The question of the season is “” What will happen to Santa Claus (and Superman) when the North Pole is ice free in the summer?
On our current path, that seems inevitable by the end of the decade. Rear Admiral David Titley, the U.S. Navy’s chief oceanographer and director of its climate change task force, “predicts an ice-free Arctic in late summer by 2020.”
Yes, there is study in Nature that suggests we aren’t past the tipping point — but if you actually read the study, you’ll see their survival scenario is all but inconceivable at this point (I’ll blog on that soon). Also, they focus their model on sea ice area and not volume, so I’m more inclined to buy Titley’s data-driven projection based on three dimensions than the study’s model based on two (see “Arctic Death Spiral 2010”).
In any case, even if some Arctic sea ice survives 2020, that seems unlikely to encompass the North Pole, as Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School explained to me (see Arctic death spiral: Naval Postgrad School’s Maslowski “projects ice-free* fall by 2016 (+/- 3 yrs)” and inset below]:
Where will we tell kids that Santa lives? Some sort of North Pole Atlantis? But he can’t live under the water, since much of the Arctic will still ice over by December, though a few feet of ice can’t support a huge house and a factory and an elf-dormitory. Kids are smarter than that. If only adults were smarter”¦.
Probably the best choice is to ship him off to the South Pole (with Superman’s Fortress of Solitude). Indeed the fact that Santa lives in the North Pole is no doubt a residue of our general Northern-hemisphere-centric worldview. How ironic would it be to outsource Santa to the Southern hemisphere. Not the Antarctic Peninsula or West Antarctic ice sheet, of course, since those may not last the century (see “Deep ocean heat is rapidly melting Antarctic ice”) “” we don’t want to keep moving him! But much of the East Antarctic ice sheet will probably hopefully be around for centuries, and, in any case, Antarctica is a real continent, so even when the ice is gone, Santa can still have his whole operation above water.
Of course, if we ruin the Christmas tradition with our short-sighted inability to develop sane greenhouse gas policies, Santa may just decide all of us are too “naughty” to deserve his largess.
I also wonder what future generations will think about all those old Christmas movies with Santa based at the North Pole. Probably the same thing they think about all those epic stories of brave explorers struggling to get to the North Pole. More tall tales from adults, no doubt “” at least until they are old enough to understand the sad truth.
If we don’t change course soon, we won’t just transform the climate “” we will transform our culture, from one of abundance to one of scarcity “” and that has profound implications for all of humanity, including our native optimism and our generous, gift-giving nature. ’Tis the season to say: ’Tis time to act!
See also Scott Mandia’s, “Global Warming: Santa Claus Out of Business.”