies drought, creating hotter, drier conditions that lend themselves more readily to bushfires.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases causing the heat-trap come mostly from burning coal, oil and gas (fossil fuels). Factories in wealthy countries like Australia have been doing it for 160 years – it’s made us a rich, industrialised nation with great living standards.

But per person, it’s also made us one of the biggest polluting countries on earth – we’re among the top 20.

Countries like China and India are fast catching up as they start to industrialise and pull their people out of poverty. They’re building impressive clean energy industries but also burning enormous amounts of black coal for electricity and a decent standard of living.

So we have a worsening heat-trap caused by heavy industrial pollution worldwide.

What to do about it, Mamamia readers?

Will we have to live in a cave, wear hessian bikinis, eat grass and be miserable to save the world?

No we will not. The good news is we can build cleaner sources of electricity: solar (hello hot Australian sun), wind (already underway), wave power (we are an island) and geothermal power (hot rocks deep underground). You can even use gas from landfill to make electricity. Researchers are also trying to find ways to capture and store pollution from our power stations.

Believe it or not, our politicians – yes Libs, Labor and Greens – actually DO agree climate change has to be fixed.

But HOW to do it is where they disagree and things get murky. Let me shine some light.

In deciding the best scheme, there’s one main question: what’s the cheapest but most environmentally effective way to cut pollution? The biggest bang for our buck?

Option 1: Carbon price or pollution tax

Cost: $23 per tonne of pollution in 2012

Who pays: heavy polluting industries – not households

Environmental effect: could cut pollution 25% by 2020, 80% by 2050

Australia’s heaviest polluters are coal-burning power stations, and cement, steel, aluminium and mining businesses. The less pollution they make, the less tax they’ll pay – a big incentive for them to use cleaner energy and smart technology to cut pollution when they make or mine their products.

By 2050 – when our kids are parents – Australia aims to have cut carbon pollution by 80% under this scheme.

Where does the tax go? Not to government coffers – the money is set aside to help build renewable energy industries; help polluting industries develop cleaner technology; create more sustainable farming practices; and to give tax cuts and support to households from prices rises passed on by big polluting businesses as they start to change their ways.

These measures are likely to be made law later this year, supported by the Government, 4 independent MPs and the Greens. You can find out more here.

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Option 2: “Direct Action” or government subsidy program.

Cost: $11 billion fund for pollution-cutting projects till 2020

Who pays: taxpayers give money to businesses taking part in the program

Environmental effect: Opposition says pollution could be cut 5% by 2020 but independent studies say it could increase by up to 18%. Scheme stops in 2020.

Under this plan, backed by the Opposition, $11 billion dollars would be given to businesses to develop their own pollution-cutting projects. The funding would come from taxpayers, out of the federal budget each year.

It’s not clear if businesses would be allowed to pass costs from their schemes back onto consumers. There would be no compensation for households. Various studies conclude pollution keeps rising until the scheme runs out in 2020. You can find out more here .

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So there’s your choice. One thing is very clear.

If we do nothing, climate scientists calculate the temperature of the planet will rise by more than four degrees Celsius by 2050. Four degrees doesn’t sound much? If your child’s temperature went up 4 degrees, you’d be straight to the doctor. I won’t scare you with the details – go Google it if you’re not convinced. You can find two articles that sum up the scary stuff here and here.

Let’s just say your kids will be pretty pissed off if they find out later you were a) sitting on the fence feigning confusion; b) pretending it was a scientific conspiracy and nothing to worry about; c) taking your cue from popular entertainer Alan Jones.

This is the mother of all issues – so do your kids a favour – get to know the facts and make an informed choice.

Let me get you started:

Climate Nasa, Met Office, skeptical science

Oscar winning documentary – An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

Giulia Baggio is the Media and Communications Director for the Climate Institute and mother of two from Melbourne.

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