"If political issues have recognized tipping points, where one day the problem doesn't matter and the next it's seemingly at the top of everyone's mind, there is little doubt we're in the midst of one now on global warming and the environment," The Globe's environment reporter Martin Mittelstaedt wrote Saturday in The Globe as we kicked off our year-long coverage of climate change with his article Welcome to the new climate.
"This tipping point has arrived quickly and convincingly," he wrote.
"Its impact is apparent at the top ranks of the government, in the Prime Minister's Office. Stephen Harper, never a global-warming cultist, has got religion. He and his ministers have blanketed the country with a flurry of green initiatives over the past month.
"But the effect is also being felt on the street. When Canadians look out the window these days, they say they're seeing global warming. An overwhelming 78 per cent of respondents to a new Globe poll . . . say they've personally noticed climate change. The same number fear it is going to harm future generations. And nearly as many 73 per cent say the warming is due to human activity and isn't a natural phenomenon."
The questions now are simple: Should we take action to slow down global warming and maybe eventually reverse it? If so, what will be the social and economic costs?
Mr. Mittelstaedt kindly agreed to join us Monday to answer questions from readers. Your questions and Mr. Mittelstaedt's replies appear at the bottom of this page.
Martin Mittelstaedt has covered the environment, politics, and business for The Globe and Mail since starting at the paper in 1980. He opened the paper's New York bureau, covering Wall Street and U.S. financial news from 1986 to 1990. He also was at Queen's Park during the tumultuous days of the Rae and Harris governments. He has covered the environment since the late 1990s, and has written extensively on global warming, toxic chemicals, pollution, pesticides, and nuclear safety.
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Rebecca Dube, globeandmail.com: Welcome everyone, and thanks for joining us today for this discussion on global warming. There are lots of reader questions for Mr. Mittelstaedt, so we'll get right to it.
Peter Crossman from Canada writes: Why was the concern about CO2 induced global warming not originally championed by climatologists coming forward as a group under the banner of their professional associations? This function is precisely what professionals form associations for. Why have they still not come forward (after almost 20 years) as a group under the banner of their professional organizations?
Martin Mittelstaedt: Many climate scientists and their professional associations are involved in the climate debate. Please see this link. This is the website of the American Meteorological Society. The link has information on the association backing climate change concerns.
Dan Weaver from Toronto Canada writes: Hi. Climate change is a long-term issue by nature -- once emitted, gases remain 10s to 10000s of years in the atmosphere, with a cause-effect timeframe far exceeding the length of an elected politicial office holder. How do you think we can resolve short-term-thinking politicians with our need for long-term environmental sustainability? Economically speaking, how might approaches to sustainability look? (I'll define 'sustainability' at a benchmarked CO2/ect level wherein climate change exists though is containable without major flooding/temperature change/ect - say ~ double pre-industrialization CO2?)
Martin Mittelstaedt: Mr. Weaver, those are tough questions to answer in brief. One of my colleagues dealt with the first issue in today's paper, and gave as good as explanation as any. Anne McIlroy, our science writer, interviewed Dr. Gordon McBean, one of the country's top climate scientists. A few years back, he gave a briefing to the federal cabinet on climate change. One minister asked what's in it for us between now and the next election, and Dr. McBean replied by saving there was nothing in it for the government. But then he added that we've got to do this for our grandchildren. I think politicians have to have the courage to say that we, as a society, need to do certain things, even though the benefits will be reaped by future generations. I also think citizens will have to reward those politicians for their courage.