Posted by Ian
When the United States suspended all domestic and foreign flights for three days following the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001, the temperature of the atmosphere dropped by two whole degrees.
Statistics concerning the damage we’re doing to our environment only tend to really hit home if they’re of startling magnitude (like that one) or have a profoundly personal resonance. For a dose of the latter, look outside. Why isn’t it cold? Not just a bit nippy, but really, properly cold. Why isn’t there frost on grass and on cars? Why aren’t there icicles hanging from the window? When, come to think of it, was the last time you actually saw a proper, naturally-formed, icicle anywhere?
This should be the depth of winter. There should be a brisk, biting wind whirling around the country. There should be warnings of snow on the way. Instead what we’ve got is weather more appropriate for April or September. What we’ve got, and what we’ve had for a few years now, is a warmer country that is stubbornly, relentlessly, refusing to cool down.
Mild, wet winters are wrong in so many ways. You want to be able to leave the house first thing in the morning and feel the cold whack you in the face like a giant frosty flannel. When the skies are brilliantly clear and your breath steams in the soft sunlight, even the grimmest of environments takes on a kind of beauty.
There’s hasn’t been a genuine freeze for so long right across the UK I guess it’d seem laughable to young kids today that it was only 20 years ago when schools could be shut for days on end thanks to flooded basements, leaking pipes and exploding boilers.
Snow used to fall non-stop for several days on my hometown in the East Midlands every winter, and on each occasion my primary school would close while blizzards raged, radiators packed in and the outside toilets (oh yes) froze solid. There’s precious little more thrilling in life than being actively encouraged not to go to school (especially when the instruction comes from the school itself) and those days were always to be treasured, even if I really didn’t know how at the time.
What I found more impressive was the way snow went on to not only shut down my secondary school, a far more robust and modern building (with copious inside toilets and plumbing that was barely 10-years-old), but also the sprawling community college where I did my GCSEs and A Levels. This was a massive place, including several buildings, numerous classrooms and endless portacabins, but which was promptly closed for three whole days when the boiler blew up and a thousand pipes cracked in glorious unison.
The blizzard was so heavy that year that it also knocked out power over half the town. It was incredible to me that in such an ostensibly advanced age – this was the start of the 1990s – everyone and everything could be so in thrall to a bit of unusually inclement weather.
Nowadays the only factors likely to lead to a loss of electricity are solely manmade: some protesting farmers, an antagonistic oil-producing country on the other side of the world, or our own stupidity at failing to invest in renewable energy.
Thankfully 2007, despite being less than a dozen days old, is already shaping up to be a year when environmental concerns are even more potent and ubiquitous than 2006. Here on MSN we’ve already covered the latest developments in the ongoing saga concerning the economic consequences of air pollution and Tony Blair’s insistence that he, for one, will continue to use aeroplanes whenever he feels the need for yet another foreign vacation. Maybe the PM would be interested in calculating the exact size of his carbon footprint.
It will be fascinating to see how those political parties with a more sincere and sensible attitude towards the environment fare in the local and regional elections in May. When Blair resigns and – as is almost inevitable – Gordon Brown replaces him, will there be any sign of green issues taking more prominence within government policy?
However, when people discover there aren’t any daffodils around because there hasn’t been a proper winter, and standpipes are being introduced because there hasn’t been a proper spring, and when their favourite foods aren’t on the supermarket shelves anymore because international harvests have failed and other countries are quite naturally looking to feed their own populations before exporting anything into our mouths…will anybody actually do anything about it? Probably not. Everyone will be boiling hot in the middle of a heatwave and won’t be bothered.
In the meantime, it might be foolish to dream of broken pipes and power cuts, but there’s a part of me that can’t wait to see the world brought to a standstill once again thanks to a solitary night’s snowfall.