Globe & Mail: New Climate Almanac 2007

Globe & Mail: New Climate Almanac 2007

17 February 2007

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The implications of climate change can be overwhelming. They touch every field,from science to economics to culture. Our New Climate Almanac 2007 breaks downthe complexity with a concise miscellany of the latest ideas, facts andpredictions.

TheNew Climate Almanac 2007
February 17, 2007
Globe and Mail

Pumping carbon dioxide into the air changes the climate, but that’s hardly theend of the story. Eventually, about half of the gas is absorbed by the oceans (sinceburning fossil fuels began in earnest, roughly the weight of 140 millionVolkswagen Beetles), and it makes the water more acidic. This is not a good ideafor creatures that depend on shells, which an acid bath could start to dissolve.And Britain’s Royal Society has issued a report predicting that, even ifemissions are reduced, coral may become a rare commodity. — MartinMittelstaedt

According to, this is “the phenomenon that leads tounseasonably cold temperatures, driving rain, hail, or snow whenever Al Gorevisits an area to discuss global warming.” It was spotted in New York Cityin 2004 and again in Australia last November, when his arrival there on his”Inconvenient Truth” tour was marked by an unexpected late-wintersnowstorm.

It happened in Canada this year, sort of, when tickets to a Feb. 21 speech byMr. Gore at the University of Toronto went on sale — on the coldest Feb. 7 onrecord for downtown Toronto. — Peter Scowen

When the Earth shifted from icy to tropical periods in the past, fossil recordsshow that species shifted too. Today, climate change is moving the butterfliesof Europe northward — as well as holly plants in Britain.

But what happens to those that can’t move, or that find major cities orhighways block their way? Enter assisted migration, a sort of emergency-reliefservice that springs species from global warming danger zones.

Such an interventionist approach is not without controversy, however. The keyissue: how to deal with naturally invasive species that reproduce quickly andcan adapt easily to a new environment. Moving beavers is out, for instance,since they drastically alter their surroundings.

“If you aren’t careful,” Jessica Hellman says, “you couldrelease a species that could do more harm than good.”

The researcher at the University of Notre Dame, who started thinking aboutassisted migration while she was doing work on endangered species on VancouverIsland, is about publish a paper framing the debate in the journal ConservationBiology. — Anne McIlroy

By mid-afternoon most days, the giant traffic circle serving Belorusskayarailway station in central Moscow is hopelessly gridlocked, and the number ofluxury cars trapped with all the aging Lada clunkers is growing steadily.Despite President Vladimir Putin’s stated commitment to Kyoto, environmentalissues barely impinge on the public consciousness.

Mark Ames, an American who has lived in Moscow since 1993, says Russianseither don’t connect what spews out their tailpipes with the fact that Decemberwas the warmest in recent memory, or to them “it’s like global warming is atragic fate” because “they learn from a young age they have no effecton anything.”

This indifference has global consequences. According to Greenpeace Russia,worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions would be slashed by 3 per cent if Soviet-era,gas-fired power plants were brought up to European standards.

China’s contribution to global warming is also a big worry — but fewoutsiders realize just how much the world’s most populous nation is a victim ofthe changing climate. Virtually all of its glaciers show signs of substantialmelting, which will increase the risk of floods and, in the long term, couldreduce its water supply dramatically. According to one report, major crops suchas rice, wheat and corn could be reduced by 37 per cent in this century.

Experts predict the Yellow River will be severely affected, and last year themighty Yangtze was at its lowest level in 140 years.

As well, heat could make it easier for infectious diseases to spread, andrising sea levels will heighten the risk of coastal flooding. — Paul Tadichand Geoffrey York

If sea levels continue to rise as predicted, the Big Apple will be 50centimetres closer to getting dunked by 2050. Much of New York City is onlythree metres above sea level, so it is susceptible to storm surges — walls ofwater pushed onto land when low pressure and high winds converge. In December,1992, a fierce Nor’easter delivered a 2.3-metre storm surge, flooding the city’stunnels and subways. A nine-metre surge could flood parts of Brooklyn, Queens,Staten Island and Manhattan; waste-treatment plants would back up and fragileecosystems would be decimated.

Malcolm Bowman, head of the Storm Surge Research Group at Stony BrookUniversity, is recommending that the city adapt to long-term climate change byinstalling flood barriers at strategic points — the Verrazano Narrows, ThrogsNeck and the Arthur Kill — to save lives and millions of dollars.

Worldwide, these barriers are becoming commonplace. The Thames River Barrierhas protected London from flooding since 1984. Italy plans to complete theinstallation of a series of inflatable pontoons to protect the Venice Lagoon by2011. But in New York, Prof. Bowman doesn’t expect construction to begin soon.

“I think it will take a catastrophe,” he says. “People willdrown and Wall Street will flood.” — Hannah Hoag

If you turn up the thermostat, it stands to reason that wood will catch fire.

In fact, the boreal forest, the world’s most important carbon saver, isalready getting smoked, says Mike Flannigan, a senior research scientist withthe Canadian Forest Service.

In the 1970s, about a million hectares of Canadian forest burned annually. By2000, the national total reached a high of three million hectares, or an areahalf the size of Nova Scotia. By the end of this century, Canada could losetwice that — equivalent to all of Nova Scotia — every year.

This gathering inferno will have dire consequences for the $40-billion forestindustry, as well as a surprising environmental impact. For instance, borealpeat bogs contain 15 times more mercury than forest soils do, so intense blazescould release extremely high amounts of the neurotoxin into the atmosphere.

And, of course, burning forests no longer serve as carbon savers. In the past40 years, forest fires have released carbon equal to 20 per cent of the nation’sfossil-fuel pollution. — Andrew Nikiforuk

The weather was a hobby for the British steam engineer who gets the credit forfirst linking smokestacks to warmer winters — in 1938. Guy Stewart Callendarfastidiously tracked temperatures in his spare time, and his numbers showed thatthe world had been heating up for the previous four decades. His theory, basedon the research of earlier scientists who had been ignored, argued that humanCO2 production was making the temperatures rise. His claims were pooh-poohed:”The idea that a man’s actions could influence so vast a complex,” hewrote, “is very repugnant to some.” — Erin Anderssen

Small plastic cards have become an inextricable part of our lives — bank cards,credit cards, loyalty cards, air-miles cards. Within the decade, Brits (and then,perhaps, others) may be swiping one more card — a carbon credit card — topurchase airline tickets or gasoline, or to pay an energy bill. Each citizenwould receive a carbon allowance to use or to sell to others; the nationalcarbon allotment would drop annually, reducing emissions over time. “Itgives carbon a currency and stimulates carbon consciousness,” says SimonRoberts, chief executive for the Centre for Sustainable Energy, which carriedout a feasibility study for the British government. — Hannah Hoag

Speculators who have no clue about life on the farm can nonetheless make aprofit or lose a bundle from investing in futures contracts that promisedelivery of frozen pork bellies at some later date. In the same way, the ChicagoClimate Exchange is building toward the day when investors will be able to buyand sell greenhouse-gas-emissions credits, as part of an effort to establish amarket that would finance the most efficient reductions.

At the three-year-old Chicago exchange, members ranging from Ford Motor Manitoba Hydro pledge in a voluntary but legally binding contract to reducetheir emissions of greenhouse gases by a certain amount over a period of years.They can choose to reduce their own emissions or to purchase credits from othermembers who have exceeded their own targets. Or else they buy from so-calledaggregators, who amass credits from individuals or companies that have cutemissions.

One dairy farmer from Minnesota, for example, earned $10,000 by sellingcredits that he earned by capturing methane from an animal-waste lagoon.

In Canada, the Montreal Exchange is hoping to mimic the success in Chicago,but is still waiting for federal rules that might encourage a market to develop.— Shawn McCarthy

The language sometimes used to describe global warming is tantamount to “climateporn,” according to two linguistic experts in Britain. Gill Ereaut and NatSegnit were hired by the Institute for Public Policy Research to study howclimate change is being communicated and discussed. They say advocates and themedia are adopting tones familiar from disaster movies, and are depictingclimate change “as awesome, terrible, immense and beyond control.”This may be “secretly thrilling,” they say, but ineffective, since itleaves people feeling that there is nothing that they can do. — Anne McIlroy

As the climate changes, so will the world and, for many people, not for thebetter. It won’t be long before “environmental refugees” outnumberthose displaced by war and genocide — scientists predict that by 2050 as manyas 200 million people will be displaced. Long-term, scientists are concernedabout the potential for coastal flooding of densely populated regions, such asNew York and Bangladesh. Meanwhile, the sea is creeping up on low-lying islands,especially in the South Pacific.

“Tuvalu will suffer in the future, but very slowly,” says BrianCannon, a former resident of the island now living in Vancouver. The Tuvaluangovernment is trying to plan for an evacuation, but as yet they have not secureda home for the 11,000 islanders.

But more immediate is the threat of droughts, which could turn huge tracts ofthe Earth into desert. “Desertification is one of the greatestenvironmental threats we face today,” says Zafar Adeel, director of theInternational Network on Water, Environment and Health at the United NationsUniversity in Hamilton. “Currently, 100 to 200 million people are affectedby desertification, and about 2.1 billion people are at risk.”

He says sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia, such as “the five’Stans,’.” will suffer some of the worst effects from climate change, andthey lack the resources and infrastructure to cope. Water shortages areguaranteed to spark violent conflicts around the world, similar to thedrought-related violence in Darfur, Dr. Adeel says.

“Addressing desertification is one of the most effective ways to dealwith climate change — you get the biggest bang for your buck. Unfortunately,”Dr. Adeel adds, “there is a lack of understanding on the part ofpolicy-makers.” At the last meeting of its international contributors, theUN’s land-degradation convention had its budget cut 15 per cent. — Zoe Cormier

Carbon offsets have become a booming industry — but the concept isn’t withoutcontroversy. Offsets let companies and individuals counter their CO2 emissionsby buying credits from projects such as wind farms and tree-planting companies,which cut the amount of dioxide in the atmosphere, in order to become “carbonneutral.”

But environmental groups such as Carbon Trade Watch say offsetting is littlemore than a licence to keep polluting. And some offsetting projects may do moreharm than good. In 2002, the popular band Coldplay said it would offset theenvironmental costs of putting out its second album by planting 10,000 mangotrees in southern India. Journalists discovered last year that almost half thetrees had died. Some offsetting projects in developing countries have causedforced resettlements and old-growth forests to be cut.

Last month, Britain launched an inquiry, aiming to be the first country toestablish offsetting standards. Closer to home, Vancouver City Savings CreditUnion said it plans to go carbon-neutral by 2010 — and that it will buy onlycredits that are Canadian and transparent and meet the credit union’s criteriafor lower emissions.

“There’s a lack of information” about overseas projects, saysAmanda Pitre-Hayes, the senior sustainability-programs manager at Vancity.”We want to bring in local verifiers, who help us understand the fullimpact that our investment is having.” — Tavia Grant

Imagine if the byproducts of buildings and industrial processes were beneficialfuels instead of pollution and garbage. That’s the idea behind Cradle to Cradle,a philosophy developed by green-architecture guru William McDonough and chemistMichael Braungart that’s about more than simply reducing environmental harm. Thepair advocate moving from our current “cradle to grave” patterns,where resources are used up and products ultimately get buried in a dump, toregenerative architecture and materials that mimic nature, where the waste ofone organism provides fuel for another. One example is a solar-powered buildingwith a green roof that purifies air and water while serving its inhabitants.Another is organic, compostable textiles that enrich the earth when they’rethrown away. As McDonough likes to say, “Waste equals food.” — TimMcKeoug

“We hear about climate change, but we don’t think it really affects us,”says Linda Mackay, founder of the Polar Artists Group. “There is an urgencyto show how fragile the Arctic is.” And that is the mission of climate art.

During the International Polar Year (March, 2007, to March, 2008), artistsand scientists will collaborate to promote awareness of the polar regions andrecord the effects of climate change. The PAG is one of several internationalartists’ groups that are patrolling the globe and documenting global warmingusing paint, photography, sound and installation art.

For four years, the Cape Farewell Project has invited artists to the HighArctic. Many of these works have been compiled in a book, Burning Ice: Art &Climate Change. And in San Francisco, climate-art activists tacked a seven-metre”waterline” around the Aquarium of the Bay — one of the manybuildings near the city’s famed Fisherman’s Wharf — with emergency tapeprinted with blue waves. “Art can bring those future consequences intotoday’s world,” says the Sierra Club’s Eric Antebi, who organized the eventin partnership with the San Francisco environment department. — Hannah Hoag

There are those who call global warming a big hoax, which so irked Vancouverpublic-relations consultant Jim Hoggan that he decided to fight back. Believingthat those denying the existence of climate change were using unscrupulous PRtactics to confuse and befog the public, he founded DeSmogBlog to turn thetables.

So, keeps a running list of prominent skeptics, or “deniers,”and puts their credentials under a microscope. Who uses the site? Mr. Hoggansays the most frequent hits come from Calgary, Ottawa and Washington, D.C. —Martin Mittelstaedt

Does the best hope of saving the Earth rest in hands of sixth-graders?Environmental groups are relying on kids to unleash what advertisers call the”nag factor” — only instead of badgering their parents for iPods andGame Boys, they will bug them to turn down the thermostat.

Kids are the perfect way to influence energy-guzzling adults — they’reidealistic, they watch heaps of television and they whine. They’ll watch the DVDof The Hedge, with its not-so-subtle attack on urban sprawl, 10 times in aweekend. They’ll drag their moms and dads to the theatre to sympathize with theplight of the dancing penguins in the movie Happy Feet.

Maria Ellingson is a campaign director at the Alliance to Save Energy in theU.S., which has developed a multimedia marketing strategy around the Energy Hog,a villainous pig that gleefully invades wasteful homes. In an online game, kidscan defeat the Hog and his gang by clicking off lights; the website urges themto get their dads to insulate the attic. “Kids like feeling like they’resmarter than their parents,” Ms. Ellingson says.

But creating the next generation of conservationists is not withoutcontroversy. This month, Scholastic announced plans to publish a kids’ book onclimate change written by the producer of Al Gore’s documentary An InconvenientTruth. The conservative World Ahead Publishing immediately launched an open callfor manuscripts to “debunk the fabrication, hysteria and anti-growth agendapropagated by the far left.” In the politics of climate change, even sixthgraders can be pawns. — Erin Anderssen

Because of global warming, the food supply for more than half of the world’spopulation could be in jeopardy. Shallow waters such as rice paddies heat upquickly, and that can stunt the growth of the plant. According to KennethCassman, director of the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research, anincrease of just one degree in nighttime summer temperatures could lead to a10-per-cent drop in rice yield. Scientists around the world are scrambling tobreed new rice varieties better able to cope with the effects of climate change,including heat waves, droughts and floods. Meanwhile, anybody want a WheatKrispie square? — Zoe Cormier

Marine shipping burns up 5.5 million barrels of oil a day, 80 per cent of ithigh-emission heavy fuel oil. So German company SkySails is turning back theclock with its “towing kite system.” An enormous, precision-guidedsail unfurls once a vessel reaches cruising speed, leveraging wind power to cutfuel consumption (and greenhouse-gas emissions) by half.

If the kite really catches on, the company reckons it could reduce carbonemissions by 146 million tons a year. — Chris Turner

If it gets really hot, we can always build a volcano. Or at least mimic theeruption of Mount Pinatubo. In 1991 it spewed so much sulphur into theatmosphere that the Earth cooled 0.5 degrees in a year.

That’s because sulphur particles act like tiny mirrors, deflecting light andheat back into space. Which is why Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen hasproposed scattering the particles in the upper atmosphere — either withartillery guns or a fleet of high-altitude balloons — at a cost of $25-billionto $50-billion (U.S).

In case global warming hits faster and harder than expected (by the end ofthis century, temperatures could rise 1.7 to 4 degrees over 1980 levels),scientists have pitched other large-scale engineering schemes to deflectsunlight as well.

These include deploying silver balloons in the upper atmosphere, sending55,000 mirrors, each bigger than Manhattan, into space or pumping CO2 deep intothe ocean.

Or perhaps John Bennett at the Sierra Club has it right: It may be easierjust to burn less oil, coal and gas. — Anne McIlroy

As global warming takes hold, the world’s largest island could start living upto its name.

When settled by Erik the Red around 980, the southern fringes were indeedgreen, although it is often claimed the name was just false advertising to luremore colonists from Iceland.

Today, the place is 85 per cent covered by ice, more than three kilometresthick in places, but the Norse farmed there with some success for more than fourcenturies before mysteriously disappearing during the Little Ice Age, a longcold spell that began in the 1500s.

The island has about 60 farmers, and climate change has them grinning.Temperatures have risen only about one degree, but the growing season is twoweeks longer. Not enough to make it the Vineland of yore, but maybe enough toadd apples, broccoli and strawberries to the potatoes being grown. — MartinMittelstaedt

A recent Hummer commercial depicts an assembly line running to the soundtrack oftrilling birds and crickets, a mechanical arm inserting bolts in time with thechirping of a tree frog. The environment has become the auto and oil industries’version of the “scantily clad beer babe,” says Chris MacDonald, abusiness-ethics professor at Saint Mary’s University.

The term “greenwashing” was coined in the 1990s to describemisleading eco-friendly advertising by corporations with poor environmentalrecords. So a car company might boast about producing a handful of hybrid SUVs.An oil company might runs TV ads with vistas of windmills twisting in cornfields.

Expect the green-is-good sales pitch to become more prominent in advertisingcampaigns as concerns about climate change grow among consumers.

Companies obviously think that it works, Dr. MacDonald says, and in somecases it might be a first step to better environmental practices. “But ifyou’re turning over a new leaf,” he says, “you might want to turn itover, before you brag about it.” — Erin Anderssen

A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a tree housefor grownups — a proper home constructed almost entirely from living trees andplants.

The “Fab Tree Hab” uses an ancient gardening technique calledpleaching — where live tree branches are woven together to form latticestructures — to literally grow a building from the ground up.

“This stuff has been around for centuries,” says Mitchell Joachim,one of the architects behind the project. “Our only contribution that’sreally innovative is adding an element of computation to it.”

The technology in question is called rapid prototyping. This allows computerusers to print digital designs as three-dimensional forms — which then becometemplates that guide growing trees into a desired base shape. Soil, vines andother plants can then be woven into the framework to create exterior walls. Clayand straw composites are used to finish the interior.

While such biotecture may seem far-fetched, the team says the tools to builda tree house already exist. And Mr. Joachim has an idea for its initialreal-world application: a carport. “It could protect your Hummer or SUV,”he says, “and account for the damage it’s doing to the environment.”— Tim McKeough

If you ask Graham Hill, the Canadian founder of, sustainabilityissues have long suffered from an image problem. “The green movement wasrepresented by the hippies,” he says. “The hippies are great, butthey’re a really small part of the market. If green living is going to be big— and it needs to be big and mainstream — it has to be really compelling.”

As a result, Hill and his ironically named blog are leading the charge tomake sustainability hip, along with similar websites like “I figured there was a lot of cool green stuff out there,and thought that if you could aggregate it, you could really help peoplevisualize a green future,” he says.

A look at the data indicates that his approach is working. Technoratirecently ranked Treehugger as the 50th most popular blog on the web (out of morethan 60 million). In January alone, the site was visited by more than a millionunique users. Hill even turned up in a photo spread in Vanity Fair’s green issuelast year. Still, he’s staying focussed on his original objective. “At theend of the day, it’s about environmental content,” he says, “notgadgets or celebrity or sex.” — Tim McKeough

Forget any midday suntanning on the Mediterranean coast. In fact, forget walkingin the midday sun along the luxury shoreline — worst-case scenarios predictscorching temperatures, water shortages and jellyfish invasions. For the perfecttan a century from now, you might be better off spreading your blanket atop thecliffs of Dover.

Of course, predicting what regions will be good and bad bets for investmentand travel in a hotter future is not so simple. Hadi Dowlatabadi, anenvironmental professor at the University of British Columbia, points out thatrich countries will adapt better than poor ones. The mansions will always farebetter than the slums, regardless of how low they sit at sea level.

But it’s a good bet that coveted coastal property will become more risky andexpensive, as insurance costs rise and infrastructure needs upgrading. InRichmond, B.C., residents may need dikes within several decades, and Vancouvermay be searching for a new airport. On Prince Edward Island, live inland. On theEast Coast, they had better brace for a swell of hurricanes, and you may want toavoid Florida entirely. And as for the vacation home, best not to buy one thatrequires a flight on an airplane; those CO2 taxes might break the bank. — ErinAnderssen

Buildings, not the cars in their parking lots, are the largest contributors toglobal warming. That puts architects and their clients on the hot seat for thedevastation of the environment — and has pushed sustainable design to theforefront at the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada.

According to RAIC president Vivian Manasc, an Edmonton-based architect who isan authority on green design, whether you are “building buildings,operating buildings, heating them, cooling them, making the materials that gointo them, or demolishing them,” the built environment accounts for 48 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Still, that urgent reality didn’t stop the government from cutting theCommercial Building Incentive Program last month — the only federallysponsored program to fund energy-performance innovations in commercial design.

In response, Ms. Manasc is pushing for an immediate goods and services taxrebate for building owners who can demonstrate a 50-per-cent energy reductionbelow current energy codes. She would also like to see changes to the buildingcodes themselves, but she warns that this process could take 10 years —providing too little too late for the environment.

There is currently $35-billlion to $40-billion in building projects on theboards or under construction, including hospitals, schools, housing projects andmulti-family residential units. — Lisa Rochon

Will global warming speed the pace of evolution as plants and animals adapt to ahotter world? Scientists such as Andrew McAdamÖ, a Canadian researcher atMichigan State University, say they don’t know the answer to that question —but there is evidence that changes are already occurring.

A 10-year study he and his colleagues did near Kluane Lake reveals that,because of rising temperatures, red squirrels are now having babies in lateApril instead of mid-May. The change is at least in part genetic — theoffspring of mothers who gave birth earlier in the season have daughters who dothe same — making this the first mammal to evolve in response to climatechange.

However, even if this doesn’t prove the tipping point for hyper-evolution,prepare yourself for a weedier world. Weeds (as well as pests) may be able toadapt more quickly to a changing environment because they often have shorterlife cycles and can go through many generations in rapid time. — Anne McIlroy

For climate-change science fiction, 2004 was a bumper-crop year: MichaelCrichton’s skeptical State of Fear, a novel about a global-warming conspiracy,and Roland Emmerich’s abrupt-climate-change movie The Day After Tomorrow werecrowd-pleasers, though scientists criticized the science in each as faulty atbest, misleading at worst.

Climate fiction isn’t a new phenomenon, says James Gunn, an author anddirector of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University ofKansas. It began to make its mark in the 1920s, when Will F. Jenkins wrote MadPlanet under the pen name Murray Leinster: The book imagines an Earth withelevated carbon-dioxide levels where vegetation grows to such heights that itoverpowers humans.

Anna Kavan (Ice, 1967), Ernest Callenbach (Ecotopia, 1975), J.G. Ballard (TheDrowned World, 1962), Bruce Sterling (Heavy Weather, 1995), Ronald Wright (AScientific Romance, 1997), Norman Spinrad (Greenhouse Summer, 1999) and MarkTushingham (Hotter than Hell, 2006) followed with novels that describe thesocial consequences of a frozen/wet/hot Earth.

Mr. Tushingham, who is also an Ottawa environmental scientist, says he aimedfor accuracy, but the story is about the human implications of climate change.”Hopefully it is just a work of fiction,” he says. — Hannah Hoag

The latest push for action on climate change in the U.S. is not coming from anyof the usual suspects. Religious groups across the country have taken on theissue as their own, particularly some camps of evangelical Christians. “TheRepublican Party is 40 per cent evangelical, so we have the capacity to movepolicy-makers who have until now resisted any action,” says Rev. RichardCizik, a vice-president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

In perhaps the first coalition of its kind, the NAE and other evangelicalorganizations have teamed with scientists to collectively lobby Washington onclimate change. One key selling point will ring a bell for other evangelicals:”Climate change is a sanctity-of-life issue,” Mr. Cizik says. “Wehave taken seriously the consequences of taking unborn human life — we need tobe just as serious about taking advantage of this Earth.”

The crisis, he says, is not simply an environmental and humanitarian concern— it is also a spiritual one. “If we, the evangelical Christians, arewilling to stand by and witness the destruction of creation, then somethingabout our own capacity to see the truth has become deadened. We dare not temptthe Lord.” — Zoe Cormier

Though some Christians say they must act as stewards of the Earth and preventclimate change, not all of the faithful think alike. In a school district inSeattle, controversy erupted recently over the screening of the Al Goredocumentary An Inconvenient Truth in a seventh-grade science class.

Some parents objected to the film’s message, with one outraged fatherdismissing it as “propagandist” and demanding a “balance” ofalternative viewpoints. And just what alternatives would he like his daughter’sclass to hear? A warming planet, he suggested to the local school board, is”one of the signs” of the imminent return of Jesus Christ on JudgmentDay. Such objections led, briefly, to a local ban on the film.

The incident also triggered a flood of calls and e-mails from across thecountry, accusing the school board of scientific ignorance. Eugenie Scott,director of the California-based National Center for Science Education — aveteran of the ongoing battles over evolution in U.S. schools, says the argumentfeels familiar: Public understanding of science is at risk, she says, “whenideological views are given preference over the empirical data.” — DanFalk

Just by breathing, the average person emits one kilogram of carbon dioxide aday. A round-trip flight from Vancouver to Toronto can release 0.73 tonnes ofthe greenhouse gas per person, according to websites such as

But some people are doing more than just estimating their carbon footprints.In the past year, a small but growing number of Britons have formed “carbonrationing action groups” (CRAGs), whose members agree on an annualemissions target, or “carbon ration.” Most groups are going for 4.5tonnes per person a year, compared with the national average of five tonnes.Then they record household energy use, and private car and plane travel. At theend of the year, anyone over the limit pays into the CRAG “carbonfund” — usually 4 or 5 pence (9 to 11 cents) per extra kilogram.

Making lifestyle changes can be tough. “We’re already seeing Kyoto-typenegotiations in miniature in the groups,” CRAG member Andy Ross tells TheLondon Observer. “It underlines how difficult it will be [for countries] tocut emissions if we can’t get 10 people to agree across a table.” —Michael Kesterton

The thawing of Canada’s Arctic has contributed to a mini-boom in tourism inNunavut and Nunavik (Quebec’s Arctic region), as curious travellers rush to seethe north before it changes. Cruise North, a three-year-old, Inuit-held company,runs 10 summer cruises on the 122-passenger ship Lyubov Orlova in the EasternArctic. It expects demand to double this season.

“Bookings have been very strong and there is certainly an element ofcuriosity and concern for the environment on the part of most of our guests,”Cruise North president Dugald Wells says. “People call us and ask if thepolar bears are okay, and if they will see any on their cruise. They will seebears for sure, but we don’t know how healthy their population will be in thefuture.”

What they may not see is sea ice. “Up until five years ago, there wasalways sea ice at the entrance to Cumberland Sound as late as earlyAugust,” he says. “Now, it’s gone by the time we cruise through therethe first week of that month.”

A popular trip to Baffin Island last year was themed “Polar Bears onThin Ice,” and was led by environmental activist and Inuit leader SheilaWatt-Cloutier. In 2008, Cruise North will host a 12-day expedition by aninternational group of environmental activists and scientists as part of a15-month project called Polar Catalyst. — Laszlo Buhasz

Harish Hande emerged from graduate school in India eager to test his doctoraldissertation’s hypothesis. So he founded a company to bring non-polluting solarpower to the tiny villages of the southern state of Karnataka.

“SELCO basically started with three myths,” Mr. Hande says. “Thethree myths being that poor people cannot afford technology, poor people cannotmaintain technology, and you cannot run a social venture commercially.”

To get the first of Karnataka’s rural banks to help with the financing, Mr.Hande literally had to camp out on the front stoop until the manager caved. Adecade later, with 23 branch offices, 140 employees and more than 30,000small-scale photovoltaic panels installed, the company has debunked all threemyths, using ultra-flexible microcredit financing to bring sustainable light andpower to pre-industrial villages.

Now, kids can study in the evening and entrepreneurial women can run theirsewing machines; some customers have even turned themselves into tinyindependent electric companies, selling the energy they produce to neighbours.— Chris Turner

It’s not just the polar bears and butterflies that are at risk in a warmer world,but Mauritanian mosques, Spanish churches and the graveyards of Arctic whalers.Besides threatening the world’s natural wonders, climate change threatens toflood, rot and erode away some of its most significant history. Termites,lichens and moulds may spread and thrive in new regions, eating away at oldtimbers and masking stone buildings and prehistoric paintings. Creeping deserts,rising sea levels and melting permafrost also put artifacts at risk.

“We need to be able to understand what impact climate change will haveon cultural heritage so we can make the right decisions,” says May Cassar,director of the Centre for Sustainable Heritage at University College London anda partner in the Noah’s Ark Project, which has produced a series of maps thatlay out the hazards to cultural heritage in various climate scenarios. “Butwe have to look beyond Europe and do the same for the other regions of the world.”

Still, the conservation community is beginning to recognize that somehistorical buildings and sites may be history, Ms. Cassar admits. “We mayhave to leave some sites to their fate.” — Hannah Hoag

For years, Rocky Mountain Institute guru Amory Lovins preached the benefits of”negawatts” — how investing in energy efficiency is not onlyenvironmentally sound but economically smart.

Once seen as something of a counter-culture figure, Mr. Lovins has gonemainstream of late, winning contracts to advise companies such as Wal-Mart andSan Diego Gas & Electric on how to reduce energy demand and lower theirgreenhouse-gas emissions.

He persuaded Wal-Mart to invest in more efficient trucks, so that by 2015 theworld’s largest retailer will have a fleet that consumes half the fuel thecurrent one does, saving $300-million (U.S.) a year.

Unlike many environmentalists, Mr. Lovins argues that market economics, notgovernment fiat, will lead society to a more sustainable path. “Decisiveevidence will emerge that stabilizing the Earth’s climate is not costly, butprofitable,” he wrote recently in The Economist, “because saving fuelcosts less than buying it.” — Shawn McCarthy

One of climate change’s big nightmares is the melting of the permafrost, thevast polar expanse of ever-frozen ground. The thaw has already caused houses tocollapse in some Arctic areas and introduced the North to the “drunkenforest” of toppling trees. But what makes the melt truly scary is the vastquantity of methane (natural gas) that is trapped in the permafrost’s icy depths.

Methane packs an extra wallop when it comes to global warming. Each moleculeis more than 20 times as powerful a warming gas as carbon dioxide, and there isso much of the stuff, it could rival the impact of man-made greenhouse gases. Itcould even trigger such a vicious circle — warming that melts more frost andreleases more gas — that reducing man-made emissions altogether could fail tostem the tide.

But the melt will cause problems well before that happens. In fact, it couldmake the long-awaited Mackenzie Valley Pipeline the first mega-project stymiedby climate change.

The 1,220-kilometre natural-gas pipeline from Inuvik to Alberta would runthrough a region that has warmed on average 2.5 degrees since the 1970s.Carleton University geographer Christopher Burn says the impact has beenmeasured 15 metres underground and about 2,000 landslides have occurred inrecent years. “If the ice melts and hill slopes lose their strength, thesoil may slide down and damage the pipeline.”

Even worse, the melting permafrost, combined with rising sea levels andincreased coastal storms, in time could submerge the low-lying gas fieldssupplying the pipeline. An Environment Canada official recently told a publicmeeting that the climate “poses a serious threat” to the project, andthere is now talk of bringing out the gas on giant air ships similar to theill-fated Hindenberg. — Martin Mittelstaedt, Andrew Nikiforuk

Rising temperatures are stretching the fishing season, but that’s not welcomenews to Canada’s ice anglers. They shun open water — and consider hookingtrout on a frozen lake or river a social event as much as a sport.

For example, the community that pops up along the Kennebecasis River inRothesay, N.B., takes great pride in the construction of about 70 wooden iceshacks. The one-room structures are warmed with everything from wood stoves togenerators, making it comfortable for fishers to wander from bobhouse tobobhouse sharing tall tales and a few drinks.

However, warmer winters are cutting the time for friendly get-togethers from10 weeks to as few as six, according to Lloyd Hofford, past president of theRenforth Ice-Fishing Association. The 75-year-old notes that he once could havehis shanty on seven-inch ice in the early new year. Now, he’s lucky if thesurface support is strong enough by the end of January. “In the last threeyears, it’s way late,” he says.

Of course, Mr. Hofford and his buddies could gather on the shore and castlines. But their bonhomie — not to mention their beer — might be a bitchilled in the open air. — Charles Mandel

For decades, policy-makers have dismissed solar energy, with its rigid, fragileand costly silicon panels, as impractical. But a new generation of scientists isworking toward solar cells that are light, flexible and cheap. At the front ofthe pack is University of Toronto engineer Ted Sargent, who has invented”liquid” solar cells that could be painted onto a portable electronicdevice or the roof of a building.

Traditional solar cells catch only visible light, but Dr. Sargent’s materialcaptures the half of the sun’s rays that are infrared. “Even if we couldconvert only 1 per cent of the sun’s infrared power reaching the Earth intouseful energy,” he says, “we’d still be able to power the Earth’spresent-day energy needs 50 times over.”

Of course, Silicon Valley is the capital of high-tech Next Big Things, andsince last spring, a new solar approach has been attracting the kind of interestnot seen since the dotcom boom.

Called “thin-film solar,” it consists of microscopic photovoltaiccells that are “printed” on sheets of metal a hundred times thinnerthan conventional silicon cells — so thin they one day may come pre-installedin windows. The cells are set to enter the market in the next couple of years,at a fifth to a tenth the cost of current solar-energy technologies. The earlyleader appears to be a Valley company called Nanosolar, with seed capitalcourtesy of Google’s founders and a manufacturing plant to open this year in aformer Cisco Systems facility in San Jose. “New technology is going to makea difference in solar,” founder Martin Roscheisen said, “and that’swhat we do best here.” — Zoe Cormier and Chris Turner

Call it an incommodious truth:It turns out that powdering our proverbial noseshas a disquieting impact on the environment. Urine is composed of water, saltsand proteins. This means that before wastewater is released into a river or lake,chemical nutrients (about 50 to 80 per cent of which come from pee) must bestripped away by a sewage-treatment plant — a process that uses 11.5 watts ofpower per person. While this is the equivalent of running just two nightlightsper person, picture an entire city burning tiny beacons of excess.

But we don’t have to flush away energy. Jac Wilsenach, a researcher at theDelft University of Technology, says separating even half of our urine from thesewage stream would save about 25 per cent of the energy used at purificationplants. Once urine has been separated (and treated), it can be recycled intofertilizer.

All of which makes a powerful sell for “green latrines” such as theNo Mix toilet — currently being tested in Germany, Austria, Sweden andSwitzerland. These feature two pipes: One to collect pee and another to collectother waste.

The only downside? To use this johnny, men have to sit down to urinate. (Andto some who live with them, even that may be a bonus.) — Julie Traves

Insects love the warmth, especially when it allows them to conquer new territory.Witness the dreaded B.C. pine beetle, which has moved steadily north as warmerwinters have failed to hit the minus 40 needed to keep it in check. Even so,scientists felt the beetle’s inability to fly much higher than the trees it eatswould keep it from crossing the Rockies.

Then, while checking out some new radar gear, Peter Jackson, a meteorologistwith the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, noticed anecho coming from a “cloud” where there shouldn’t have been one. Hewondered whether he was seeing something unheard of: a high-altitude swarm ofbeetles.

An expert in wind flow, he suspected that beetles might be riding updraftshigh enough to catch a ride across the mountains. To test his theory, heattached a net to a small plane that flew into the source of the radar echo.When it landed, dozens of beetles were in the net; they had been caught 850metres above the treetops — 300 metres higher than the CN Tower. Althoughspread over a vast area, there were millions up there — all heading east. Tohelp Alberta forestry officials prepare a suitable welcome, Mr. Jackson hasprojected the routes the beetles are taking and where they’re likely to land.

Another lover of warm weather is the parasitic lung worm. Not long ago, ithad to develop for two years before it could make life miserable for the North’smusk-ox. But rising temperatures have cut that time in half, says University ofCalgary parasite expert Susan Kutz.

According to University of Alberta biologist Andy Derocher, an explosion ofpathogens could well be climate change’s biggest “wild card.” — MarkHume and Andrew Nikiforuk

Does the zodiac predict climate change? Last year, Indian astrologers warnedthat Mercury’s transit across the sun on Nov. 9 could mean bad news. Oneforecaster told The Times of India: “Mercury does not work alone. …..Since Oct. 22, it has been conjoined with Venus, Moon, Mars and Jupiter. Theworld will therefore face a lot of bad weather, strong winds, global warming andseveral earthquakes.”

South African astrologer Mahesh Bang said the lingering effect of six planetsin Libra last October will disrupt the Earth’s plates this year, causing theworst catastrophes the planet has ever experienced. Climate change will beintensified, he said, when Saturn enters Leo on July 15. — Michael Kesterton

Scientists fear that astronomy with Earth-based telescopes will be almostimpossible by 2050, as global warming causes a dramatic increase in cloud cover.

Aircraft condensation trails (contrails) and smog clouds already hamperobservations, says Gerry Gilmore, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge.

For years, researchers have charted the growth of air travel and tried topredict its effects; their study last year showed the scale of the problem.

Contrails and global warming feed off each other, Prof. Gilmore says. “Contrailsincrease global warming and global warming helps larger contrails form.”Contrails look wispy and flimsy, “but they can last quite a long timeactually — up to a couple of days.”

Astronomers can’t control the future of cheap airplane transport or ofclimate change, Prof. Gilmore says. But he warns that you can have cheap holidayflights to popular destinations, or you can have astronomy — but you probablycan’t have both. — Michael Kesterton

Concrete is not only paving over paradise, the process required to make it isdramatically warming the globe.

About 20 billion tons of concrete — made from cement combined with sand,gravel and water — are used every year to construct everything from schools tobridges. The rub: Cement’s base paste of limestone and calcium must be heated at1,500 degrees.

According to Franz-Josef Ulm, an engineering professor at the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology, this extreme temperature releases roughly two billiontons of carbon dioxide a year. Or the equivalent of driving a car eight trillionkilometres. But changing the way concrete is mixed is tricky. “It is thematerial most used on this planet, but probably the least known,” saysProf. Ulm, who likens the complex, highly dense way in which cement is packed tothat of human bone.

So, he and nuclear physicists at MIT are studying the nanoparticles of cementinstead of the material itself. Their ambition is to change its geological DNA (possiblyreplacing calcium with magnesium) to avoid the need to heat cement’s base somuch.

If this sustainable cement reduces current CO2 emissions by even 20 per cent,Prof. Ulm says, it could meet half of the Kyoto targets. — Lisa Rochon

Between limestone mining, dynamite fishing and clumsy tourists, we have alreadylost about a quarter of all coral reefs worldwide. And about half of theremaining reefs are threatened by human activity. But the biggest threat isn’tdrills, explosives or cruise ships — it’s carbon dioxide.

For one thing, corals simply can’t take the rising heat that comes from CO2emissions. Water that is even a bit too warm will cause coral to “bleach,”changing it from a vibrant rainbow to a ghostly sea of white. In 1998, one ofthe hottest years on record, 16 per cent of all reefs bleached. This year ispredicted to be even worse. And there’s the “acid seas” problem —the extra carbon dioxide being absorbed by the ocean makes it difficult forcorals to build their limestone skeletons.

Little surprise, then, that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changethinks Australia’s Great Barrier Reef could be “functionally extinct”by 2030. Dire news, since 4,000 species of fish live in a typical reef, alongwith other organisms.

But there is still hope. Brian Huse, head of the Coral Reef AllianceÖ, saysthat establishing about 3,500 conservation areas to keep reefs free frompollution reef conservation areas could save them from extinction. “Ahealthy reef,” Mr. Huse says, “is more resilient to the effects ofincreased temperature.” — Zoe Cormier

There’s surely nothing less remarkable than senior bureaucrats who tout thepolicies of their governments. And so there was Astrid Klug of Germany’sEnvironment Ministry, dutifully informing a crowd of energy mandarins in MexicoCity last February that her administration had set “ambitious goals”for its renewable-energy industries, to be enabled by “effective” and”cost-efficient” legislation.

The surprise, though, was that Ms. Klug hinted (modestly) that those goalsmight be exceeded. For example, drawing 20 per cent of Germany’s electricityfrom renewable sources by 2020 — why not make it 25 per cent? The rate wasalready 10 per cent, 2006 was shaping up to be a record year, and the countryclearly will surpass its 2010 target of 12.5 per cent.

Ms. Klug can afford to boast. Germany’s pioneering Renewable Energy SourcesAct (best known by its German-language acronym, EEG) has vaulted the country tothe front of the renewable ranks in nearly every sector. By obliging Germanelectrical-grid operators to buy power from renewable sources at far abovemarket rates, the EEG has spurred explosive growth since it was passed in 2000— particularly in solar power, which received an even greater subsidy in a2004 amendment to the act.

Germany’s installed photovoltaic capacity spiked almost 400 per cent from2003 to the end of 2005, and since Ms. Klug’s speech, the three largest solarpower plants on the planet have come online — generating power by the megawattout of all that hot air. — Chris Turner

The trend is unmistakable. From penguin colonies in Antarctica to aukletrookeries near Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, seabird populations have declinedas the temperature of the Pacific has risen.

The ocean’s temperature changes whenever El Nino, a warm water current thatusually resides off South America, pushes north. In El Nino years, the seasurface warms, cold water upsurges that usually drive nutrients to the surfacedecline, and plankton production drops. That loss of a link in the food chainsoon sparks a crash in seabird populations.

In the spring of 2005, biologists were given a shocking reminder of howclosely linked all these factors are. On Triangle Island off the northern tip ofVancouver Island, on Tatoosh Island off the coast of Washington State and on theFarallon Islands west of San Francisco, the ocean warmed, plankton blooms failedto appear and seabirds experienced the most severe nesting failures everwitnessed.

One bad breeding season doesn’t spell the end of a colony, but biologists areworried that global warming has started a trend: As surface temperatures go up,bird populations go down. Historically, El Nino has been cyclical, arrivingevery two to seven years. But global warming could change that and heat theNorth Pacific permanently. — Mark Hume

If climate change did not exist, we might have to invent it: Humans like to havean apocalypse looming. Since the Second World War, a chorus line of apocalypticthreats has strutted across the stage of global awareness — domino-stylecommunism, nuclear annihilation, the spread of AIDS, millennialism, globalterrorism and now climate change.

Each bears all the trademarks of the granddaddy of apocalypses, the one inthe Book of Revelation. The New Standard Bible Dictionary defines thatapocalypse as the uncovering of the “inner and hidden arrangements of theuniverse [and] the method and original conditions of the creation, butpre-eminently the future of the world and the destinies of God’s people”— exactly what the scientists who study million-year old ice cores have beentrying to figure out.

The standard human response in each case has been the same — panic that oursurvival is threatened, and a blind refusal to believe that our survival isthreatened. Ditto the eventual solutions, which always reach beyond mere reasonand technology to embrace “respect for creation, the unity of nature,sharing, moderation, compassion [and] holiness,” as Ron Graham lists in1990’s God’s Dominion, one of the first books to describe environmentalism as areligious impulse, a way of restoring moral order in a world rendered godless byscience.

But two details make the climate-change Judgment Day different —quite apartfrom its scientific inevitability. Most apocalyptic panics have beenorchestrated by political elites to control the masses. The atom bomb and JoeMcCarthy’s Red Scare justified U.S. imperialism; the threat of AIDS is stillused to control sexual activity. But the growing awareness of climate change,Mr. Graham says today, “if anything, is not convenient to the elites, toindustry and governments, but is instead a populist, grassroots movement.”

The second quirk is that science and technology are both the cause of theproblem and our best route to correcting it. “What’s interesting aboutglobal warming,” Mr. Graham suggests, “is that science has come alongand attached itself to the spiritualism of the new age, and the notion of Gaia,whereas before that, science had been lagging.”

You might even say that science has seen the light. — Ian Brown

With its starter-home pricing, standard floor plans and free picket fences, the52-house Drake Landing development near Okotoks looks like just another bedroomcommunity for Calgary, booming 18 kilometres to the north. However, the two-cargarages are crowned with solar-thermal panels. They capture the heat of southernAlberta’s 300-plus days of sunshine, which is then stored in 144 glycol-filledboreholes and distributed as needed to heat every house in the neighbourhood. Nofurnaces, no emissions — the average household’s largest energy demand deletedfrom the climate-change equation.

There’s nothing new about the technology — but as the first of its kind inNorth America, Drake Landing is both a landmark and a bit of an experiment.

The municipality has been pursuing a “Sustainable Okotoks” growthstrategy since the mid-1990s. The scheme began with careful water management andhas turned the town into something of a solar-energy hub.

“We very much want to become a solar-demonstration community ofexcellence, with a concentration of different solar applications that could thenlead to economic spinoffs,” says Okotoks municipal manager Rick Quail.”We don’t want to be a bedroom community.” — Chris Turner

“Right now, the general perception is that electric cars are slow, ugly,glorified golf carts,” says Darryl Siry, vice-president of marketing atTesla Motors. But that’s about to change. The Silicon Valley startup isintroducing a fully electric roadster that can go head-to-head with aLamborghini Murcielago, accelerating from zero to 60 in about four seconds. Yetthe Tesla Roadster is a zero-emissions vehicle that delivers extremely highenergy efficiency. When you’re done joyriding, just drive it home and plug it into recharge the batteries. The company is taking orders now — prices start at$93,000 (U.S.) — and expects to deliver its first cars to buyers later thisyear. — Tim McKeough

Before long, the tar sands of northern Alberta will produce more greenhousepollution than many countries do. To squeeze just one barrel of oil from thesands, two tonnes of dirt must be dug up and “upgraded,” a processthat requires two to three times the energy needed to produce a barrel ofconventional oil. The result: 30 to 70 per cent more CO2 emissions, says energyexpert Alex Farrell of the University of California at Berkeley.

In 2003, the tar sands produced 25 megatonnes of carbon dioxide, and thePembina Institute, an Alberta-based energy watchdog, calculates the projectcould saturate the skies with 113 to 142 megatonnes by 2020.

What does this mean? Based on 2000 emissions data, collected by theU.S.-based World Resources Institute, the tar sands could soon match the CO2output of the Czech Republic, while producing twice as much as Peru, three timesas much as Qatar and 10 times as much as Costa Rica. Last year, Canada’sEnvironment Commissioner warned that tar-sands pollution “could counterefforts to reduce emissions in other areas of society.” — AndrewNikiforuk


Q: How are a poor rural labourer and a Royal Bengal tiger alike?

A: Both inhabit the world’s largest delta — the Sundarbans, wherethe mighty Ganges and two other big rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal — andsoon both will be looking for new homes.

Amod Mandal has already lost four houses to a rising sea level being blamedon climate change, and No.5 is about to follow suit. “I was a rich farmer,”he says, looking out at the water where his yard used to be. “But now allthe island’s agricultural land has vanished.”

He lives on Ghoramara, an island that has given up more than two-thirds ofits original 90 square kilometres, and scientists at Calcutta’s JadavpurUniversity say the entire delta, 25,000 square kilometres of mangrove swamp onIndia’s border with Bangladesh, is under threat.

With the sea rising 3.14 millimetres a year (more than half again the globalaverage), “the Sundarbans appear to be a lost cause,” Jadavpuroceanographer Sugata Hazra explains. “In the next two decades ….. morethan 200,000 people will lose their homes.”

As will at least 400 of the Royal Bengals, and it is feared that, as the bigcats are flooded out of their remote reserves, they will flee north into thevery same region the “climate refugees” will occupy.

Which is a problem because these tigers are especially nasty — they’re theonly unrepentant man-eaters still on the loose. — Umarah Jamali

The growing season is already 10 to 15 days longer on the Prairies than it usedto be, and that may just be the beginning.

In its report, Can Wheat Beat The Heat?, the Consultative Group onInternational Agricultural Research forecasts that within 50 years wheat willgrow as far as north as 65 degrees latitude, from Ketchikan in Alaska to CapeHarrison in Labrador.

Meanwhile, much of the U.S. wheat belt will dry up. But temperature isn’teverything in farming. “They paint a pretty picture,” SaskatchewanResearch Council climatologist Elaine Wheaton says of the group’s optimism,”but forgot about the Canadian Shield and soil capability.” — AndrewNikiforuk

“Global warming” — we might be talking about hugging the Earth, notdestroying it. That’s one reason why it took the public so long to get worried,says George Lakoff, a linguistics professor at Berkeley: The name didn’t scareus enough.

“If you mention ‘global warming’,” he says, “some people willsay, ‘Hey, that’s good. It’s cold up here’.”

Language is a persuasive tool: Governments, for instance, took to using theterm “climate change” — a benign phrase suggesting a gradual andneutral shift. Most significantly for politicians, observes Gurprit Kindra, amarketing professor at the University of Ottawa, it makes no reference to causeand effect. “It is a term that denies any responsibility.”

The language is getting stronger. Many European countries, leading supportfor the Kyoto accord, have now named it “climate chaos,” bringing upimages of sudden tidal waves and mass panic (a tone some critics call “climateporn”). Or they will say “climate crisis,” to emphasize that we’dbetter act now before it gets worse.

It’s a marketing nightmare: How do you distill a complex subject into oneperfect, catchy, action-inspiring phrase? “It’s hard to do it in a soundbite,” Dr. Lakoff says. “You need at least five sentences.” —Erin Anderssen

Rising global temperatures, hurricanes, and testy world leaders are just a fewof the things you have to juggle when you gamble with the world’s climate. Twoboard games let you carry out negotiations in the comfort of your living room.

Antarctica: Global WARming presents a dystopic vision of the future.Glaciers and ice sheets have melted, causing sea levels to rise by 80 meters.The only safe place in this waterlogged world is Antarctica, which you mustcapture. “The game is based on Risk, but we chose the global warming themebecause the land reduction was quite dramatic and could spark this mass movement,”says Frank Zuuring, president of Savita Games. In Keep Cool, things don’thave to get that bad. Klaus Eisenack and his co-developer Gerhard Petschel-Held,both from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany,interviewed politicians, economists, and climate scientists and boiled downtheir knowledge to develop the rules. The aim of the Diplomacy-like game is tomeet individual secret economic or political targets. Players’ choices can bringthem closer to victory — or to the planet’s collapse. A dirty power station ischeap, but its emissions increase the risk of environmental disaster. The pairhoped the game would communicate the risks of climate change to the public.”When climate exceeds a global mean temperature every player loses,”says Eisenack. — Hannah Hoag

Climate change is battering Canada’s $5-trillion worth of criticalinfrastructure with more floods, hail, ice, heat waves and windstorms than ithas ever known.

Global losses from wicked weather are rising rapidly (to more than$40-billion a year), and Canada’s “vulnerability to extreme events isbecoming high” as well, says Environment Canada climatologist Heather Auld.

True volatility obviously exacts a heavy toll on bridges, roads and buildingsthat haven’t been designed for flash floods or a regular onslaught ofhurricane-force winds.

But subtle changes are also shortening the lifespan of Canada’s aginginfrastructure — just the increased freezing and thawing as winter warms upcan weaken concrete and pavement.

Given the billions at stake, Ms. Auld says, “insurance companies andmunicipalities are watching the weather like hawks.” But thinking will haveto change radically if the updating is to be done in time.

Michel Girard of the Canadian Standards Association says engineers,contractors and governments need revised building codes and road designs toprepare for the weather of the future — but the national data needed to createthose standards aren’t available yet.

Quebec has taken the lead, he says, by preventing new development inhigh-risk areas along the St. Lawrence, and by announcing plans to expand theprovince’s culverts over the next several years.

But the Far North worries him most: With the melting permafrost, airportrunways are sinking, and housing, which is already below standards in manycommunities, must be adapted to the changing weather.

“It’s not acceptable,” he says. “If we have new information,we need to use it.” — Andrew Nikiforuk and Erin Anderssen


Last May, the largest helicopter in the world, a Russian Mi26, flew toYellowknife to airlift a piece of heavy equipment to the Diavik diamond mine.

The winter road the mine was depending on wasn’t solid, says companyspokesman Tom Hoefer — the lake ice too thin for trucks to safely carry the”shovel” (which looks sort of like a backhoe, only much larger).

Instead, workers had to cut the 500-tonne piece of machinery into smallpieces to fit into the helicopter and then reassemble it at the mine. Diavikalso had to fly in fuel, cement and other heavy items it normally would havetrucked in. The cost: millions of dollars.

This winter is colder, so frozen highways are open across the North. Butclimate change could mean hardship for many in isolated Northern communities.

When the swamps and lakes don’t ice up, residents of places such as GardenHill First Nation in Manitoba can pay $16 for a four-litre jug of milk anddouble the normal price for gas. A single green pepper can go for $13. — AnneMcIlroy


For decades, people have wrung their hands over deforestation in the Amazon.Now, scientists fear that climate change alone may turn the massive rain forestinto a baking desert. If droughts and forest fires intensify and the rain forestshrinks, it creates less rain, leading to more droughts and fires, and so on, ina vicious cycle. Just as in the boreal forests, the Amazon’s burning trees willrelease stored carbon into the air, further speeding global warming. If theentire Amazon went up in smoke — which may happen within decades — it wouldrelease 100 billion tonnes of carbon, says Daniel Nepstad, who studiesrain-forest droughts and fires. (Humans currently release about six billiontonnes a year by burning fossil fuels.)

“This,” Dr. Nepstad says, “really is frightening.” —Zoe Cormier


Erin Anderssen and IanBrown are Globe and Mail feature writers.

Laszlo Buhasz is The Globe’sassistant travel editor.

Zoe Cormier and DanFalk are Toronto science writers.

Tavia Grant is a reporter with theReport on Business.

Hannah Hoag is a science writer inMontreal.

Umarah Jamali is a freelancewriter in New Delhi.

Mark Hume is a Globe reporter inVancouver.

Michael Kesterton writes SocialStudies for the Facts and Arguments page.

Charles Mandel is a writer livingin Rothesay, N.B.

Shawn McCarthy is The Globe’senergy reporter and Anne McIlroy is itsscience reporter, both based in Ottawa.

Tim McKeough is a Canadian writerliving in New York.

Martin Mittelstaedt is The Globeand Mail’s environment reporter.

Andrew Nikiforuk is anaward-winning science writer in Calgary.

Lisa Rochon writes on architecturefor The Globe.

Peter Scowen is the paper’s deputyfeatures editor.

Paul Tadich is a Canadian writerin Moscow.

Julie Traves is a Focus editor.

Calgary-based writer Chris Turner’snext book is titled The Geography of Hope.

Geoffrey York is the paper’scorrespondent in Beijing.

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