The Competition is Melting

Temperature Gauge

avatar.tifSecondlife.comOne way to fly to a climate summit in Bali.

In recent years, hockey players and competitive skiers have warned that rising global temperatures are affecting their beloved sports. Now it appears global warming may ruin another winter contest — The Harbin International Ice & Snow Festival.

The event, held every January in the Chinese city of Harbin near the Russian border, is the largest event of its kind, and attracts competitors from around the world who sculpt incredibly huge and detailed scenes out of ice and snow. But with average temperatures hitting their highest level since records began, the sculptors are feeling the heat.

“We are worried that the thing will collapse,” one participant told Reuters as he chipped away at a hunk of ice. “We tried to readjust a little bit.”

A Chinese-Canadian competitor was also feeling the pressure: “When I first got to Canada, it was so cold. But now, it’s getting much warmer. Maybe slowly Vancouver will become Hong Kong.”

The Tropics of Canada?

That ice sculptor may be right. According to a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the Earth’s tropical belt is expanding much faster than expected, which could bring more storms to temperate zones while further drying out already arid regions.

For mapmakers, the tropics are constant — they end at 23.5 degrees north and south of the Equator, at the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer. Climate scientists define the tropics as the areas where it rains a lot and where there is little seasonal or day-to-day change in weather. Scientists had predicted that the tropic belt would expand by about two degrees latitude north and south of the Equator by the end of the 21st century. Now they’ve found that amount of expansion has already occurred — many decades earlier than expected.

Get a Life

In December, more than 10,000 people from around the world gathered in Bali for a new round of UN-sponsored talks to address climate change. For those who couldn’t afford the ticket — or who didn’t want to increase their carbon footprint by flying there — the Web site sponsored a virtual climate summit through the online space Second Life.

Second Life — for those of you still occupied in the “real world” — is a fantasyland that allows users to live an alternative existence under assumed identities called “avatars.” The avatars — which can take the form of action heroes or just regular folks — mingle in a 3-D animated universe complete with coffee shops, parks, and music clubs.

For the Second Life Bali Summit, participants “traveled” from all over the globe, including Japan, Turkenistan, and Romania. Among their ranks was US Representative Edward Markey, a leading critic of President Bush’s climate policy. Before delivering his remarks at the virtual conference, Markey’s avatar said: “I believe I am the first member of the US Congress to be introduced by someone with a blue dragon on her shoulder.”


Perhaps Congressman Markey didn’t hear the news, but according to a new report by the UK-based environmental organization Global Action Plan, the computer servers used to power Internet technologies such as Second Life are a significant contributor to global warming.

The group found that the planet’s IT sector is responsible for about two percent of human carbon dioxide emissions each year — the equivalent of the airline industry. The servers used to power Google and Microsoft, along with the estimated one billion personal computers, eat up massive amounts of electricity, much of it generated by fossil fuels.

Most of the energy used by the IT industry goes to store data. Global Action Plan estimates that more efficient information storage could cut by 30 percent the amount of electricity computers use.

Maybe you shouldn’t archive that e-mail after all.

No Comment

At least according to the Saudis, shifting away from fossil fuels is not a smart way of addressing climate change.

During the Bali Summit, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told the UN delegates that the world should continue to use its “huge reserves” of petroleum, natural gas, and coal because it’s “practical” to do so.

He then said the world should start investigating “clean oil” technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, though he did not elaborate how it might be possible to capture and then store emissions from the huge number of vehicles that consume the planet’s oil. n

You Make Our Work Possible

You Make Our Work Possible

We don’t have a paywall because, as a nonprofit publication, our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action to protect our living world. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.

Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Subscribe Now

Get four issues of the magazine at the discounted rate of $20.