Another View

How warm weather threatens our society

What is Canadian Christmas without snow? What does Quebec City do without Winter Carnival? What will become of us?

Charles Gordon December 28 1998
Another View

How warm weather threatens our society

What is Canadian Christmas without snow? What does Quebec City do without Winter Carnival? What will become of us?

Charles Gordon December 28 1998

How warm weather threatens our society

Another View

Charles Gordon

What is Canadian Christmas without snow? What does Quebec City do without Winter Carnival? What will become of us?

This was the usual mid-December drive in the eastern Ontario countryside, except that there was no snow on the road, no snow in the trees, no snow on the fields. The temperature had not dipped below freezing and there were reports, purely second-hand, of lilacs blooming and tulips trying to come up.

A couple of years ago if this had happened, Canadians in the colder parts of the country would all have had the same reaction: “We’ll pay for it.” It is our duty as Canadians to suffer the colds and the snow and the wind in order to earn the precious brief warm times in which our country can be a paradise.

People still say that now—we’ll pay for it. But not all of them. In the parts of Ontario and Quebec hit by last winter’s ice storm,

people have been known to say when unexpected good weather hits: ‘We’ve pre-paid for it.” And sometimes now, thinking of the ice storm and the warm summer and the warm fall and the warm winter, they say: “This is kind of spooky.”

When they say that, they are talking about global warming, and the notion that it may be upon us already. Not everyone is all that dismayed at the idea. A couple of extra degrees could come in handy in the winter months, keep the snow off the driveway, keep the car from freezing up, make the walk to the store a bit more tolerable. But then, you think about winter and Canada. You know the words of that French-Canadian anthem: “My country is winter.” What is Canadian Christmas without snow? What happens to Christmas shopping, now a major component of the economy? How do the kids play hockey outdoors, an important ingredient in their development as Canadians?

What happens to the people who work at the ski hills, who make skates and hockey sticks and windshield washer antifreeze? What happens to Ottawa’s tourist trade if the Rideau Canal doesn’t freeze? What does Quebec City do without Winter Carnival?

What will become of us? The question is not facetious. In fact, parts of our climate may become quite welcoming, attracting people from all over the world, particularly from those parts of the world that are newly covered in dust and sand. Are we ready for that? If eastern Ontario, for example, becomes a pleasant yearround climate, do the crops still grow in Saskatchewan? Or is it dust? And do we put out a welcome mat to all those people who used to be put off by our climate—Americans, for example—who decide that it is where they want to hang their hats, now that it is warmer and has plenty of water? Does our country stop being the world’s best-kept secret?

See how just a few warm days lead Canadians to think about the end of the world. But then, there is reassurance at a cheese shop in a tiny town. There, when the conversation turns to the warm weather,

the woman behind the counter replies in the old Canadian way: “We may pay dearly for it.” This sense of a link with our traditions breaks when a glance at the wall reveals a large sign giving the cheese shop’s Internet address. Which raises the other question about the end of the world.

Next year, around this time, we could be in a state of complete hysteria over the imminent collapse of many of the world’s important computers. Not only will we not be able to access the cheese shop’s Web site, we may not be able to fly successfully in airplanes, drive our cars, cook, watch television, pay taxes or do any of the things we enjoy doing. To make matters worse, according to this year’s newspapers, some of us will be stockpiling canned goods and arming ourselves to the teeth in preparation for a complete breakdown of everything, as a natural consequence of which, desperate folks will be breaking down our doors, looking to make off with our nonperishable items. People are already nervous about that now, never mind all the uncertainty about the weather, and you can imagine how overheated everyone will be in a year, with the big minute only days away.

Unfortunately, this millennium thing plays into the built-in fears of those inclined to see the end of the world around every corner. The Y2K thing, the part where all the computers stop and the satellites fall out of the sky, ruining cable TV reception, gives the end-of-the-worlders a focus for their fears. Already, as some know for certain and many others only suspect, the computer that runs Canadian weather has stopped working. And the real fun has not begun yet.

Some small relief could come if people relaxed a bit and went easy on the nonperishables, but, sad to say, it is not only the end-ofthe-worlders who are enthusiastic about the Y2K and all it portends. The news media have now decided that it makes a darn good story. Not only a darn good story, but a darn good story with legs. This baby—with people stockpiling and hoarding and arming themselves—will last another entire year. Here’s a document quoted in the newspapers that proposes the government develop emergency orders and regulations to deal with the possibility of what is described as “widespread chaos.” There are doubts that even limited chaos is within our grasp. And, meanwhile, new quotable experts are appearing every day, each with a longer list of the vital components of our society that will cease operations, precisely at the stroke of that particular midnight.

It will not be easy, in the time between now and then, for the people of the world to learn, collectively, the necessary relaxation techniques. How do we stop scaring each other to death? For a start, we may have to stop paying attention to the news. Then, we have to figure out how to take our minds off it, talk about something else. Perhaps not the weather, though.