Nov 102009
Carbon dioxide

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Global warming… or climate change as I prefer to call it (given that there’s been scant evidence of any actual "warming" going on in Ireland over the last few summers), is a serious issue for sure. But am I the only one worried by a recent spate of publicity that’s painting carbon dioxide (CO2) as a noxious chemical we need to eradicate?

One TV ad that targets children and parents is particularly disturbing, not because it deals with the sobering subject of climate change… but because it’s built around misinformation and blatant scaremongering. The ad I’m talking about shows a father reading a bedtime story to a little girl… a dreadful story about how the nasty CO2 monster, growing ever larger, is wreaking havoc with the climate and killing the planet. If you haven’t seen it you’ll find it below.


Yes, of course we should be teaching children about energy efficiency and the importance of using the planet’s finite natural resources in a responsible and sustainable way. But this ad doesn’t attempt to do anything like that. It has absolutely nothing to do with promoting education and encouraging informed action. It’s designed to generate a knee-jerk response through creative delivery of a sensationalised message. That’s rarely a good thing, and when it’s an ad aimed at children it’s very, very bad.

Scaring children senseless might have an immediate impact… and if you’re really unlucky a lasting one… but it’s not going to win you any prizes for positive parenting. Generally parents have better success by engaging with children in a meaningful and productive way. Why should getting youngsters (or their parents, for that matter) to pay attention to the issues surrounding climate change, carbon footprints and sustainability be any different? We need to inform, educate and engage… not beat them with a big stick. Peddling "the end is nigh" message may help the people involved to feel like they’re doing something worthwhile about the problem — but it’s never been a particularly effective catalyst for lasting change.

The central message of this dangerous missive seems to be the ludicrous notion that CO2 itself is somehow bad… it’s not, despite the bad press.

In fact, without CO2 the earth couldn’t support life. Plants use CO2 from the air and hydrogen from water to lock energy from sunlight into carbohydrates . These carbohydrates form the foundation of almost every food chain on the planet (including our own). Oxygen is released as a by product of the process, sustaining its levels in the atmosphere and allowing us, and everything else on earth, to breathe.

Far from being intrinsically evil, as it seems to be portrayed these days, CO2 is actually critically important. We couldn’t survive without it. I could be wrong here… but I think I’ve spotted a flaw in the logic of those trying to teach a generation of children that one of the fundamental building blocks of life on earth is something we need to eradicate.

Climate change is the single biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. For my children’s sake and their children’s after them, I understand the need for all of us to be more accountable for the energy we use, and the greenhouse gases that are emitted as a result (and yes that includes CO2). But bludgeoning people… particularly children… with sensational negative clap-trap like this isn’t the answer. Real answers will come from innovation, ingenuity and education; from investment in cleaner and more sustainable energy, more efficient appliances and from engaging with people intelligently and constructively about the issue. This, on the other hand, is just mindless propaganda.

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