Outside the editorial suite of WIP, the hallways are choked with students milling around, waiting to be let into adjacent classrooms in this, the first week of Term 1131 ( aka Winter, 2013). It’s what is now a typical January day: partly cloudy, high about 55 degrees (aka 13 Centigrade).
Most students are overdressed for the beach but underdressed for winter. Actually, we will need a new name for this season that extends from late November to early March. Along the lines of that late morning meal between breakfast and lunch, “brunch,” perhaps this new season can be dubbed “fring.”
Fring in Waterloo may not be sufficiently disturbing to many of us here on the campus, in part because most academics at uWaterloo are from elsewhere. They don’t have a good feel for the historical climate. They’re the ones who say, “Love this beautiful weather!” without a hint of irony. They may not realize how bizarre and troubling are these baby winters that we’ve seen in the last ten or fifteen years. If you happen to have lived in these parts for forty or fifty years, you’ll remember that the winters used to settle in long before Christmas; they were hard and heaped with snow, and life outdoors was often cold, dark, and miserable. But then there would be glorious days in January and February where the rightness of winter could be appreciated: the sun shining, snow dazzling, ice glistening, all well worth the price of the boot slogging and snow shovel shlepping.
With seldom a thaw, the season formerly known as Winter was locked in until late March. Then there was a brief respite, followed by an obligatory spring storm in early April, with that distinctively damp and prickly kind of snow that made for wonderful snowball fights and snowmen that persisted even as the crocuses emerged.
It’s worth noting that for virtually all our undergraduate students, the world was never about to enter a new ice age, as some mad climatologists and science fiction authors predicted in the 1970s. It’s always been a warming world. As has been widely reported, there have been 334 consecutive months that global temperatures have not dipped below the 20th century average. That means that anyone under 28 has never lived a month where the trend in climate wasn’t moving toward increasing sultriness. If you like Alabama in July, you’ll love southwestern Ontario in 2030.
The fringing of Term 1131 is particularly unnerving, and not just because our students are walking around in sandals and shorts in what should be the icebox month of the year. You may not like snow, but you need it. After a very dry, hot summer and fall, we are undergoing a very dry, warm winter. Our water courses and lakes are diminishing here in central North America, and our soil moisture is decreasing. The ripple effects of all this dehydration down the line may affect our ability to feed ourselves, among other things. However, Birkenstock sales are brisk.
And at least our continent is not on fire, like Australia. So we’ve got that going for us.