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.