South to the Future

Warming Up to Global Warming

April 19, 2000

LOS ANGELES -- It's no longer a question of whether but rather when. While many plan to mark Earth Day with dire warnings that our environment is killing us, several industries are positioning themselves to make a killing.

Call it making lemonade and out of life's lemons. But what's an environmental holocaust to one Birkenstock-clad petition-passer is an economic opportunity to legions of corporate fat cats, mom-and-pop businesses, and even foreign governments. Living on Earth has never been so hard or so potentially profitable.

Warm Globally, Profit Locally

In Southern California, rising ocean levels caused by global warming have geologists predicting the loss of residential acreage in heavily populated coastal areas. With the ocean expected to reclaim as much as 50 yards of prime beachfront property up and down the coast, tens of thousands of residents will be forced to relocate.

As engineers speculate where the waterline will stabilize, the property values of formerly less desirable inland apartments and houses have suddenly skyrocketed. This precipitous land rush has sparked a 20 percent price spike in some communities and even spawned boutique real estate firms like the Del Mar-based outfit Global House Warming.

According to broker David Bracchio, global warming is the biggest thing to hit the real estate industry since the Internet. "With the climate changing, some parts of the country will become unlivable, while previously undesirable areas heat up," Bracchio exclaims. "It's a very exciting time for us."

Bracchio's company hopes to mediate between the relatively affluent and well-insured beach dwellers who will be displaced and the predominantly middle-class inland owners who may find their homes enriched by newly minted ocean views. "It's the only natural disaster I know of that's a win-win situation," says Bracchio. "The inlanders can either cash in and move to the suburbs or enjoy the perks of living seaside."

Women Are From Earth, Men Are Also From Earth

At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a new certification program that trains therapists to diagnose and treat clients with "weather-related disorders" reports a two-year waiting list for admission. The course teaches licensed therapists the finer points of both well-known ailments such as seasonal affective disorder, and newer complaints such as transportation-related anxiety and respiratory stress injuries.

Ear-nose-throat specialist Dr. Andrea Ross, who heads the Ann Arbor training course, reports that the list of environmental-related physiological and psychological disorders is growing faster than scientists can record them. "In the last two years alone we've recognized 16 new conditions, including food-centric phobias and emotional defense suppression," Ross notes. While many of these conditions are so new that scientists are divided on proper therapy, that hasn't stopped record numbers of therapists from hanging out their shingles in pursuit of the environmental illness dollar.

But that's not all. The domestic market for so-called enviro-therapeutic goods, including "sunlight" simulation lamps, oxygen-injecting HVAC systems, and furniture and household goods in "organic colors," is expected to generate upward of $1 billion this year in billings for service providers and manufacturers.

The Cutting Edge of Evolution

If most of the innovation around environment-related services and goods is taking place in the U.S., the trend is indisputably global with a number of Third World nations joining the fray. In the Philippines, where less than half of the population has access to potable water and poor solid-waste disposal practices constitute a perennial problem, a government-sponsored research program has claimed a major breakthrough in environmental coping technologies: genes for surviving pollution.

As part of a biotech venture with the U.S. company Pharmacia (formerly Monsanto), the government of the Philippines has been carefully monitoring the health of three generations of a society of garbage-dump dwellers in the capital city of Manila. What researchers claim to have discovered and now hope to market is a gene that enables some humans to breathe toxic levels of carbon monoxide and other lethal gases without harm.

In clinical tests, the toxin-resistant gene has been successfully introduced into mammals, but no experiments with human subjects have yet been performed. Although such tests are years away, Pharmacia has already dubbed the gene Aramina in honor of Ara Mina Baboyan, the 7-year-old girl in whom the gene was first found and whose family has lived in one of Manila's waste landfills for 40 years. Philippines President Joseph Erap Estrada lauds the discovery as "a first step towards a better living standard for all nations on Earth."

South to the Future's stories contain fictional and factual elements. Except when public figures are being satirized, any use of real names is accidental and coincidental. Comments? Holler@sttf.org.

 
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