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The climate phenomenon that stole christmas

No white Christmas in Chicago and much of the upper East Coast of the US last year. That’s thanks to El Niño that delivers mild Pacific air across the states, confining cold Arctic air to Alaska and Siberia. With all hopes for a snowy Christmas dashed in winter temperatures that hovered above zero over Chicago at Christmastime, last year broke temperature records dating all the way back to the 1800s. My aunt wrote me a note from Chicago on Christmas Day: “No white Christmas this year—would you believe?” A white Christmas is defined as one inch of snow or more on the ground on Christmas Day.

In Manila, at my house, Santa’s presents arrived on Dec. 26 and not on Christmas morning as usual. He wrote a note to my nieces Rafa and Georges: “I was trying to get the gifts to you earlier, but I couldn’t land my sleigh. You guys were always up so late!”

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Or maybe there was congestion up in the clouds—or the ghost clouds of typhoons Nona (Dec. 9 to 17, 2015) and Onyok (Dec.14 to 19, 2015) still lingered in the atmosphere. No reindeer would fly through clouds bursting with killer rains, not even thunderous, electrically charged Blitzen, not even Comet, who could “fly with the wind and as high as the stars,” not even at Santa’s command.

If I know Santa Claus, I don’t think he is being honest. The delay of gift deliveries this Christmas must be on account of his domestic troubles. Why, his home has been under siege, as temperatures rise in the North Pole, melting ice, especially in summer and already summer 2016 is coming up—don’t you feel it in the air that’s supposed to be cold and nippy in January even here on our tropical side of the Earth? The danger of shrinking summer ice in the Arctic is that, without it, human populations, especially countries in the northern hemisphere, are free to push further up the North Pole in search of oil or gas or anything beneath the once inhospitable, uninhabitable region. Already, as the Smithsonian reported in December 2013, Canada had laid claim to the North Pole. How can Santa Claus defend his territory? It’s not like he can depend on his army of reindeer, whose numbers have long shrunk. The woodland caribou, a cousin of the Scandinavian reindeer in southern Canada and the US, is now an endangered species, thanks to global warming and loss of habitat, according to researchers at the University of Calgary.

I suppose the reindeer are also up in arms, if they are still up and about, that is. Giddy-yap, giddy-yap, Dasher, the fastest in Santa’s herd, must have dashed further up north, where the ice is still holding on, albeit precariously, so must Prancer and Dancer and all the others, Vixen, too! For all her magical powers, Vixen cannot make the ice reappear. Rudolf’s nose is redder due to the change of weather and his self-esteem is lower and lower as the temperature is higher and higher over their threatened winter wonderland of snow.

Even the Christmas trees are under threat. Not only does climate change melt Arctic ice, and keep the ground too warm to support accumulating snow, it also causes heat waves, extended droughts, and flash floods, not to mention rising sea levels and forest fires. Flash floods have many times wiped out Christmas tree farms in Vermont and New Hampshire, trees that take at least a decade to grow and a few minutes of an inundation to die. I’ve never really used a real tree in my house, but it hurts to know it’s possible my fake Christmas tree will be all there is and I’ll have to sing “Oh Christmas Tree” in Ethan Kuperberg’s version as published in The New Yorker in December 2014: “Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree!/Thy plastic branches don’t shed/Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree!/We wish real trees weren’t dead…”

But last month came a silver lining to the dark clouds that hang over us and our future like the Apocalypse-in-waiting. From Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, 2015 in Paris, 195 nations, ours included, represented by President Benigno Aquino III and the Philippine Climate Change Commission, and one bloc, the European Union, came up with a 20-page agreement that, in a nutshell, resolves to limit the rise of global temperatures to two degrees Celsius. Most crucial in that Paris Global Climate Pact is the agreement that climate change is our responsibility, meaning we have caused it, or at least dramatically exacerbated it, and to address it is our moral obligation. Included in the Paris COP21 (the 21st “Conference of Parties” of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC) pact are the specific targets by which each nation, particularly the most industrial of us, the US and China, should limit its greenhouse gas emissions.

Our hope is, as this agreement is “legally binding,” the world economy will shift completely as a result of the yields of Paris COP21, and industries burning fossil fuels will have no choice but to turn to renewable, eco-friendlier alternatives, like hydropower and solar energy.

It will take us until 2020 to decide whether we have any chance of mitigating the effects of climate change, if not even reversing it, but until then, at least next Christmas and over the next four Christmases, thanks to COP21, we can go dreaming of a “white Christmas” and the smell of pine trees in our living room and “Santa hurrying down the chimney tonight” without feeling like we’re dreaming the impossible dream.

May all your dreams come true in 2016, a solution to climate change among them.