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It's crystal clear: The environment will be the single most important issue of 2007

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Several fortnights ago, back in the dark ages of 2006, I roamed the hallways of the Liberal leadership convention wondering what in heaven's name was going on.

No, not the Stéphane Dion thing. That he stood to win seemed clear enough after the first ballot, and certainly the second.

Rather, it was the extraordinary greening of the Liberal Party. In government, the Liberals talked about tomorrow but lived for today and therefore successive environment ministers were sacrificed on the altar of economic expediency.

Now here I was in Montreal's Palais des congrès feeling a vibe more in keeping with a Green convention. Nor was it just Mr. Dion and his third pillar of environmental sustainability. Every candidate seemed to want to own a pooch named Kyoto. Every delegate seemed to bleed green, even if they wore red.

I left the convention wondering if 2007 would be the year of going green for Canada and then asked myself, if so, whether I knew about the issues at hand. Certainly I had written about the Kyoto Protocol over the years, once even tripping up Ralph Goodale over the costing and effectiveness of programs to achieve our targets. I had come to believe an international framework was necessary but that Kyoto asked a disproportionate amount of Canada.

But what did I really know — and if I felt lacking in confidence to navigate in a greening world, what about our readers?

Back in the newsroom, my colleagues were consumed by similar musings. They also felt something significant was afoot, not so much in terms of the science of global warming, but the public's perception of it. If there was any remaining doubt, Mr. Dion's first post-leadership trip to Toronto dispelled it. He squeezed in a private dinner before some television interviews. When the restaurant staff learned he would be dining there, they reset the table, insisting on using green dishes. There was definitely something happening here, although what wasn't exactly clear.

But what to do? First we wanted to test — really test — the extent to which public perceptions had shifted. We commissioned an in-depth poll from the Strategic Counsel. Then we decided that we would also turn 2007 into our year of going green.

Not that The Globe hasn't been concerned about the environment for a long time, including the phenomenon of global warming. We have reported aggressively on toxins in everyday goods, chemicals in our bodies and pollutants in our air and water.

But we have not fully devoted ourselves into plumbing the depths of the science of global warming, the emerging politics or the economic implications.

We began our planning by pulling together a group that included our science, environment and energy specialists to discuss the issues at play and how best to tell the story.

We concluded that debate over whether global warming and climate change actually exists was over, but that other debates remain alive and kicking. How much of the Earth's greenhouse-gas emissions were humankind's responsibility? Were the melting polar caps really a matter of concern for anyone other than polar bears and penguins? What was the economic cost of action? What was the economic cost of inaction? Was Kyoto a reasonable basis for moving forward?

And what was with the weather anyway?

Now it is 2007 and our year of going green officially starts today. That doesn't mean we have traded in journalist agnosticism for religion. We want to go big in order to help our readers gain insight into a hugely important issue. We are in the business or promoting debate, not dogma.

Yesterday, we reported on the remarkable surge of global warming as a political issue. Today, we go deeper and broader. Environment reporter Martin Mittelstaedt provides a preview of a major gathering of climate scientists in Paris next week that will put together all the recent and disturbing findings about global warming and climate change. Martin pulls together the whole issue himself.

In the Focus section, Margaret Wente, a famous skeptic, tells us about the evolution of her skepticism and handicaps Al Gore's prospects for winning an Oscar. Also in Focus, graphic artist Richard Johnson has crafted a luscious global warming map of Canada that every school child (many adults too) will want to pin to their wall.

We are a year away from the greenhouse-gas reduction commitments in the Kyoto Protocol kicking in. The time has come to truly understand and debate the issue of what Canada should do.

In the coming days and weeks there will be much more. Our intention is to give you coverage that is both smart and accessible. We are calling our continuing series The New Climate, a reflection of the apparent shift of weather patterns and public opinion.

Journalism is about asking the questions and debating the answers. Intuitively the country seems to have come to a conclusion that global warming is real and of importance. But so many more questions flow from that. We all have a lot to chew over.

Edward Greenspon


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