12/21/2012 12:34 EST | Updated 02/20/2013 05:12 EST

Want to See Another White Christmas? Fight Climate Change


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.

Christmas Around The World