Weathering the storm

20th June 2003 at 01:00
Hilary Wilce visits an exhibition across the Channel that explores the long-term consequences of climate change

Alpine glaciers are shrinking by 30 per cent... European flowers are blooming two weeks earlier... Villagers in Alaska have had to abandon their island home because of rising sea levels... a quarter of the world's corals are deadI Sometimes it can be hard to comprehend the true scale and scope of climate change.

Yet just across the Channel it is now possible to experience much of it in one fell swoop. "Stormy Weather on our Planet!" is a new exhibition at Nausicaa, France's Centre National de la Mer, featuring shifting currents, global warming, rising sea levels and burgeoning greenhouse gases.

Visitors are blasted with dry desert winds and steamy tropical temperatures as they are taken on a tour through cyclones, drought and diminishing forests. They enter the exhibition between glass cases of locusts, pass through a jungle populated by crocodiles, geckos and snakes, and leave it after watching a spectacular short 3-D film about caring for the planet, in which the effects are so realistic that viewers cower from the drenching rain and exploding volcanic lava.

On the way, they hear about the perils of insects spreading diseases into new areas, and about which areas of the world are most threatened by sea-level changes. A huge wall map also shows how shifting sea currents might affect our climate. Depressingly for the UK, the forecast seems to be rain, rain and more rain.

France, it points out, has tripled its energy consumption since the 1960s, and although the oceans continue to absorb some of the world's increased carbon emissions, the future is uncertain. "The ocean level has risen by 10-20cm during the 20th century," it says "It is going to continue to rise by between 8 and 88 cm by 2100 according to the latest international report." Likely consequences will almost certainly include general global warming, increased rainfall in some areas, and a higher risk of drought in others.

What can be done? The exhibition concludes with a whole range of suggestions, from using extra clothes rather than extra electricity to keep warm, to keeping cars serviced in order to conserve energy, and reducing rubbish. Or, if you do nothing else, don't eat little fishes. The recommended eating sizes are 35cm for cod, 24cm for sole, and 23cm for whiting.

Although there is little that is new here for those who already know the subject well, it would make an absorbing visit for students or families.

And, while the exhibition is relatively small (it takes about an hour to walk round slowly), visitors can also use their time to tour Nausicaa itself, Europe's largest sea life centre and home to 10,000 fish and other marine creatures.

The exhibition forms part of a year-long focus, during which the centre is emphasising climate issues through workshops and conferences. The launch gave a forum for a range of pleas for the world to wake up to the potential threat of disaster. Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of the Ocean Futures Society and son of the famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, said: "We are already seeing so many changes in weather and climate. Cod are going up north for cooler waters. There are places where children can't play football any longer because of the floods. When I was seven and with my father in the Mediterranean, you never saw barracudas off the coast of the Riviera. Now you do. Things are changing, and changing so fast!"

He also pointed out that ecological disasters had a much greater impact on people than was realised. The spilled oil which engulfed the Atlantic coast of Spain recently resulted in "awful psychological and economic consequences. The rate of divorce has sky-rocketed, the fishermen have lost their livelihood and can't pay their debts, families have been dissolving, and tourism, markets and exports are all affected." However, he continued:

"We haven't been here long, only about three million years, and if we disappear we won't even be missed in the history of the planet. We are no more than a flea on the back of an elephant."

Stormy Weather On Our Planet is presented in English and French. Nausicaa is on the outskirts of Boulogne-sur-Mer, clearly signposted from the Boulogne-Calais main road. Email:

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