Casaubon's Book

Dear Sharon: Some of my friends say there is no Santa Claus. But I really need to know if there is. My Mom has been telling me about something called global warming, and I’m worried about Santa, because he lives up at the North Pole, and if it melts, he’ll be in trouble. My Mom said some grownups were working hard in a place called Copenhagen to fix the problem, and I heard someone on the news say they decided something and someone else said they didn’t. What happened in Copenhagen? Is there really a Santa, and what’s going to happen to the North Pole? Please tell me the truth! Sincerely, Virginia

Virginia, I’m probably not the best person to ask about Santa. All I can say is this – that I personally have not seen Santa, and can’t say anything about his status. That said, however, there was a time, once when I was very much convinced he was coming to visit. Since then, I’ve sort of moved out Santa territory myself, but far be it from me to say no on this one. Moreover, I wouldn’t suggets any little girl or boy give up before they are ready on belief in things that give them joy, so I am perfectly willing to entertain the possibility of Santa.

What I do have to say is this – if Santa exists as advertised right now, he’s really, really mad. No, honey, he’s not mad at you. In fact, there are a lot of people for Santa to be really pissed at right now, but you and kids like you are not responsible. It isn’t your fault. The grownups, however, screwed up.

What is he mad about? Well, Santa is an important part of the culture of the far north – one of the people who are most deeply affected, as you point, out by climate change. If Santa does exist at the North Pole, he’s about to have some serious problems – no ice in summer to rest his workshop on. He’s going to have stop using reindeer, since they’ll have no place to take off and land in a few years. He’s clearly a resourceful gentleman, but I’d imagine at his age he’s probably a bit thrown by the idea of either moving or converting over to orcas and water skis.

Just a few weeks before Christmas, a lot of people got together in Copenhagen as your Mom told you. Many of them were concerned about global warming, about the forces that are making the ice in the North Pole melt, and raising coastal sea levels for children in Bangladesh and Tuvalu. They were concerned about the tropical diseases moving northward and killing kids in Asia and Africa – and yes, in the US as well. They were concerned about the children who won’t have water, or food, because their sources of drinking water and irrigation are drying up, and about the vast dust storms and hurricanes that threaten children all over the world.

And a lot of people came from the countries that were most threatened – including many people from the far north, maybe even Santa or some elves with them. They came and told their stories about how they are losing homes and ways of life and even lives. They were really sad stories, and scary stories, but they needed to be told because the grownups have the power to fix this. Most of the problem comes from the way we live – and we could probably change it.

Unfortunately, the grownups in power didn’t want to change it. They were too busy bickering about whose fault it was, and who should do what. They were afraid to have to do hard things, so instead of taking care of children everywhere, they decided to leave the problem for you, that they’d rather pass off the hard stuff to their kids, rather than endure some pain now.

Your Mom may be confused about what really happened in Copenhagen, because some people do say something happened, while others say nothing did. I’m going to tell you the truth. Nothing happened. Or rather, what happened was that at the last minute a bunch of the most important grownups made a non-binding resolution not to let global warming go past a certain point. But really, they didn’t do anything except pretend to do something.

What is a non-binding resolution, Virginia? Well, it is basically a bunch of grownups getting together to say they’d like something to happen, even if they actually have no intention of making it happen. It is kind of like when you write to Santa and tell him you’d really, really like a pony. You know and Santa knows that no one is going to get you a pony just because you want it. It would be really nice, of course, if one magically appeared, but just in case, you probably put something like “Tropical Disease Specialist Barbie” on your list, right? Well, this is like that – none of the countries will agree to actually stop doing the stuff that warms the planet, but they all can agree that they’d really like it if some magic person, like Santa would come and fix it so they didn’t have to talk about this anymore. And we all know that grownups aren’t supposed to believe that Santa comes to them, right? Grownups get their presents from each other – but these grownups were acting like babies – we can’t even call them kids, because we know that kids can be as smart and serious as you are.

So no, the grownups at Copenhagen didn’t do anything about climate change. They took a lot of pictures of themselves, and they made themselves feel pretty good about talking and pretending they were going to do something, but they didn’t do anything. And that means that Santa’s workshop is going to be underwater pretty soon. Which is a pretty big problem, right?

Now Santa isn’t in charge of fixing global warming, but he is in charge of presents, and I’m pretty sure that he’s not too happy with the world’s leaders right now. In fact, I’m guessing they’ll be getting something pretty bad in their stockings this year. No, not coal – they’d just burn it. I’m betting on a big, stinky pile of reindeer poop myself.

I don’t blame you if you are mad at them on Santa’s behalf. I’m pretty mad at them myself, and so are a lot of grownups – some of the ones who were there and some of the ones who weren’t. You see, there are a lot of grownups who do care about this, and who worked really, really hard to try and make this better. And unfortunately, they didn’t succeed, and there’s a very good chance that they won’t.

I’m going to tell you something very grownup, since you asked me to tell you the truth. Sometimes the good guys don’t win. I know that in the movies, when bad guys try and destroy the good guys, the good guys always win. But that’s not true in real life, and this is one of those times. That’s a hard and sad thing to think about, but it is true.

Now I don’t know much about Santa, but I do know one thing – whether he is real or not, or just part of the spirit of joy and love – Santa is just as mad for you as you are for him. Because you deserved better than this – you and the rest of the children in the world. You deserve not to have to learn so early that the grownups in your world care more about now than they do about your future. You deserve to live in a world that is safer and gentler and has less suffering in it than the one you are probably going to get. And a whole lot of grownups just got together and said you didn’t really deserve those things – they pretended they were doing something to take care of you and protect you, and they lied. You shouldn’t have to learn so young that grownups lie and cheat children out of their patrimony – but they do, and they did.

Virginia, if Santa exists, he is the part of us that cares most about children, and about our future. In Santa’s name, grownups all over the world do good deeds to give children some magic in their lives. Santa at his best isn’t about expensive toys and consumption – he’s about a little bit of delight for everyone. Santa is a reminder that we owe children something – a measure of joy, comfort and security. He is the part of us that knows that when we are gone, you will be left, and how we care for you now – and for the children to come – matters deeply.

And at Copenhagen this week, just before Christmas, a whole lot of world leaders got together and cast out Santa and all his works. They said they didn’t care enough about you, or Santa, or the ice on the North Pole to change the world. And that’s just about the worst Christmas present ever – I’m so very sorry. Yes, Virginia, there may be a Santa, but like so many other wonderful and magical things, he’s disappearing in a world full of children who have to grow up and face hard truths far too fast.

Love,

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Chris
    December 20, 2009

    Sharon, that was a most moving letter to Virginia. As I read it, I realized that I am not doing my daughter and her little girl any favors by avoiding the issue of climate change, by “protecting” them from the reality I know is only a few years away. Your letter made me ashamed that I have been so hesitant, for fear my daughter and her family and all my family will brand me as a nutcase. I am fortunate that I have a public way of talking to my friends and family: I write a column for the local paper. From now on, I will not hesitate to call a spade a spade in my column, for my darling granddaughter’s sake. Thank you for giving me the courage.

  2. #2 abbie
    December 20, 2009

    I remember having the realization: How could my ancestors have done this? How could they be so selfish? I vowed to never leave that legacy for my own children, and I feel even more strongly now that I am pregnant. Thank you for calling them out, and saying that they have accomplished nothing in Copenhagen, since that’s the reality. I was hopeful for change, but sadly am not surprised at the outcome.

  3. #3 Green assassin Briagde
    December 20, 2009

    Dear Santa,

    Part time Earth Goddess Sharon, tells me that you are pissed off and from what she tells me you have good reason to be. Please ignore my previous shallow requests for crappy consumer stuff and just send me one serviceable Terminator and a list of those who have failed us both in Copenhagen

    Thanks
    Virginia

    Now honestly I’m not suggesting violence it’s not my thing, but there is going to be a point when a portion of those people from western nations now protesting in the streets peacefully are going to snap and that’s not even considering the backlash from those places most in danger from climate change. Can we doubt that frustration will lead to desperation and rash behaviour?

  4. #4 Cecelia
    December 20, 2009

    thanks Sharon for finding a way to cut thorugh all the noise and tell what happened at Copenhagen – nothing.

    Increasingly I think people see that government will not solve the problems – and so people will slowly but surely take matters into their own hands. Perhaps this is best.

  5. #5 Brad K.
    December 21, 2009

    Sharon,

    It seems the people of the world didn’t put the right people in leadership roles. The disaster of Kyoto (lack of real change) proved that expecting people leading in one entrenched bureaucracy and power structure, were unlikely to embrace change that would threaten their power base.

    Americans elected Senators and Congressmen, since Kyoto, and a President, too. The labor unions and other big money and big influence people want the economy and ecological directions to stay about the way they were.

    That meant very, very few countries in the world had representatives actually invested in the proposed agenda of Copenhagen.

    Hoping that real change could come from Copenhagen was putting the cart before the horse – wanting environmental problem solving from old-money driven bureaucrats was about like expecting Obama to keep his campaign promises – if you didn’t spend money on his campaign like the labor unions did.

    Climate change proponents hadn’t bought enough leaders off, or put enough people in charge that cared. Something to think about, come the next few elections. Either vote in people engaged in climate change mitigation, or expect the consequences.

    I wonder what changes Mrs. Santa is making in her garden plans, with the failure at Copenhagen?

  6. #6 Kris Hoffman
    December 21, 2009

    Oh Sharon-this piece made me smile, brought tears to my eyes and got me angry all at the same time. How do you do that?

  7. #7 gaiasdaughter
    December 21, 2009

    We tend to think of governments as ‘them,’ as something separate from us, but at least here, in the U.S., ‘they’ *are* us. If our elected officials do not act, it is because we do not want them to.

    I don’t mean this as an apologia, but if Obama had committed the United States to reducing its carbon footprint by 90%, starting immediately, which, it seems, is what is needed, it would have been an empty promise. Can you imagine Congress passing the requisite laws and regulations? We can’t even get a decent health care bill! And if, by some Christmas miracle, Congress and the President did do right by the world’s climate, what would the reaction be on Main Street? My guess is either revolution or civil war. There are many of ‘us’ who are heavily armed and would not stand for it.

    Could the world’s leaders have done more? Absolutely. But as I see it, government is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Until we all take a page from Causabon’s book and riot for austerity, nothing will change.

    Sharon, your statement that sometimes the good guys don’t win really hit home. Happy endings are not guaranteed and sometimes not even possible.

    We have seen the enemy and he is us.

  8. #8 Shamba
    December 21, 2009

    I wasn’t following the details or general stuff about Copenhagen on purpose the past two weeks. I was afraid just what you’ve described is what what happened.

    Peace to All,
    Shamba

  9. #9 Claire
    December 21, 2009

    Thanks so much for redoing the original letter-to-Virginia piece. That tired-ass letter gets dragged out every year at this time. If it were sugar, it would be an LD100 dose. Your letter is honest. It’s a refreshing change, even if the subject matter is so tragic.

    So much money, energy, and time spent on the Copenhagen talks and on other efforts to influence those who listen and respond first and foremost to corporate influence. Might it have been better spent, and be better spent, working at home and with others to change whatever we can, wherever we can? It’s a serious question whose answer might well be unknowable, but perhaps it would be good to ask it anyway.

  10. #10 Gina
    December 21, 2009

    My favorite part of this post:

    “In fact, I’m guessing they’ll be getting something pretty bad in their stockings this year. No, not coal – they’d just burn it.”

    It’s darkly funny because it is true.

    The subjects of climate change, resource use, and waste are ones we already address every day with our three year old. We talk about why, despite his love of watermelon and the pile of them on display at the store, we will not be getting any in December. We admonish him to turn of the lights when the sunlight is streaming through the windows. When he’s chilly we put on a sweater rather than turn on the heat. When we see an adult smoking or littering we talk about how grown-ups sometimes make bad choices. I want to give him a better world to live in than the one we have now and I am coming to believe that the way to do it is to change our lives and his perspective. It is sadly, too late to change the minds and the loyalties of those “in power”.

  11. #11 alterity
    December 21, 2009

    global warming is most probably a myth. It was only in the 70s that scientists were talking of global cooling. Humans account for 2% of Co2 emmisions (the vast majority of Co2 is created by nature, rotting plants etc). Most greenhouse gases come from methane which amazingly enough come from animals flatuance. etc etc. Global warming is the new religion and I’m a heretic thank you very much.

  12. #12 dining furniture
    December 22, 2009

    If there is a Santa, he is going to be in big trouble in North Pole. Global warming is true and it is happening. And I hope the grown ups in Copenhagen are alarmed.

  13. #13 wrong at large
    December 22, 2009

    fear not,,, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people,,, a capitalist to rescue the planet,,,

    Nathan Myhrvold’s Anti Global Warming Scheme
    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2511875/nathan_myhrvolds_anti_global_warming.html

    Nathan Myhrvold is a former technology officer for Microsoft who has found his own company, Intellectual Ventures, which is involved in a number of technology development programs, including new forms of energy generation.
    Nathan Myhrvold also thinks that he has found a cheap and reliable way to solve global warming, which does not involve upending and perhaps destroying the world’s economy.

    true scientists solve the so-called CO2 issue,,,

    A German research ship carrying 20 tons of iron sulfate is currently motoring towards the South Atlantic, and the crew plans to dump its mineral cargo into the ocean in a controversial science experiment. The researchers will be testing a technique called ocean fertilization, in which iron is dumped into nutrient-poor waters to induce a huge blooms of phytoplankton. After the photosynthesizing plankton grows and absorbs carbon dioxide, researchers hope it will die and sink down to the seafloor still bearing that greenhouse gas in a natural form of carbon sequestration. Ocean iron fertilization is considered one of the more promising options for global-scale geoengineering, which aims to slow or reverse the effects of climate change caused by man’s burning of fossil fuels. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2009/01/12/experiment-trying-to-create-algae-bloom-goes-ahead-despite-enviro-fears/

    BTW SHARON,,,

    >>Many of them were concerned about global warming, about the forces that are making the ice in the North Pole melt, and raising coastal sea levels for children in Bangladesh and Tuvalu.<<

    ummmm sharon,,, the north pole melt does not raise sea levels no more than the melting ice in your favorite drink overflows your glass,,, maybe you have been drinking too much,,,

  14. #14 wrong at large
    December 22, 2009

    ummmm sharon,,, we could outlaw santa claus and christmas,,, that would go a long way toward reducing your so-called CO2 issues,,,

    let me think,,, ummm if the majority of the people in the world truely believe in human caused global warming(AGW),,, then they would voluntarily stop buying manufactured products from anywhere,,, since that is the major sources of CO2,,, plus they would stop having children,,, thus reducing the population and reducing AGW,,,

    COPENHAGEN: Population and climate change are intertwined but the population issue has remained a blind spot when countries discuss ways to mitigate climate change and slow down global warming, according to Zhao Baige, vice-minister of National Population and Family Planning Commission of China (NPFPC) . http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2009-12/10/content_9151129.htm

    The real inconvenient truth The whole world needs to adopt China’s one-child policy The “inconvenient truth” overhanging the UN’s Copenhagen conference is not that the climate is warming or cooling, but that humans are overpopulating the world. http://www.financialpost.com/story.html?id=2314438

  15. #15 Sharon Astyk
    December 22, 2009

    Wrong at Large – Of course you are right about my grammar problem re Tuvalu and the North Pole. I actually didn’t say that one caused the other, but it is implied structurally, and I should have been more careful. No, the North Pole ice won’t raise sea levels.

    As for Myhrvold, personally I think this kind of geo-engineering is not so wise – the oceans probably can’t tolerate being chemically altered any more than they are, and this seems one of those recipes for unintended consequences.

    As for population – you do realize that even if the whole world adopted a one child policy (hopefully not modelled on China’s – you do realize that other countries, even comparatively poor ones have achieved lower TFRs without forced abortions and sterilizations, right?) that wouldn’t fix global warming – the critical period for dealing with emissions is the next decade or so – population shifts take decades. It is true that we have to deal with population (which is not the same as “enact China’s 1 child policy everywhere). It is not true that we can fix global warming that way.

    As for Santa – there are plenty of cultures where Santa as a figure is not a model of consumption. A little chocolate and a wooden toy in your shoes is not the major ecological problem – the problem is how industrial growth economies pervert Santa, and nearly everything else. My own feeling is that if you live an ecological life, you are going to need new mittens, the occasional toy and the occasional sweet – festivals are a lovely chance to do it. But that implies a life lived ordinarily without a lot of crap.

    Sharon

  16. #16 wrong at large
    December 23, 2009

    i am thinking that if AGW consequences are as bad as it is being espoused,,, and the proselytizers believe it as much as they claim, despite the do as i say and not as i do examples they are displaying to the world,,,

    then they would be more than willing to do anything and everything to prevent it,,, including population controls,,, it has to start somewhere,,, it does not take much science to see that if 6 billion people are cayusing a problem 60 billion will be exponentially worse,,, with all the products and food they will need,,, we should not become an infestation,,,

    btw,,, how is sending hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt third world countries going to do anything to help the actual people of those third world countries,,, all it will do is buy expensive out of country homes for the corrupt leaders to go on creating massive amounts of CO2,,, it in no way will solve your CO2 issues,,,

  17. #17 billygroats
    December 25, 2009

    Sending billions to corrupt 3rd world governments IS an important aspect of the whole thing to consider. Many, of not most, of the countries for whom sea-level rise will have dire consequences that would need outsiders to help mitigate are countries whose governments don’t really spend aid money where it was intended.

    We can’t even get our own government officials to do right wrt mitigating the effects of pollution, how are we going to control government officials in countries far removed from us geographically and culturally?