Thursday, December 21, 2006

Yuletide approaches

It’s coming up to Christmas and the festive season, but never has it felt so unseasonable. We have had the warmest autumn on record. There was a hard frost yesterday morning that turned the fields and house roofs around Harrow quite white, but it’s not the same as snow.

For the past two days there has been a thick fog over London, sufficient to cause many flight cancellations out of Heathrow, but it doesn’t have the feel of the old “pea-soupers”. These were exacerbated by the coal fires that heated every building in the city; now there are almost none. From my new office eyrie at Waterloo, I can see a few plumes of white smoke here and there but they dissipate quickly. Where once people would grope through the streets be-hatted and muffled, casual dress is the norm. In short, we may be on the cusp of the shortest day of the year but it feels like the back end of September. The times are indeed out of joint and global warming is having a noticeable effect.

Christmas used to mark the start of the cold part of winter. It is rather hard to say what it does mark, now (other than the obvious religious and shopping frenzy aspects). If winters are going to be cool rather than cold, rainy rather than snowy, then only the shortness of the days will distinguish this time of the year. And as the spring starts earlier and earlier, how long before plants bloom all year long, birds cease to migrate and the grass keeps on growing? Increasingly the winter will be a relatively pleasant time of year and the summers, with the threat of heat waves and water shortages, may be the periods that people come to dread.

This has major significance for those of us who commute into London. Whether by car, bus, tube or train the prospect of regular journeys under the sort of blistering heat we had in 2005 is disquieting. A sensible Government would be trying to move jobs out of the centre of cities, creating more even flows of people travelling and thereby speeding it up for everyone, hence cutting energy use and emissions and promoting public health. I wonder if, under the pressure of events, we will ever vote for one?