Snow is like the Pussycat Dolls

Snow is starting to get too big for its boots. It needs to be put in its place.

Snow! When I woke up this morning, it had been falling stealthily for hours with that strange, magical, I'm-thicker-than-rain sound. As I glance out of the window at my quiet street, it's coating the cars and hanging thickly in the branches. The pavements and lawns are covered in unblemished white layers of it.

Pretty soon local schools will start admitting there's no point in trying to restrain the kids, who will be let loose like wild animals. By this evening, with a couple more flurries, the whole neighbourhood will look like a Christmas card - fittingly, as local shops have been pretending it's Christmas since mid-September as usual. Good old snow!

White gold

And if we get another couple of days of the white gold, it'll start to bring about all the other magical effects we see every winter. Elderly people will fall over and crack ribs and break legs, but the emergency services won't be able to do much about it, because they'll be dealing with "youths" who've chucked handfuls of it in each other's faces. Public transport will grind to a customary halt, and if there's one thing more tedious than that, it's people complaining that public transport has ground to a customary halt.

Radio phone-ins and local news bulletins will be full of nothing but people asking: "Why, oh why, can't we in this country deal with a little bit of snow?" But even as they're doing this, the national media will be embarking on their annual snow-fest, with wall-to-wall updates on exactly how white everything is at the moment. The blanket (of snow) coverage will push everything else out of the headlines: if Elvis were to fly in to the country during a cold snap, the main focus of the reports would be on whether or not his airport was going to be closed.

On top of this, it will be horribly, horribly cold for weeks. It'll be difficult to get around without slipping and sliding like beginner ice skaters. In fact, the whole of Britain will look like the early stages of Dancing on Ice, except without the alarming leotards. Queues in ­supermarkets and post offices and banks and everywhere else will suddenly be maddeningly long as people get into the British mildly-bad-weather siege mentality ("We might be prisoners for six months! We must withdraw all our money and buy 1,000 tins of beans!").

Events will be cancelled. The public mood will become ugly as cars get trapped in driveways; the poor man whose job it is to explain why the country doesn't have enough grit for the roads will be wheeled out again. Finally, the whole fandango will sputter out about a week before Christmas, just in time for an un-festive dampness to settle as Father Christmas starts to make his rounds.

Yes, I'm sorry to be a Scrooge about this, and I know it isn't a popular viewpoint, but snow really isn't that much fun. It's time for us all to get over it.
I know there's an atavistic thrill when it starts to fall, I know it looks beautiful at night when you're huddled in front of the fire, I know it's a very handy way of getting a day off work. I'm not advocating a complete ban on the stuff. Nor am I crying "humbug" at all the people whose first instinct is to go scampering out to play in the snow until their face freezes over. Good luck to them all. I'm just asking for a bit of common sense and perspective here. Snow is like a lot of today's girl bands: superficially attractive, but quickly tiresome and ultimately quite damaging.

Next time the heavens open with snow, picture the Pussycat Dolls hurtling out of the sky, and I can almost guarantee you'll see it in a less favourable light. Unless you go on to imagine them dashing their brains out on the pavement. In which case, the fantasy has its merits.

Big boots

Perhaps a couple of years ago, the rarity value of snow provided more of an excuse for its worship. But in 2009 and 2010 alone, there have been at least four severe snowfalls, two of them shutting down the roads around me for a week at a time. We can no longer act as if snow is some kind of prodigal son appearing whimsically to light up our lives. It's starting to get too big for its boots. It needs to be put in its place.

And that place is a few days either side of Christmas, a cameo in a few dozen festive films, followed by a dignified disappearance.

When snow starts playing by those rules again, I'll be back on its side. Until then, do excuse me if I don't join in the scramble to put it down someone's neck or throw it at cars, or even jump around in it. I'm off to buy some of those flaming torches used by circus acts. Let's see if
I can tidy things up a bit around here.

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 06 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Vietnam: the last battle

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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