And there is not so much as a single snow flake in sight. This is set to be the warmest English winter on record. The autumn of 2006 has been nearly one degree hotter on average than the autumn of 2005, itself the hottest ever recorded. Even the experts are shocked link…. If these temperatures persist there will be no snow at all across most of England this winter.
The prognosis is clear. Assuming that the there is no collapse of the Gulf Stream, within one generation low land Western Europe will become permanently devoid of snow.
We’re virtually there already in southern England. The number of days of snow has fallen by two thirds during my lifetime. The heaviest snowfall my children have experienced in their five years of life is one inch three years ago. Since then there has been hardly enough to speckle the path.
And yet kids occupy a media generated world of constant blizzards, snowball fights and snowmen. This morning my children sat and watched a Christmas special of Bob the Builder set in two feet of snow, introduced by presenters surrounded by spray-on snow. (Look at this if you can bare it) They were inspired to build their own snowman fetish out of a white blanket thrown over a chair with stick on eyes and a carrot for a nose- just like they’d been told by the snow cult. It was cute, but painful too.
Snow has always been a component of the image of Christmas in both the traditional pagan/Christian festival and the more recent consumerist potlatch. What is interesting is not just that it persists in the face of a marked changed in actual climate, but that its promotion and commodification are becoming even stronger. It has taken on a socially constructed meaning that exceeds any intrinsic meaning; a fetish, in other words.
Humans have a marked historical tendency to fetishise the natural world as they destroy it. Look at the recent spate of penguin fever as discussed by Martyn Carless in the last posting. Think of the national symbols that live on long after their prototypes have been virtually eliminated – the cedars of Lebanon, the Bald Eagle of the US, the tigers of Korea, the Aracaria tree of Chile, and there are many more.
What is also happening here is a deliberate rejection of the very rapid changes that are happening around us. Snow has taken on a life of its own in our constructed reality as a symbol of stability and tradition. The loss of snow is one of the harbingers of climate change and it is precisely for that reason that our collective response is to ignore it.