Thursday, January 11, 2007

Field Notes from a Catastrophe

It seems absurd to think about global warming on a day lake today. Currently outside it is -26° (with a breeze making it feel like -36°). Wearing ski pants to work seemed ludicrous until I walked from the parking lot in the back 40 and felt just a wee bit smug.

Western ski resorts are more than a wee bit smug, boasting about and basking in their record-breaking amounts of snow. But we live in a global village. There are signs everywhere. Ontario ski hills entirely brown. European ski resorts struggling. Glaciers roaring down hills. Robins in the Yukon.

Even a skeptic like Prime Minister Harper has had to acknowledge that something is afoot. Harper’s move of local star politico Rona Ambrose out of the Environment Ministry is an admission that climate change has become a top shelf political issue.

I come from a family of engineers, who are, shall we say, sceptical about global warming. “An intellectual fad” says one. “Peak oil is far more pressing” says another. So to prepare for the traditional family heated discussions around the supper table, I’m working my way through the bumper crop of “the sky is falling” global warming books from 2006.

Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, was the showstopper, with a colourful book to go along with it. The film is out on DVD now.

I’m currently reading Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert. It is a fairly slim book, based on three New Yorker articles that were a bit of a sensation last year. It is a calm book, soberly reviewing of the scientific evidence. A Scientific American review hopes it "is this era’s galvanizing text", a Silent Spring for this generation.

The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery appears to be the “hit” global warming book however. A scientist and writer, Flannery clearly and persuasively presents the scientific evidence on climate change, detailing what global warming has done and could do to our planet. A passionate and convincing call for individual action from all of us.

Also from 2006 was Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning by George Monbiot. Monbiot takes global warming as a given and thus this book focuses on what we can do about it. It is a British book but the ideas are applicable to all. One point he mentions – those giant LCD TVs that pretty much every Albertan home got for Christmas? They’re energy hogs, using 5 times as much power as old-fashioned CRT televisions! And much Alberta electricity is coal-generated (including Canada’s #1 emitter of carbon dioxide – the Sundance Generating plant, 70 kms west of Edmonton, burning 1040 tonnes of coal an hour).

Glum stuff. But it’s a new year. Lots of time to change.


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