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Think Snow

Posted by Daniel Hoornweg on May 06, 2015

Truth be told, when I was a kid I found my dad’s constant grumbling about winter annoying. He would complain incessantly about the cold and snow (in fairness he was the city engineer responsible for clearing the roads). But as I get older that adage about the apple not falling far from the tree rings increasingly truer. As the days get warmer and longer, I too find myself happy to see the back end of winter.

I love cross country skiing, snowshoeing and skating, and with a warm fire in the woodstove at the cottage, looking out over the frozen lake and snow-draped pines, there are few vistas more beautiful. But winter in cities sucks. Winter highlights the vulnerability of cities. Ice on power-lines, snow-covered roads, and frozen water pipes: a little cold goes a long way to bring about a lot of chaos. And in cities like Toronto, we occasionally add to the misery by trying to get by with fashionable (rather than functional) coats and shoes.

Winter does something else that is hard to put in words. As spring arrives you can see many city residents shaking themselves almost like a dog emerging from the lake. Winters make us tougher, and hopefully winters make us smarter.

Cities like Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Boston, Moscow, London, Paris, Calgary, New York and Beijing are now emerging from winter and even if the US Senate passes resolutions claiming climate change is not happening, city residents and managers know better. As our rural counterparts like to occasionally make fun of our hapless response to winter, make no mistake it will be cities like these, and cities like Jakarta, Sao Paulo, Manila, Los Angeles and Johannesburg, facing warmer temperatures and greater water scarcity, that will demand agreements on climate change.

Winter teaches us humility. Our cities and our complicated lives are fragile. Winters also teach us how to prepare (e.g. the ant vs grasshopper), how to build resilience, how to work with our neighbors. As the world gears up for the Paris climate negotiations (November, 2015), despite evident global warming we will all do well to remember winter’s lessons and keep our pantries well-stocked.

Filed under: Sustainability 101