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A World Without Ice

Human-caused climate change is already disrupting our lives, but there's still hope

By John Bird

By Henry Pollack; foreword by Al Gore
(Avery, New York) $32.50

Now here’s a nice change — a book about climate change with no shouting.

Author Henry Pollack tells us that human-caused climate change is already disrupting our lives, and even if we reduce greenhouse gases now, changes will continue painfully over centuries. To minimize them, “we need every horse in the stable pulling together, and as hard and as fast as possible.”

This is not news. But instead of spouting rhetoric — the norm on both sides now — Pollack uses science to build solid, clear arguments toward inescapable conclusions. It’s refreshing.

Greenland has already passed the tipping point, says Pollack, a professor of geophysics at the University of Michigan and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It will lose all its ice over the next few centuries, no matter what. Decreasing ice and snow exposes darker surfaces that absorb more solar heat. And melting permafrost (a fifth of the Earth’s land) will release vast quantities of methane (a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) to speed warming even more. This will raise sea levels by six metres, for a total of 12 metres with melting Antarctic ice.

Rising seas will flood rich, delta farmland along rivers like the Yellow, the Yangtze, the Nile, the Mississippi, the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon.

It will flood tidal cities like New York, Shanghai, Calcutta, Rio de Janeiro,
London, Sydney, Miami, New Orleans, Vancouver, Halifax — and every Inuit community in Nunavut. Around the world, 108 million people live less than a metre above sea level.

Even though his predictions are scary, Pollack offers hope. He points to the United States’ ability, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, to change its economy overnight and rally behind decisive action. Considering that half the energy in the United States is wasted, there is huge room for improvement.

Thanks to Pollack’s low-key, factual presentation — and no shouting — I have a clearer sense about what lies ahead. For that I’m thankful, even if the future does look ominous.

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