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Global warming

The New Climate Almanac

Continued from Page 1

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

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