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Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Cherry blossoms at the Christmas market

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Cherry blossoms, third week of December, Hamburg Neustadt

Cherry blossoms, third week of December, Hamburg Neustadt

It’s a bit ironic to be visiting a Christmas market under a heat wave, but this is what the weather has been like in northern Europe for a few of weeks.

The weather had been cold at the end of November, below freezing, with a bit of snow. But since then it has been warm – quite warm. This is due, I’m told, to the combination of a persistent high pressure zone over the Mediterannean with a low sitting west of England; the two systems together are sucking up warm air from the southwest and sending it our way. The same thing seems to be happening over the east coast of North America (a high over Bermuda, a low over Hudson’s Bay siphoning warm air to the northeast).

Lübeck's water front

Lübeck’s water front

It’s not that daily temperature records have been broken; some have, but that’s not the point. What’s unprecedented is the duration of the warm weather. Many cherry trees are in full bloom; there was enough of an earlier frost to trick them into thinking spring has come. Welcome to Christmas in the climate change era.

Spring has not come, of course. There will be cold snaps coming, probably some snow. Climate change is not some kind of gentle warming; rather, it’s main chareacteristic so far is violent swings in the weather, from one extreme to another. In recent years warm air masses have been going further north than before, cold air further south – remember the “drunk jet stream”? So now western Europe and eastern North America are experiencing the equivalent of what happened during Vancouver’s winter olympics, with day temperatures between 10 and 16C, day after day. It may be December, but right now it feels rather pleasantly balmy. I just hope orchardists see it the same way.

A market stall in front of City Hall, a building that dates from the medieval era

A market stall in front of City Hall, a building that dates from the medieval era

It’s ironic that I’m thinking about that while visiting the Lübeck Christmas market, because religion has permeated the debate in the most unexpected way. Conservatives in the English speaking world have hijacked religion to the service of fossil fuels, saying it is hubris to claim that man can change God’s creation, including the weather; God has given us oil, so drill, baby, drill. But others talk about creation care; God has given us free will, but we’ve been using it to destroy His creation (so live with the consequences, seems to say a shrugging God). The Vatican, until recently so notorious for opposing science through the Enlightenment, has entered the debate saying we have a moral duty to fight climate change and preserve the environment. An amazing swing, that.

the mischievious Max und Moritz, a children classic

The mischievous Max und Moritz, a children classic

I don’t let these mullings interfere with my enjoyment of the market. Three pre-teen girls are playing traditional German carols on violin, drawing a crowd. In between the glühwein stalls are little nativity scenes, but also their counterpart in folklore: traditional retellings of Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel, as well as others I’m just discovering, like Hans im Glück. All these stories have for underlying themes food scarcity and nature that is not benevolent. But Germany has not experienced a famine for centuries, and wolves are being reintroduced as their ecological role is becoming appreciated. If you take the long view, there are a lot of positives to rejoice in.

Further down is another trio of young musicians: a trumpet, an alto saxophone, and a bass saxophone. The bass sax is almost bigger than the girl playing it. They’re quite good, interpreting Silent Night in a novel arrangement. It’s respectful of the classic, yet fresh at the same time; quite a pleasure to hear. Tradition embracing the modern, in a way that works. Somehow, this is what Germany has come to mean for me, and it makes me hopeful for the future, climate change or not.

Traditional nativity scenes are a must at the Christmas market

Traditional nativity scenes are a must at the Christmas market

And so with that, then, a Merry Christmas to all!


Written by enviropaul

December 24, 2015 at 2:47 am

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