Jim Lebans, Jim Handman, Bob McDonald, and Zerah Lurie

2009 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism–Features Winner

Jim Lebans, Jim Handman, Bob McDonald, and Zerah Lurie of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio’s Quirks & Quarks program received the Walter Sullivan Award at the Joint Assembly, held 26 May 2009 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Lebans, Handman, McDonald, and Lurie were honored for “Canada 2050: Our Future in a Changing Climate,” an eight-part, audio portrait of Canada after 4 decades of expected climate change, depicted through the words of Canadian scientists at the forefront of predicting climate, ecological, and societal transformations.


It is an enormous honor for me to provide this citation for the presentation of the 2009 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism to Jim Handman, Jim Lebans, Zerah Lurie, and Bob McDonald for their radio production “Canada 2050: Our Future in a Changing Climate.”

Many Canadians, like me, have grown up listening to Canada’s national science radio program —Quirks & Quarks— every Saturday afternoon from 12:06 to 1:00 P.M. on CBC Radio. Since 1975, the CBC team has kept Canadians abreast of the world’s scientific advances, from the smelling abilities of Tyrannosaurus rex, to the mathematical system of the Aztecs, to dead stars millions of light years away. The Quirks & Quarks team translates even the most technical scientific issue into a widely accessible and engrossing story line.

Many Quirks & Quarks programs follow a similar format, with probing and thought-provoking questions being posed to scientists about various new discoveries. In “Canada 2050: Our Future in a Changing Climate,” producers Jim Handman, Jim Lebans, Zerah Lurie, and host Bob McDonald serve up something different. Listeners in Canada and around the world via their popular weekly podcast are taken on a journey into the future through the eyes of 11 Canadian climate scientists.

From the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Arctic to the 49th parallel, these scientists paint a picture of a fundamentally different Canadian landscape. The calm, confident, and persuasive manner with which the scientists engage the listener is surreal. And herein lies the power of the production. Rather than take the listener down the predictable path of drama and sensationalism, the producers gently nudge the scientists to explore the boundaries of their knowledge and to translate that into a language accessible to everyone.

Global warming is without a doubt the defining issue of our time. Many in the general public do not realize that even if we immediately stabilized atmospheric greenhouse gases at current levels, the Arctic would likely still go ice free in the summer, between 10% and 25% of the world’s species would likely still be committed to extinction, and weather will continue to become more extreme. We have as much warming in store over the next few decades as has already transpired since preindustrial times when the Thames River in England used to periodically freeze over. It is this so-called and well-understood warming commitment that allowed the scientists to explore with some confidence the 2050 implications of global warming for Canadian society.

Today we are at a critical juncture. The 15th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be held in December in Copenhagen to hammer out a post-Kyoto global warming treaty. Global warming is a problem created by our generation that will be solved by our children’s generation so that their children live in a more sustainable world. “Canada 2050” offers a glimpse of the country our grandchildren will inherit; it serves as a catalyst to instill the sense of urgency needed to harness the creativity and ingenuity of today’s youth in developing the technological and behavioral solutions to global warming; and it serves as a wake-up call for a generation of baby boomers accustomed to unsustainable lifestyles.

Like many in the field of climate science, I have been frustrated over the years with aspects of the media portrayal of the causes and consequences of global warming. But throughout the past 3 decades, the CBC Quirks & Quarks team has stuck steadfastly to science in their quest to inform the Canadian public. The producers and host of the show are national treasures, and their “Canada 2050” program represents the very best in science journalism.

—ANDREW J. WEAVER, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada