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Global warming

The New Climate Almanac

Globe and Mail Update

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

ACID SEAS

Pumping carbon dioxide into the air changes the climate, but that's hardly the end of the story. Eventually, about half of the gas is absorbed by the oceans (since burning fossil fuels began in earnest, roughly the weight of 140 million Volkswagen Beetles), and it makes the water more acidic. This is not a good idea for 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 if emissions are reduced, coral may become a rare commodity. — Martin Mittelstaedt


AL GORE EFFECT, THE

According to urbandictionary.com, this is "the phenomenon that leads to unseasonably cold temperatures, driving rain, hail, or snow whenever Al Gore visits an area to discuss global warming." It was spotted in New York City in 2004 and again in Australia last November, when his arrival there on his "Inconvenient Truth" tour was marked by an unexpected late-winter snowstorm.

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

ASSISTED MIGRATION

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

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

Such an interventionist approach is not without controversy, however. The key issue: how to deal with naturally invasive species that reproduce quickly and can 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 could release a species that could do more harm than good."

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

BEHIND THE CARBON CURTAIN

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

Mark Ames, an American who has lived in Moscow since 1993, says Russians either don't connect what spews out their tailpipes with the fact that December was the warmest in recent memory, or to them "it's like global warming is a tragic fate" because "they learn from a young age they have no effect on 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 few outsiders realize just how much the world's most populous nation is a victim of the changing climate. Virtually all of its glaciers show signs of substantial melting, which will increase the risk of floods and, in the long term, could reduce its water supply dramatically. According to one report, major crops such as 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 the mighty Yangtze was at its lowest level in 140 years.

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

BIG APPLE, DUNKING OF THE

If sea levels continue to rise as predicted, the Big Apple will be 50 centimetres closer to getting dunked by 2050. Much of New York City is only three metres above sea level, so it is susceptible to storm surges — walls of water 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's tunnels and subways. A nine-metre surge could flood parts of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan; waste-treatment plants would back up and fragile ecosystems would be decimated.

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

Worldwide, these barriers are becoming commonplace. The Thames River Barrier has protected London from flooding since 1984. Italy plans to complete the installation of a series of inflatable pontoons to protect the Venice Lagoon by 2011. But in New York, Prof. Bowman doesn't expect construction to begin soon.

"I think it will take a catastrophe," he says. "People will drown and Wall Street will flood." — Hannah Hoag


BOREAL BONFIRE

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, is already getting smoked, says Mike Flannigan, a senior research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service.

In the 1970s, about a million hectares of Canadian forest burned annually. By 2000, the national total reached a high of three million hectares, or an area half the size of Nova Scotia. By the end of this century, Canada could lose twice that — equivalent to all of Nova Scotia — every year.

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

And, of course, burning forests no longer serve as carbon savers. In the past 40 years, forest fires have released carbon equal to 20 per cent of the nation's fossil-fuel pollution. — Andrew Nikiforuk


CALLED IT

The weather was a hobby for the British steam engineer who gets the credit for first linking smokestacks to warmer winters — in 1938. Guy Stewart Callendar fastidiously tracked temperatures in his spare time, and his numbers showed that the world had been heating up for the previous four decades. His theory, based on the research of earlier scientists who had been ignored, argued that human CO2 production was making the temperatures rise. His claims were pooh-poohed: "The idea that a man's actions could influence so vast a complex," he wrote, "is very repugnant to some." — Erin Anderssen

CARBON CREDIT CARDS

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 — to purchase airline tickets or gasoline, or to pay an energy bill. Each citizen would receive a carbon allowance to use or to sell to others; the national carbon allotment would drop annually, reducing emissions over time. "It gives carbon a currency and stimulates carbon consciousness," says Simon Roberts, chief executive for the Centre for Sustainable Energy, which carried out a feasibility study for the British government. — Hannah Hoag

CARBON-CREDIT SPECULATION

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

At the three-year-old Chicago exchange, members ranging from Ford Motor Co. to Manitoba Hydro pledge in a voluntary but legally binding contract to reduce their 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 other members who have exceeded their own targets. Or else they buy from so-called aggregators, who amass credits from individuals or companies that have cut emissions.

One dairy farmer from Minnesota, for example, earned $10,000 by selling credits 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

CLIMATE PORN

The language sometimes used to describe global warming is tantamount to "climate porn," according to two linguistic experts in Britain. Gill Ereaut and Nat Segnit were hired by the Institute for Public Policy Research to study how climate change is being communicated and discussed. They say advocates and the media are adopting tones familiar from disaster movies, and are depicting climate change "as awesome, terrible, immense and beyond control." This may be "secretly thrilling," they say, but ineffective, since it leaves people feeling that there is nothing that they can do. — Anne McIlroy

CLIMATE REFUGEES

As the climate changes, so will the world and, for many people, not for the better. It won't be long before "environmental refugees" outnumber those displaced by war and genocide — scientists predict that by 2050 as many as 200 million people will be displaced. Long-term, scientists are concerned about the potential for coastal flooding of densely populated regions, such as New 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 Brian Cannon, a former resident of the island now living in Vancouver. The Tuvaluan government is trying to plan for an evacuation, but as yet they have not secured a home for the 11,000 islanders.

But more immediate is the threat of droughts, which could turn huge tracts of the Earth into desert. "Desertification is one of the greatest environmental threats we face today," says Zafar Adeel, director of the International Network on Water, Environment and Health at the United Nations University in Hamilton. "Currently, 100 to 200 million people are affected by 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, and they lack the resources and infrastructure to cope. Water shortages are guaranteed to spark violent conflicts around the world, similar to the drought-related violence in Darfur, Dr. Adeel says.

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

COOKING THE CARBON BOOKS

Carbon offsets have become a booming industry — but the concept isn't without controversy. Offsets let companies and individuals counter their CO2 emissions by 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 "carbon neutral."

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

Last month, Britain launched an inquiry, aiming to be the first country to establish offsetting standards. Closer to home, Vancouver City Savings Credit Union said it plans to go carbon-neutral by 2010 — and that it will buy only credits that are Canadian and transparent and meet the credit union's criteria for lower emissions.

"There's a lack of information" about overseas projects, says Amanda Pitre-Hayes, the senior sustainability-programs manager at Vancity. "We want to bring in local verifiers, who help us understand the full impact that our investment is having." — Tavia Grant

CRADLE TO CRADLE DESIGN

Imagine if the byproducts of buildings and industrial processes were beneficial fuels instead of pollution and garbage. That's the idea behind Cradle to Cradle, a philosophy developed by green-architecture guru William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart that's about more than simply reducing environmental harm. The pair advocate moving from our current "cradle to grave" patterns, where resources are used up and products ultimately get buried in a dump, to regenerative architecture and materials that mimic nature, where the waste of one organism provides fuel for another. One example is a solar-powered building with a green roof that purifies air and water while serving its inhabitants. Another is organic, compostable textiles that enrich the earth when they're thrown away. As McDonough likes to say, "Waste equals food." — Tim McKeough

CULTURAL CLIMATE

"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 urgency to show how fragile the Arctic is." And that is the mission of climate art.

During the International Polar Year (March, 2007, to March, 2008), artists and scientists will collaborate to promote awareness of the polar regions and record the effects of climate change. The PAG is one of several international artists' groups that are patrolling the globe and documenting global warming using paint, photography, sound and installation art.

For four years, the Cape Farewell Project has invited artists to the High Arctic. 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 many buildings near the city's famed Fisherman's Wharf — with emergency tape printed with blue waves. "Art can bring those future consequences into today's world," says the Sierra Club's Eric Antebi, who organized the event in partnership with the San Francisco environment department. — Hannah Hoag

DESMOGGING THE BLOGOSPHERE

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

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

ECO-TOON AGIT-PROP

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 and Game Boys, they will bug them to turn down the thermostat.

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

Maria Ellingson is a campaign director at the Alliance to Save Energy in the U.S., which has developed a multimedia marketing strategy around the Energy Hog, a villainous pig that gleefully invades wasteful homes. In an online game, kids can defeat the Hog and his gang by clicking off lights; the website urges them to get their dads to insulate the attic. "Kids like feeling like they're smarter than their parents," Ms. Ellingson says.

But creating the next generation of conservationists is not without controversy. This month, Scholastic announced plans to publish a kids' book on climate change written by the producer of Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The conservative World Ahead Publishing immediately launched an open call for manuscripts to "debunk the fabrication, hysteria and anti-growth agenda propagated by the far left." In the politics of climate change, even sixth graders can be pawns. — Erin Anderssen

EMPTY RICE BOWLS

Because of global warming, the food supply for more than half of the world's population could be in jeopardy. Shallow waters such as rice paddies heat up quickly, and that can stunt the growth of the plant. According to Kenneth Cassman, director of the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research, an increase of just one degree in nighttime summer temperatures could lead to a 10-per-cent drop in rice yield. Scientists around the world are scrambling to breed new rice varieties better able to cope with the effects of climate change, including heat waves, droughts and floods. Meanwhile, anybody want a Wheat Krispie square? — Zoe Cormier

FLY THE FRIENDLY SEAS

Marine shipping burns up 5.5 million barrels of oil a day, 80 per cent of it high-emission heavy fuel oil. So German company SkySails is turning back the clock with its "towing kite system." An enormous, precision-guided sail unfurls once a vessel reaches cruising speed, leveraging wind power to cut fuel consumption (and greenhouse-gas emissions) by half.

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

GEO-ENGINEERING

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

That's because sulphur particles act like tiny mirrors, deflecting light and heat back into space. Which is why Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen has proposed scattering the particles in the upper atmosphere — either with artillery guns or a fleet of high-altitude balloons — at a cost of $25-billion to $50-billion (U.S).

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

These include deploying silver balloons in the upper atmosphere, sending 55,000 mirrors, each bigger than Manhattan, into space or pumping CO2 deep into the ocean.

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

GREENING OF GREENLAND, THE

As global warming takes hold, the world's largest island could start living up to its name.

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

Today, the place is 85 per cent covered by ice, more than three kilometres thick in places, but the Norse farmed there with some success for more than four centuries before mysteriously disappearing during the Little Ice Age, a long cold 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 two weeks longer. Not enough to make it the Vineland of yore, but maybe enough to add apples, broccoli and strawberries to the potatoes being grown. — Martin Mittelstaedt

GREENWASHING

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

The term "greenwashing" was coined in the 1990s to describe misleading eco-friendly advertising by corporations with poor environmental records. 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 corn fields.

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

Companies obviously think that it works, Dr. MacDonald says, and in some cases it might be a first step to better environmental practices. "But if you're turning over a new leaf," he says, "you might want to turn it over, before you brag about it." — Erin Anderssen

GROW YOUR OWN HOME

A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a tree house for grownups — a proper home constructed almost entirely from living trees and plants.

The "Fab Tree Hab" uses an ancient gardening technique called pleaching — where live tree branches are woven together to form lattice structures — 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's really innovative is adding an element of computation to it."

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

While such biotecture may seem far-fetched, the team says the tools to build a tree house already exist. And Mr. Joachim has an idea for its initial real-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

HIP SUSTAINABILITY

If you ask Graham Hill, the Canadian founder of treehugger.com, sustainability issues have long suffered from an image problem. "The green movement was represented by the hippies," he says. "The hippies are great, but they'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 to make sustainability hip, along with similar websites like inhabitat.com and worldchanging.com. "I figured there was a lot of cool green stuff out there, and thought that if you could aggregate it, you could really help people visualize a green future," he says.

A look at the data indicates that his approach is working. Technorati recently ranked Treehugger as the 50th most popular blog on the web (out of more than 60 million). In January alone, the site was visited by more than a million unique users. Hill even turned up in a photo spread in Vanity Fair's green issue last year. Still, he's staying focussed on his original objective. "At the end of the day, it's about environmental content," he says, "not gadgets or celebrity or sex." — Tim McKeough

HOT PROPERTIES

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

Of course, predicting what regions will be good and bad bets for investment and travel in a hotter future is not so simple. Hadi Dowlatabadi, an environmental professor at the University of British Columbia, points out that rich countries will adapt better than poor ones. The mansions will always fare better 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 and expensive, as insurance costs rise and infrastructure needs upgrading. In Richmond, B.C., residents may need dikes within several decades, and Vancouver may be searching for a new airport. On Prince Edward Island, live inland. On the East Coast, they had better brace for a swell of hurricanes, and you may want to avoid Florida entirely. And as for the vacation home, best not to buy one that requires a flight on an airplane; those CO2 taxes might break the bank. — Erin Anderssen

HOUSES OF HORRORS

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

According to RAIC president Vivian Manasc, an Edmonton-based architect who is an authority on green design, whether you are "building buildings, operating buildings, heating them, cooling them, making the materials that go into them, or demolishing them," the built environment accounts for 48 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions.

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

In response, Ms. Manasc is pushing for an immediate goods and services tax rebate for building owners who can demonstrate a 50-per-cent energy reduction below current energy codes. She would also like to see changes to the building codes 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 the boards or under construction, including hospitals, schools, housing projects and multi-family residential units. — Lisa Rochon

HYPER-EVOLUTION, POTENTIAL OF

Will global warming speed the pace of evolution as plants and animals adapt to a hotter world? Scientists such as Andrew McAdam÷, a Canadian researcher at Michigan 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 late April instead of mid-May. The change is at least in part genetic — the offspring of mothers who gave birth earlier in the season have daughters who do the same — making this the first mammal to evolve in response to climate change.

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 to adapt more quickly to a changing environment because they often have shorter life cycles and can go through many generations in rapid time. — Anne McIlroy

IMAGINING THE AFTERMATH

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

Climate fiction isn't a new phenomenon, says James Gunn, an author and director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas. It began to make its mark in the 1920s, when Will F. Jenkins wrote Mad Planet under the pen name Murray Leinster: The book imagines an Earth with elevated carbon-dioxide levels where vegetation grows to such heights that it overpowers humans.

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

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

JESUS LOVES CARBON REDUCTION

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

In perhaps the first coalition of its kind, the NAE and other evangelical organizations have teamed with scientists to collectively lobby Washington on climate change. One key selling point will ring a bell for other evangelicals: "Climate change is a sanctity-of-life issue," Mr. Cizik says. "We have taken seriously the consequences of taking unborn human life — we need to be 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, are willing to stand by and witness the destruction of creation, then something about our own capacity to see the truth has become deadened. We dare not tempt the Lord." — Zoe Cormier

JESUS LOVES GLOBAL WARMING

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

Some parents objected to the film's message, with one outraged father dismissing it as "propagandist" and demanding a "balance" of alternative viewpoints. And just what alternatives would he like his daughter's class 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 Judgment Day. Such objections led, briefly, to a local ban on the film.

The incident also triggered a flood of calls and e-mails from across the country, accusing the school board of scientific ignorance. Eugenie Scott, director of the California-based National Center for Science Education — a veteran of the ongoing battles over evolution in U.S. schools, says the argument feels familiar: Public understanding of science is at risk, she says, "when ideological views are given preference over the empirical data." — Dan Falk

KYOTO, MY OWN PRIVATE

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

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 "carbon rationing action groups" (CRAGs), whose members agree on an annual emissions target, or "carbon ration." Most groups are going for 4.5 tonnes 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 the end of the year, anyone over the limit pays into the CRAG "carbon fund" — usually 4 or 5 pence (9 to 11 cents) per extra kilogram.

Making lifestyle changes can be tough. "We're already seeing Kyoto-type negotiations in miniature in the groups," CRAG member Andy Ross tells The London Observer. "It underlines how difficult it will be [for countries] to cut emissions if we can't get 10 people to agree across a table." — Michael Kesterton

LAST-CHANCE TOURISM

The thawing of Canada's Arctic has contributed to a mini-boom in tourism in Nunavut and Nunavik (Quebec's Arctic region), as curious travellers rush to see the 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 Eastern Arctic. It expects demand to double this season.

"Bookings have been very strong and there is certainly an element of curiosity 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 the polar bears are okay, and if they will see any on their cruise. They will see bears for sure, but we don't know how healthy their population will be in the future."

What they may not see is sea ice. "Up until five years ago, there was always sea ice at the entrance to Cumberland Sound as late as early August," he says. "Now, it's gone by the time we cruise through there the first week of that month."

A popular trip to Baffin Island last year was themed "Polar Bears on Thin Ice," and was led by environmental activist and Inuit leader Sheila Watt-Cloutier. In 2008, Cruise North will host a 12-day expedition by an international group of environmental activists and scientists as part of a 15-month project called Polar Catalyst. — Laszlo Buhasz

MICRO-ECO-NOMICS

Harish Hande emerged from graduate school in India eager to test his doctoral dissertation's hypothesis. So he founded a company to bring non-polluting solar power to the tiny villages of the southern state of Karnataka.

"SELCO basically started with three myths," Mr. Hande says. "The three myths being that poor people cannot afford technology, poor people cannot maintain 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. A decade later, with 23 branch offices, 140 employees and more than 30,000 small-scale photovoltaic panels installed, the company has debunked all three myths, using ultra-flexible microcredit financing to bring sustainable light and power to pre-industrial villages.

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

MOULDY HISTORY

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 to flood, rot and erode away some of its most significant history. Termites, lichens and moulds may spread and thrive in new regions, eating away at old timbers 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 have on cultural heritage so we can make the right decisions," says May Cassar, director of the Centre for Sustainable Heritage at University College London and a partner in the Noah's Ark Project, which has produced a series of maps that lay out the hazards to cultural heritage in various climate scenarios. "But we 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 some historical buildings and sites may be history, Ms. Cassar admits. "We may have to leave some sites to their fate." — Hannah Hoag

NEGAWATTS

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

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

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

Unlike many environmentalists, Mr. Lovins argues that market economics, not government fiat, will lead society to a more sustainable path. "Decisive evidence will emerge that stabilizing the Earth's climate is not costly, but profitable," he wrote recently in The Economist, "because saving fuel costs less than buying it." — Shawn McCarthy

NOT-SO PERMAFROST

One of climate change's big nightmares is the melting of the permafrost, the vast polar expanse of ever-frozen ground. The thaw has already caused houses to collapse in some Arctic areas and introduced the North to the "drunken forest" of toppling trees. But what makes the melt truly scary is the vast quantity 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 molecule is more than 20 times as powerful a warming gas as carbon dioxide, and there is so much of the stuff, it could rival the impact of man-made greenhouse gases. It could even trigger such a vicious circle — warming that melts more frost and releases more gas — that reducing man-made emissions altogether could fail to stem the tide.

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

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

Even worse, the melting permafrost, combined with rising sea levels and increased coastal storms, in time could submerge the low-lying gas fields supplying the pipeline. An Environment Canada official recently told a public meeting that the climate "poses a serious threat" to the project, and there is now talk of bringing out the gas on giant air ships similar to the ill-fated Hindenberg. — Martin Mittelstaedt, Andrew Nikiforuk

ONE THAT GOT AWAY, THE

Rising temperatures are stretching the fishing season, but that's not welcome news to Canada's ice anglers. They shun open water — and consider hooking trout 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 in Rothesay, N.B., takes great pride in the construction of about 70 wooden ice shacks. The one-room structures are warmed with everything from wood stoves to generators, making it comfortable for fishers to wander from bobhouse to bobhouse sharing tall tales and a few drinks.

However, warmer winters are cutting the time for friendly get-togethers from 10 weeks to as few as six, according to Lloyd Hofford, past president of the Renforth Ice-Fishing Association. The 75-year-old notes that he once could have his shanty on seven-inch ice in the early new year. Now, he's lucky if the surface support is strong enough by the end of January. "In the last three years, it's way late," he says.

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

PAINT-ON SOLAR

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

Traditional solar cells catch only visible light, but Dr. Sargent's material captures the half of the sun's rays that are infrared. "Even if we could convert only 1 per cent of the sun's infrared power reaching the Earth into useful energy," he says, "we'd still be able to power the Earth's present-day energy needs 50 times over."

Of course, Silicon Valley is the capital of high-tech Next Big Things, and since last spring, a new solar approach has been attracting the kind of interest not seen since the dotcom boom.

Called "thin-film solar," it consists of microscopic photovoltaic cells that are "printed" on sheets of metal a hundred times thinner than conventional silicon cells — so thin they one day may come pre-installed in 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 early leader appears to be a Valley company called Nanosolar, with seed capital courtesy of Google's founders and a manufacturing plant to open this year in a former Cisco Systems facility in San Jose. "New technology is going to make a difference in solar," founder Martin Roscheisen said, "and that's what we do best here." — Zoe Cormier and Chris Turner

PEE PRINT

Call it an incommodious truth:It turns out that powdering our proverbial noses has a disquieting impact on the environment. Urine is composed of water, salts and 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 be stripped away by a sewage-treatment plant — a process that uses 11.5 watts of power per person. While this is the equivalent of running just two nightlights per person, picture an entire city burning tiny beacons of excess.

But we don't have to flush away energy. Jac Wilsenach, a researcher at the Delft University of Technology, says separating even half of our urine from the sewage stream would save about 25 per cent of the energy used at purification plants. Once urine has been separated (and treated), it can be recycled into fertilizer.

All of which makes a powerful sell for "green latrines" such as the No Mix toilet — currently being tested in Germany, Austria, Sweden and Switzerland. These feature two pipes: One to collect pee and another to collect other waste.

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

PESTS AND PARASITES, THE RISE OF

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 warmer winters 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 eats would keep it from crossing the Rockies.

Then, while checking out some new radar gear, Peter Jackson, a meteorologist with the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, noticed an echo coming from a "cloud" where there shouldn't have been one. He wondered whether he was seeing something unheard of: a high-altitude swarm of beetles.

An expert in wind flow, he suspected that beetles might be riding updrafts high enough to catch a ride across the mountains. To test his theory, he attached 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 850 metres above the treetops — 300 metres higher than the CN Tower. Although spread over a vast area, there were millions up there — all heading east. To help Alberta forestry officials prepare a suitable welcome, Mr. Jackson has projected 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, it had to develop for two years before it could make life miserable for the North's musk-ox. But rising temperatures have cut that time in half, says University of Calgary parasite expert Susan Kutz.

According to University of Alberta biologist Andy Derocher, an explosion of pathogens could well be climate change's biggest "wild card." — Mark Hume and Andrew Nikiforuk

PORTENTS IN THE STARS

Does the zodiac predict climate change? Last year, Indian astrologers warned that Mercury's transit across the sun on Nov. 9 could mean bad news. One forecaster told The Times of India: "Mercury does not work alone. ..... Since Oct. 22, it has been conjoined with Venus, Moon, Mars and Jupiter. The world will therefore face a lot of bad weather, strong winds, global warming and several earthquakes."

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

PUTTING OUT THE STARS

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

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

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

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

Astronomers can't control the future of cheap airplane transport or of climate change, Prof. Gilmore says. But he warns that you can have cheap holiday flights to popular destinations, or you can have astronomy — but you probably can't have both. — Michael Kesterton

QUARRY FACTOR, THE

Concrete is not only paving over paradise, the process required to make it is dramatically 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 to bridges. The rub: Cement's base paste of limestone and calcium must be heated at 1,500 degrees.

According to Franz-Josef Ulm, an engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this extreme temperature releases roughly two billion tons of carbon dioxide a year. Or the equivalent of driving a car eight trillion kilometres. But changing the way concrete is mixed is tricky. "It is the material most used on this planet, but probably the least known," says Prof. Ulm, who likens the complex, highly dense way in which cement is packed to that of human bone.

So, he and nuclear physicists at MIT are studying the nanoparticles of cement instead of the material itself. Their ambition is to change its geological DNA (possibly replacing calcium with magnesium) to avoid the need to heat cement's base so much.

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

REEFER MADNESS

Between limestone mining, dynamite fishing and clumsy tourists, we have already lost about a quarter of all coral reefs worldwide. And about half of the remaining reefs are threatened by human activity. But the biggest threat isn't drills, explosives or cruise ships — it's carbon dioxide.

For one thing, corals simply can't take the rising heat that comes from CO2 emissions. 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 of the hottest years on record, 16 per cent of all reefs bleached. This year is predicted to be even worse. And there's the "acid seas" problem — the extra carbon dioxide being absorbed by the ocean makes it difficult for corals to build their limestone skeletons.

Little surprise, then, that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change thinks Australia's Great Barrier Reef could be "functionally extinct" by 2030. Dire news, since 4,000 species of fish live in a typical reef, along with other organisms.

But there is still hope. Brian Huse, head of the Coral Reef Alliance÷, says that establishing about 3,500 conservation areas to keep reefs free from pollution reef conservation areas could save them from extinction. "A healthy reef," Mr. Huse says, "is more resilient to the effects of increased temperature." — Zoe Cormier

RENEWABLE REGULATION

There's surely nothing less remarkable than senior bureaucrats who tout the policies of their governments. And so there was Astrid Klug of Germany's Environment Ministry, dutifully informing a crowd of energy mandarins in Mexico City 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 goals might be exceeded. For example, drawing 20 per cent of Germany's electricity from renewable sources by 2020 — why not make it 25 per cent? The rate was already 10 per cent, 2006 was shaping up to be a record year, and the country clearly will surpass its 2010 target of 12.5 per cent.

Ms. Klug can afford to boast. Germany's pioneering Renewable Energy Sources Act (best known by its German-language acronym, EEG) has vaulted the country to the front of the renewable ranks in nearly every sector. By obliging German electrical-grid operators to buy power from renewable sources at far above market rates, the EEG has spurred explosive growth since it was passed in 2000 — particularly in solar power, which received an even greater subsidy in a 2004 amendment to the act.

Germany's installed photovoltaic capacity spiked almost 400 per cent from 2003 to the end of 2005, and since Ms. Klug's speech, the three largest solar power plants on the planet have come online — generating power by the megawatt out of all that hot air. — Chris Turner


SEABIRD EMPTY-NEST SYNDROME

The trend is unmistakable. From penguin colonies in Antarctica to auklet rookeries near Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, seabird populations have declined as the temperature of the Pacific has risen.

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

In the spring of 2005, biologists were given a shocking reminder of how closely linked all these factors are. On Triangle Island off the northern tip of Vancouver Island, on Tatoosh Island off the coast of Washington State and on the Farallon Islands west of San Francisco, the ocean warmed, plankton blooms failed to appear and seabirds experienced the most severe nesting failures ever witnessed.

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

SECULAR RAPTURE, THE

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

Each bears all the trademarks of the granddaddy of apocalypses, the one in the Book of Revelation. The New Standard Bible Dictionary defines that apocalypse as the uncovering of the "inner and hidden arrangements of the universe [and] the method and original conditions of the creation, but pre-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 been trying to figure out.

The standard human response in each case has been the same — panic that our survival is threatened, and a blind refusal to believe that our survival is threatened. Ditto the eventual solutions, which always reach beyond mere reason and technology to embrace "respect for creation, the unity of nature, sharing, moderation, compassion [and] holiness," as Ron Graham lists in 1990's God's Dominion, one of the first books to describe environmentalism as a religious impulse, a way of restoring moral order in a world rendered godless by science.

But two details make the climate-change Judgment Day different —quite apart from its scientific inevitability. Most apocalyptic panics have been orchestrated by political elites to control the masses. The atom bomb and Joe McCarthy's Red Scare justified U.S. imperialism; the threat of AIDS is still used to control sexual activity. But the growing awareness of climate change, Mr. Graham says today, "if anything, is not convenient to the elites, to industry and governments, but is instead a populist, grassroots movement."

The second quirk is that science and technology are both the cause of the problem and our best route to correcting it. "What's interesting about global warming," Mr. Graham suggests, "is that science has come along and 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

SOLAR SUBURBIA

With its starter-home pricing, standard floor plans and free picket fences, the 52-house Drake Landing development near Okotoks looks like just another bedroom community for Calgary, booming 18 kilometres to the north. However, the two-car garages are crowned with solar-thermal panels. They capture the heat of southern Alberta's 300-plus days of sunshine, which is then stored in 144 glycol-filled boreholes and distributed as needed to heat every house in the neighbourhood. No furnaces, no emissions — the average household's largest energy demand deleted from the climate-change equation.

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

The municipality has been pursuing a "Sustainable Okotoks" growth strategy since the mid-1990s. The scheme began with careful water management and has turned the town into something of a solar-energy hub.

"We very much want to become a solar-demonstration community of excellence, with a concentration of different solar applications that could then lead to economic spinoffs," says Okotoks municipal manager Rick Quail. "We don't want to be a bedroom community." — Chris Turner

SUSTAINABLE SPORTS CAR, THE

"Right now, the general perception is that electric cars are slow, ugly, glorified golf carts," says Darryl Siry, vice-president of marketing at Tesla Motors. But that's about to change. The Silicon Valley startup is introducing a fully electric roadster that can go head-to-head with a Lamborghini Murcielago, accelerating from zero to 60 in about four seconds. Yet the Tesla Roadster is a zero-emissions vehicle that delivers extremely high energy efficiency. When you're done joyriding, just drive it home and plug it in to 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 this year. — Tim McKeough

TAR-SAND TRAP

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

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

What does this mean? Based on 2000 emissions data, collected by the U.S.-based World Resources Institute, the tar sands could soon match the CO2 output of the Czech Republic, while producing twice as much as Peru, three times as much as Qatar and 10 times as much as Costa Rica. Last year, Canada's Environment Commissioner warned that tar-sands pollution "could counter efforts to reduce emissions in other areas of society." — Andrew Nikiforuk

THE TROUBLE WITH CATS

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

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

Amod Mandal has already lost four houses to a rising sea level being blamed on 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 all the island's agricultural land has vanished."

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

With the sea rising 3.14 millimetres a year (more than half again the global average), "the Sundarbans appear to be a lost cause," Jadavpur oceanographer Sugata Hazra explains. "In the next two decades ..... more than 200,000 people will lose their homes."

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

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


UNBUCKLING THE WHEAT BELT

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

In its report, Can Wheat Beat The Heat?, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research forecasts that within 50 years wheat will grow as far as north as 65 degrees latitude, from Ketchikan in Alaska to Cape Harrison in Labrador.

Meanwhile, much of the U.S. wheat belt will dry up. But temperature isn't everything in farming. "They paint a pretty picture," Saskatchewan Research Council climatologist Elaine Wheaton says of the group's optimism, "but forgot about the Canadian Shield and soil capability." — Andrew Nikiforuk

VERBAL ABUSE

"Global warming" — we might be talking about hugging the Earth, not destroying 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 scare us enough.

"If you mention 'global warming'," he says, "some people will say, 'Hey, that's good. It's cold up here'."

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

The language is getting stronger. Many European countries, leading support for the Kyoto accord, have now named it "climate chaos," bringing up images of sudden tidal waves and mass panic (a tone some critics call "climate porn"). Or they will say "climate crisis," to emphasize that we'd better act now before it gets worse.

It's a marketing nightmare: How do you distill a complex subject into one perfect, catchy, action-inspiring phrase? "It's hard to do it in a sound bite," Dr. Lakoff says. "You need at least five sentences." — Erin Anderssen

VIDEO VIGILANTES

Rising global temperatures, hurricanes, and testy world leaders are just a few of the things you have to juggle when you gamble with the world's climate. Two board 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 must capture. "The game is based on Risk, but we chose the global warming theme because the land reduction was quite dramatic and could spark this mass movement," says Frank Zuuring, president of Savita Games. In Keep Cool, things don't have 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 down their knowledge to develop the rules. The aim of the Diplomacy-like game is to meet individual secret economic or political targets. Players' choices can bring them closer to victory — or to the planet's collapse. A dirty power station is cheap, but its emissions increase the risk of environmental disaster. The pair hoped 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

WEATHER-PROOFING THE NATION

Climate change is battering Canada's $5-trillion worth of critical infrastructure with more floods, hail, ice, heat waves and windstorms than it has ever known.

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

True volatility obviously exacts a heavy toll on bridges, roads and buildings that haven't been designed for flash floods or a regular onslaught of hurricane-force winds.

But subtle changes are also shortening the lifespan of Canada's aging infrastructure — just the increased freezing and thawing as winter warms up can weaken concrete and pavement.

Given the billions at stake, Ms. Auld says, "insurance companies and municipalities are watching the weather like hawks." But thinking will have to 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 to prepare for the weather of the future — but the national data needed to create those standards aren't available yet.

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

But the Far North worries him most: With the melting permafrost, airport runways are sinking, and housing, which is already below standards in many communities, 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

YEAR-ROUND ISOLATION

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

The winter road the mine was depending on wasn't solid, says company spokesman 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 small pieces to fit into the helicopter and then reassemble it at the mine. Diavik also had to fly in fuel, cement and other heavy items it normally would have trucked in. The cost: millions of dollars.

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

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

ZERO HOUR FOR THE AMAZON

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

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

ALMANAC CONTRIBUTORS

Erin Anderssen and Ian Brown are Globe and Mail feature writers.

Laszlo Buhasz is The Globe's assistant travel editor.

Zoe Cormier and Dan Falk are Toronto science writers.

Tavia Grant is a reporter with the Report on Business.

Hannah Hoag is a science writer in Montreal.

Umarah Jamali is a freelance writer in New Delhi.

Mark Hume is a Globe reporter in Vancouver.

Michael Kesterton writes Social Studies for the Facts and Arguments page.

Charles Mandel is a writer living in Rothesay, N.B.

Shawn McCarthy is The Globe's energy reporter and Anne McIlroy is its science reporter, both based in Ottawa.

Tim McKeough is a Canadian writer living in New York.

Martin Mittelstaedt is The Globe and Mail's environment reporter.

Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning science writer in Calgary.

Lisa Rochon writes on architecture for The Globe.

Peter Scowen is the paper's deputy features editor.

Paul Tadich is a Canadian writer in Moscow.

Julie Traves is a Focus editor.

Calgary-based writer Chris Turner's next book is titled The Geography of Hope.

Geoffrey York is the paper's correspondent in Beijing.

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