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Jason Thistlethwaite

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Want to See Another White Christmas? Fight Climate Change

Posted: 12/21/2012 12:26 pm

Even the doubters are starting to recognize that the climate is changing. A recent U.S. poll has confirmed that people who are skeptical towards the scientific consensus behind climate change have shifted their opinion. In 2009, only 47 percent of people who classified themselves as having no trust in the science supporting climate change believed that the earth was warming. Today, 61 per cent of these science skeptics say they believe in climate change.

So what explains this change? Perhaps the science supporting the link between greenhouse emissions and global warming is finally too comprehensive to disprove. This could be the case. But public opinion has only now started to shift, and the scientific consensus on climate change has existed for decades. Another explanation could be that people are no longer worried about the economy and can afford to start paying to fight climate change through taxes or other policy means. This explanation has some merit, but by no means has the economy undergone some identifiable shift towards certain growth.

It seems the answer has more to do with our personal experiences with the effects of climate change. According to one interviewer for the poll: "We use to have mild temperatures in the fall going into winter months. Now, we have summer temperatures going into winter." Jon Krosnick, a social psychologist with Standard University confirms that "events are helping these people see what scientists thought they had been seeing all along."

This shift in public opinion is no surprise for researchers who argue that our perception towards climate change is shaped by its impact on our "sense of place." We tend to assume that the physical environment around us is static, and has no real impact on our daily lives. We listen to the daily weather report, but that's really about it. Climate change compels us to recognize that the environment is dynamic and can affect us in ways we did not anticipate. The experience of extreme weather damage, such as a basement flood after a significant downpour, is one apparent example. But it is the more subtle impacts of climate change on the way Canadians relate to the environment that I find most troubling.

I'm worried that the experience of a white Christmas is slowly disappearing for most Canadians. According to Environment Canada, the probability of a white Christmas has decreased by 15 per cent for most of the country since the 1960s. A white Christmas is a part of being Canadian according to David Phillips, Environment Canada's senior climatologist. "We want it on that day to put us in the mood. It's almost like (having) turkey and toys. It's just part of the feeling at Christmas time."

Sure, a white Christmas may not matter for some, but how about hockey? A McGill University researcher recently confirmed that pond hockey is threatened by climate change. As winters become warmer, access to backyard and community ponds that normally host nightly games of shinny will become limited. Of course we can always play games indoors, but the costs of doing so are likely to increase. Warmer winter temperatures will increase arena cooling costs, and in turn, public skating and league registration fees.

A white Christmas and pond hockey define our experience with the environment around us, and a Canadian "sense of place." Climate change is starting to threaten these experiences. Perhaps it's time we start to think about ways to preserve these pastimes. Doing so will help maintain the Canadian experience, and fight the dangerous impacts of climate change at the same time.

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  • The 24-metre Christmas tree is lit in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.

  • A man carries a Christmas tree on the promenade des Anglais in Nice, southern France, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012.

  • A Santa Klaus hangs on a Christmas tree on December 15, 2012 in Chisseaux, near Tours.

  • A penguin eats a fish next to a Christmas tree at London Zoo in central London on December 12, 2012.

  • The St. Peter's Basilica is reflected in a Christmas decoration on the Christmas tree that was lit in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. The Christmas season kicks off Friday at the Vatican with the traditional lighting of the tree in St. Peter's Square — and a reminder from the Pope about what happened when the "lights" of God were turned off in past atheistic regimes.

  • Christmas decorations and a giant fir tree light up the centre of Covent Garden in central London on December 14, 2012. Areas of central london are illuminated with Christmas lighting as the British capital gears up for the festive season.

  • Giraffes eat treats in the shape of a Christmas tree at Taronga Zoo in Sydney on December 14, 2012. In the lead up to Christmas, a selection of the zoo animals were challenged with Christmas-themed environmental enrichment activities.

  • A Christmas tree is illuminated at dusk in Christmas Square as Melbourne lights up on December 13, 2012. Christmas Square stars a decorated 9.2-metre living tree and a magical forest maze where children can find Rudolph and his reindeer friends.

  • A Christmas tree made with metal models of famous Fendi bags is set up in front of Rome's Fendi shop on December 12, 2012 in Rome.

  • A view of the Christmas tree setup on Rome's Spanish steps on December 12, 2012.

  • A view of the Christmas tree setup on Rome's Spanish steps on December 12, 2012.

  • A young boy named Erik pulls a Christmas tree he chose and cut down in a forest on December 8, 2012 in Fischbach, Germany. Forestry officials in the state of Saxony officially opened the 2012 Christmas tree season for people who want to retrieve their trees from designated forests rather than just buying them readily cut.

  • A man shakes a Christmas tree he chose and cut down in a forest on December 8, 2012 in Fischbach, Germany.

  • A star hangs near a Christmas tree in a shopping mall on December 8, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. German consumer confidence dropped prior to the Christmas season from a high level, according to a survey released at the end of November, expecting to harm retail sales in December, but not greatly.

  • A vendor displays Christmas decorations on a tree in a shop on December 7, 2012 in Johannesburg.

  • President Barack Obama speaks during the 90th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the Ellipse south of the White House onThursday, Dec. 6, 2012 in Washington.

  • U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the 90th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting on the Ellipse of the National Mall on December 6, 2012 in Washington, DC. Obama and others attended the event which included entertainment before the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

  • People look at a Christmas nativity scene made from sand at the international beach resort of Las Canteras in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on the Spanish Canary island of Gran Canaria on December 6, 2012. Artist from nine countries recreated the scenes depicting the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

  • A view of a giant Christmas tree set near a Ferris wheel at the Concorde square in Paris on December 6, 2012.

  • A delivery man transports a Christmas tree on his motorbike as he makes his way to a client's home in downtown Hanoi on December 5, 2012. There is a Catholic community of six million people in the communist Southeast Asian nation and Christmas, which is celebrated in big cities, is also a good opportunity for businesses.

  • People visiting the House of Sustainable Development in Montreal on December 5, 2012 look at a Christmas tree built by students of a secondary school of Laval, Canada, with 700 recycled soft drinks cans. According to the House of Sustainable Development, recycling 100 aluminium cans represents a gain of energy big enough to feed a television set for 22 days, or provide the electricity needs of a home for one full day, or save two gallons (7.6 litres) of gasoline.

  • The 80th Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is raised in New York's Rockefeller Center, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. The 80-foot Norway Spruce, donated by Joseph Balku of Flanders, NJ, will be strung with 30,000 multicoloured LEDs on five miles of wire and topped with a Swarovski Crystal Star. The tree is scheduled to be lit during ceremonies Wednesday Nov. 28.


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