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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.

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