Saving Winter

By Erica Flock, EarthShare Online Manager

martinak15 / Flickr


There are home movies of my sister and me in the late-80s being pulled gleefully over mounds of snow in our yard in Michigan by our mother. Later, we’d come in the house red-cheeked from scraping together forts or ice fishing with our dad. Nothing engenders the holidays for me more than pine branches heavy with clumps of thick snow. Judging by the imagery surrounding Christmas in particular -- Frosty and his corncob pipe, the stockings and songs – I’m not alone.

Last week I attended a performance in Washington, DC of Handel’s Messiah, a yearly choral tradition going back to the winter of 1742 when it premiered in Dublin. But with the woman beside me wearing shorts and the air too muggy outside to feel like a true Mid-Atlantic December day (DC wasn’t alone: 482 daily high temperature records across the US were set the day before), some of the seasonal spirit was lost from the performance.

At what point will sparkling, snow-hushed memories be sparse or even inaccessible to kids growing up in former Winter Wonderlands? 2012 is on track to being the warmest year ever in the US, and even the reserved World Bank is warning that a 4°C (7.2°F) temperature rise by 2060 is in the cards for us if nations don’t start aggressively cutting back global greenhouse gas emissions now.

I suspect that many folks reading this, or at least their children and other loved ones, will still be around in 2060. And unfortunately the loss of typical 20th century winters is the least of our problems.

An increase of 4°C might not seem like a big difference when it comes to weather, but for the climate, it’s devastating. We’re already 1°C above what global temperatures were in Handel’s day (right before the industrial revolution began emitting greenhouse gases in earnest) and the Arctic sea ice is literally vanishing before our eyes.  

In the book Six Degrees, Mark Lynas plows through stacks of scientific studies to show what each additional degree of temperature rise will likely mean to our water supply, our agriculture, our coastal cities and more. At 2°C (the threshold most governments acknowledge as safe) Canada’s tundra melts, Tuvalu disappears, and most of the world’s coral reefs die off. At a 3°C rise, severe droughts and heat waves will become the norm.

At 4°C (this is what we’re on track for by 2060, you’ll recall), Bangladesh and Venice disappear, melted glaciers dry up the water supplies for hundreds of millions of people, deserts spread to Mediterranean Europe, and the Amazon Rainforest, the lungs of our planet, collapses. I’ll stop there to let you grab a stiff drink.

Now for the hopeful news: this doesn’t have to be our future. You remember that late scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when George Baily rushes home to find a house filled with friends and family ready to support him through any hardship? When the little imperfections of life he was so willing to give up on earlier in the film took on a special glow in light of the strength of the community that surrounded him?

The answer to the climate problem lies in our fellow-feeling too. We still have some time to raise our voices and work together to save winter, and everything else, for our fellow earthlings. Chances are there are people in your community already working on this most serious of challenges—setting up neighborhood renewable energy projects, lobbying local and national leaders on climate change, educating their friends with films and books and conversations, and generally building more meaningful connections to the natural world and each other.

Why not make a commitment to join them in 2013? Getting involved with our member charities is a great place to start. You can learn more about the EarthShare member organizations working on climate change and energy issues here.


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