How Has Santa Been Affected by Climate Change?

I recently had the chance to have a brief chat with Santa Claus at my local mall. (I realize that most mall Santas are actually Santa’s helpers and not the real one, but not in my mall. This guy is the real thing! He stays at Santa’s Village in Bracebridge in the off-season.) I asked him how climate change was affecting everyone at the North Pole. How were he and Mrs. Claus coping? What impact was it having on the reindeer? Or the elves?

His responses were blunt and to the point. He pointed out that the melting ice cap was definitely affecting the workshop, and that they’re looking at moving sometime in the next few decades. In Santa’s words:

We can’t have the ice cap melt away completely because our workshop doesn’t float. My magic only goes so far. You think Miami real estate is in trouble? Scientists are telling me our home will likely sink to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean before the end of this century.

I asked him where he thought he could relocate. He’s been giving some consideration to Antarctica because everyone is already used to the cold, but thought maybe they should take the opportunity to reinvent themselves completely.

Maybe we should move to the Sahara Desert. It’s only getting bigger so there’s no fear the desert will ever disappear. Perhaps instead of a sleigh and reindeer, I’ll use a dune buggy and camels!

As he said that, he winked and laid a finger aside of his nose, so I thought he might be joking. But he pointed out the elves are already getting used to the warmer climate but they don’t like the slush they have to trudge through as the surface ice melts. Their toboggan test track has flooded most years in recent memory, and the reindeer have had to learn how to swim.

I asked Santa what he was doing to try to combat climate change. He mentioned he’s been an environmentalist far longer than most people realize. Through a combination of solar (six months out of the year), wind, excellent battery storage, and a little elven magic, there are no fossil fuels used to heat the workshop. And since the reindeer are his only means of transportation, that means there are no fossil fuel emissions there either. (He did point out that Blitzen’s been known to release more than his fear share of emissions all on his own, but that has nothing to do with transportation. Turns out Santa purchases carbon offsets to cover that little issue, too!)

I encouraged Santa to join me and get the message out. He said he’s already been doing that, but he thinks it’s falling on deaf ears.

For years I was giving the Koch brothers lumps of coal in their stockings, but it turns out they considered them to be gifts and were happy about it.

For so many years politicians have been ignoring climate change and Santa’s naughty list was getting longer. But he pointed out that because of this year’s relative success at COP 21 in Paris, he would be making more trips to politicians’ houses this year than he has in a long time. (He even said he was going to be visiting the Canadian Prime Minister!)

Maybe my words aren’t so important but hopefully Saint Nick’s will have some impact. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and hope that Santa doesn’t put you on the naughty list.

A Unique Perspective of Earth

Sometimes you have to step back and see the big picture to be able to get the proper perspective. Only then can you realize the best path forward in a particular situation.

In tackling our carbon emissions and the problems of global warming and climate change those emissions create, there’s no better way to step back and see the bigger picture than to be an astronaut and leave our planet. And what’s interesting is that among astronauts, there is a consistent perspective that this issue of climate change is real and requires urgent attention from all world leaders. You don’t find too many astronauts who use the same soundbites that deniers and skeptics use, soundbites like “global warming isn’t real” or “the science isn’t settled.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

This video was created with a number of astronauts including two who are currently aboard the International Space Station. They implored the world leaders at COP21 to come up with a real commitment to reduce global emissions. I don’t know how much it may have contributed to the final outcome, but I can’t imagine anyone watching this and not considering that the unique perspective of someone who has seen our planet from space is worth listening to.

The Paris Agreement: Should It Have Been Legally Binding?

“If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists—to protect them and to promote their common welfare—all else is lost.”
Barack Obama

Many people around the world, myself included, are hailing the recent agreement in Paris as a significant victory. Finally the leaders of the nations on our planet have taken a major step toward tackling global warming and climate change.

But I’ve had friends express concern that it wasn’t a binding agreement. In that regard, doesn’t that give nations free reign to actually do what they want and ignore what they pledged to do? All of these nations have stated they’ll try to reduce emissions and will report their progress along the way, but there’s no penalty if they don’t succeed. So is that really a victory?

Although it’s true that there isn’t a formal mechanism of dealing out punishment for those countries that fall short of their commitments, there can be other detrimental effects those nations will feel if they aren’t successful. In this case, social pressure and participation within an international community will have an impact. Since most international agreements rely on countries maintaining good relationships with with each other, the risk of looking badly compared to peer nations is substantial. Unless every nation ignores what they’ve pledged to do, those that do actually fall short will look poorly on the word stage. Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School puts it this way:

The leaders of the world recognize that the consequences of noncompliance are disastrous. We are looking at a wholesale transformation of our global climate. The main incentive here for compliance is not the threat of some civil penalty — non-compliance would mean environmental disaster.

Given how much transparency and reporting the agreement requires, concerned citizens like you and me along with environmental groups will help play the role of watchdog and enforcer. Public opinion will matter. If it didn’t, these heads of state would never have reached this agreement in the first place.

And keep in mind: if it was legally binding, each nation would have had to ratify it in their respective governments. Imagine how supportive Republicans would have been for that! No, I think in this case COP21 got it right. It’s not perfect, and there will be hurdles to overcome, but I think it’s as much as we could have hoped for given the stagnancy and resistance we’ve experienced to date.

Just you wait: this agreement will mark the turning point in the history of our civilization. This will be the time that future generations will look back to and say “That’s when they finally started to take this seriously.”

COP21 Reaches an Agreement

It’s taken more than 20 years but we can finally be thankful that the government leaders around the globe have listened to what the people they represent have been telling them: we want something done about global warming and climate change.

There will be a lot to digest in the coming days, weeks, and months about this historic agreement but for a brief summary, watch this short video. And realize that future generations will look back to this event as a major turning point, even if many people don’t yet realize it.

Week One of COP21: Where Are We So Far?

[Future generations will be] “very strict when they judge what was done by heads of state here.”
—French President Francois Hollande

After a week of discussions and negotiations, the final draft of the Paris Climate agreement from COP21 was released this past weekend by the United Nations and will be taken up for further discussion at a high level this coming week.

French President Francois Hollande said that a review mechanism to monitor how compliant nations are on their own carbon emissions and the transfer of technologies that are more climate-friendly to developing nations continue to be hurdles, but he’s optimistic that they can be resolved.

India has been outspoken that rich and poor nations should not be treated in the same way. For example, India doesn’t have the ability to measure emissions from vehicles the way other countries can.

Many are keen to see what the final outcome of COP21 will be. Governments care but so do businesses. The outcome could allow for significant investments in renewable energy by recognising plans that cover 94 percent of our planet’s emissions in 184 countries. The insurance industry is also paying attention because intense weather events caused by our emissions lead to significant payouts they have to plan for.

One goal from Paris is to maintain a global temperature rise to either “below 1.5°C,” or “well below 2°C,” but there are many issues that need to be resolved in the current draft for that to be possible. These include long-term emissions reductions for a new 2050 target, financial support for developing countries dealing with the crisis, and explicitly stating the responsibility of developing vs. developed countries. On the issue of reaching the peak in greenhouse gas emissions, the thought is that we have to achieve this “as soon as possible,” but it’s appreciated that this will require deeper emissions cuts coming from the developed nations and longer periods allowed for developing countries. Achieving zero emissions growth by 2060-80 is proposed. Hopefully that will be quick enough.