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Climate change hero’s message hits

Renowned scientist gets standing ovation in Vancouver.

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By Glenda Bartosh

Tim Flannery entered the 950-seat auditorium at Vancouver’s John Oliver High School to an explosion of applause; he exited to a moving standing ovation.

Flannery, an internationally acclaimed scientist and writer from Australia, is the author of the bestseller The Weather Makers: How We are Changing the Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth . But his Vancouver reception felt more like one for a hero rather than a scientific writer.

He was in the city Easter Monday as part of UBC’s Talk of the Town Series and a cross-Canada tour promoting his book (check out Terry Glavin’s article in the April 13 Georgia Straight , one of the few media covering Flannery’s visit.)

The Weather Makers , endorsed by a litany of scientists and progressive thinkers, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, Robert Kennedy Junior, and Nobel Laureate John Polanyi, documents the scientific evidence supporting global warming and its cause due to man-made greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) released by burning fossil fuels.

In Monday’s presentation, moderated by Hal Wake, Flannery emphasized that while scientists are natural skeptics, 90 percent no longer doubt the man-made link to global warming. This is partly due to irrefutable facts and partly due to “an extraordinary revolution in our understanding of how the atmosphere works.”

“The science of measurement is all there — the measurement of signature gases, like CO 2 , the measurement of warming and the measurement of weather events… We should now be moving to a cooling cycle and the only thing that correlates (regarding warming) is greenhouse gasses. Nothing else does,” he said.

In his 355-page, fact-packed book, Flannery rounds up the scientific evidence documenting the correlation and world-wide consequences — the changes in weather at the North and South Poles that are wreaking havoc with all ecosystems, the destruction of coral reefs off Australia’s coast, the extinction of species like the golden toad of Costa Rica, a victim of declining rainfall.

And all this with an average global temperature increase of only 6/10th of a degree Celsius during the 20th century alone.

But that’s nothing. Flannery predicts that if we ever-increasing humans carry on with our ever-increasing output of greenhouse gases, we will trigger an average global temperature increase of 3.5 C during the next 100 years.

It all adds up to a profound warning about the ensuing damage to life on Earth if we weather-makers carry on with business as usual — a message that feels tough, almost impossible to hear.

Ocean levels will rise by four metres by 2050, extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina will become more frequent, and the Amazon rainforest could wither away from drought if we insist on driving CO 2 -belching cars and SUVs, and continue to rely on 19th-century-style coal-fired plants for electricity (common in hundreds of nations, including the U.S. and China).

Flannery estimates that we may have as few as five years, at the most 20, to turn the tide on warming.

The black irony of both his message and the timing of his visit was not lost on the crowd. They come right on the heels of the Harper government killing the One Tonne Challenge program and other climate change initiatives, and 15 programs dedicated to Kyoto research.

In fact, Flannery was supposed to have met with Environment Minister Rona Ambrose during his Canadian visit. The meeting was cancelled.

But don’t wait for the politicians, he urges. Apply people solutions. Otherwise we will be waiting until all hell breaks loose.

 

MINI-FACTS:

It’s a start: Switching from an SUV to a low-emission hybrid or Smart car reduces CO 2 emissions by 70 per cent, the ratio reduction we need to achieve globally to stop climate change.

• It’s a fact: At Easter, the Harper government banned an Environment Canada scientist from launching his novel, Hotter than Hell . It documents a war over Canadian water after climate change dries up US water sources.

• Watch for : Al Gore’s aptly-titled documentary on climate change, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

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