Some hope amongst the climate change foolishness

Regular readers of my column will know I usually try to take a light-hearted approach in my writing - exploring current issues in science with, hopefully, a touch of humour. But today, I am not feeling particularly light hearted. And there's nothing funny about the situation we are currently facing.

I live in an area that, like much of Australia, is being affected by bushfires. An area where people have lost their properties, their livelihoods and their lives.

And yet, daily, we see in newspapers, on social media and coming out of politicians' mouths, a denial of the science that says climate change is behind this.

So here's a brief lesson in climate science. Human activities - burning fossil fuels, our transportation, agricultural practices and changes in land use - produce greenhouse gasses. They produce more greenhouse gas than can be taken up by carbon sinks - plants, soil and oceans. The excess gas released into the atmosphere creates an insulating blanket around the earth, trapping more solar radiation. The end result: the earth gets hotter.

We learn in primary school science classes that fire needs three things: it needs fuel, it needs a source of ignition, and it needs oxygen. Climate change is causing increased temperatures. Climate change is resulting in less rainfall. Combined these create more dry fuel, ready to burn. Add a source of ignition, whether the action of an individual person, or work of nature, and, well ... we all know the result. Yes, bushfires have always been a threat in Australia. But the science tells us that, unless we do something, this threat is only going to increase.

But there is hope. Around the world we have smart people working on solutions that can help to stop the progression of climate change. We have scientists and engineers developing more efficient alternative energy sources, which can reduce our reliance on burning coal and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have companies starting to provide new, more environmentally friendly transport options. We have researchers developing materials and products that can be used to replace plastics and concrete, again reducing emissions. We have scientists who can advise on ways we can change our land usage and management to capture more carbon.

Scientists have been warning us about what is going to happen, and why. Scientists are also providing solutions.

Now we just need our politicians, our decision-makers, to listen.

Dr Mary McMillan is a lecturer at the School of Science and Technology, University of New England