Worst-case scenario

Michael Johansen
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Labrador is a winter country. It has lush springs, brilliant summers and crisp autumns, but they are the short seasons, fleeting and weak in the face of the long, cold months.

When the lakes, rivers and seas all freeze, when snow lies deep on the ground, when the long night rules and the big sky brims with crystal stars, that’s when Labrador shows its true, hard beauty.

Europe, on the other hand, is usually quite dreary and dismal in winter. In Labrador, the ocean freezes solid, letting the frigid air over the continent dry out. But in Europe, the ocean carries warm water from the south to keep the North Sea and the Baltic tepid and ice-free. What little snow does fall on the land doesn’t linger long before a dank drizzle easily washes it away.

In Ireland and the United Kingdom, in northern France and the Low Countries, in Germany and much of Scandinavia, grey is the colour of winter, not white. It’s fog that usually covers the land, not snow.

At least, that’s how it used to be up to a couple of years ago. Now, a continent full of people who don’t own a single snow shovel between them — if they even know what one is — is learning that a broom just can’t handle more than a light sprinkling. They’re finding out that when more than 25 centimetres of snow dumps on top of what hasn’t yet been cleared away from streets, sidewalks and rooftops, it can bring society to a halt and even make buildings fall down.

In a land where insulated walls are a recent and not well-appreciated innovation, people are freezing to death because they’re unable to properly heat their homes when the temperature outdoors plunges below zero — far below where it’s been for centuries, perhaps since the Little Ice Age of Medieval times.

Europeans are even beginning to understand the joke about not having to shovel rain.

In contrast, at the time of writing, the biggest question in most of Lab­ra­dor was whether there was going to be a white Christmas. What snow has fallen in western parts was quickly and dramatically washed away by heavy rains. Central Labrador has not yet seen enough of the white stuff to cover the ground, except in patches. That melted weeks ago. In Labrador, winter often starts in early November, but now, in December, some days hardly even feel like fall.

Anyone not wearing government-issued blinkers will recognize this switching of continental climates as one of the symptoms of the slowing of the Gulf Stream, the current that gives Europe its moderate weather by borrowing heat from the American side of the ocean. As the Arctic and Greenland icecaps shrink, more and more fresh meltwater flows down the Labrador Sea to lower the salinity of the North Atlantic and cool the Gulf Stream even before it passes Iceland.

Any scientist not in the pay of oil companies or Conservatives warns that the Gulf Stream could stop completely. That, in turn, could trigger a full-blown ice age.

However, that is unfortunately not the worst case scenario humanity faces, since our species could survive such a disaster and maybe even save some fragments of our global civilization.

What’s worse is if the current thaw of massive amounts of methane that has long been frozen beneath the floor of the North Atlantic continues to accelerate. Even now methane is bubbling up to the surface in an ever-increasing rate.

Some theorize this has happened before in the planet’s history, and they’re sorry to report it didn’t seem to end well. When the volume of methane reaching the air became sufficiently dense, it ignited and burned in columns that were kilometers wide.

That means Labradorians (and Newfoundlanders, too) could have front-row seats to a spectacular end of the world. If we’re lucky, we might be able to see the huge pillars of fire climbing into the sky just before they incinerate all of Earth’s atmosphere and us with it.

That said, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Or should it be, Bah humbug?

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Low Countries

Geographic location: Labrador, Europe, North Sea Gulf Stream Ireland United Kingdom Northern France Germany Scandinavia North Atlantic Arctic Greenland

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