Monday, December 21, 2009

6 Days to Christmas

Christmas used to be a lot colder in Bahrain. Not so anymore. Today, it's quite possible to wear a t-shirt without having to make a doctor's appointment. It's not as if winters are warmer these days but a plain jacket or cardigan can save the day if a rather cold breeze decides to blow your way. Of course, you can still find people in t-shirts walking around as if it was the most natural thing to do, and that's the big difference.

The thing about winters in the 70s was the many layers of clothing one had to wear just to stay warm. We had no choice. The shamal (or the north wind) would literally send a chill through the bones, and if it rained around the same time, it would get unbearably cold. I remember my mother used to complain that the flour would get frozen when she used to mix it with water for making donuts.

We used to enjoy sitting really close to the heaters, drink cocoa and munch Christmas goodies while watching the holiday specials on Aramco TV (or Channel 3 Television or HZ 22 TV). They used to have some really entertaining programmes in the month of December leading up to Christmas and would revert to regular programming after New Year. Actually Aramco TV deserves a separate essay altogether because that TV station has played a key role in shaping and cultivating our cultural and entertainment taste buds during our growing up years. It may seem a tall claim but

Since we were school kids, our parents would also ensure that we were sent off to school like Christmas presents: on top of thermals, there would be sweater, and on top of sweater, there would be a jacket plus gloves, scarf and monkey cap to protect our ears. I hated the monkey caps because I thought I looked silly in them, but there was nothing much I could do about it.

Christmas eve used to be the coldest or, maybe, we just thought it was so because it was one of the few times in the year when we used to get a chance to step outside around midnight. The midnight candlelight service involved a tradition that was stopped in the late 70s because it was no longer feasible. At quarter to twelve, candles would be lit and the entire congregation would step out into the car park. The ones in the balcony would form a cross while rest would stand around them in a large circle. Holding candles in our hands, we would shiver while singing a carol that I haven't heard for a long time: the light of the world is Jesus'.

I don't know when the winters started to lose their chill but I do remember it has been a gradual process, and today, the winter season lacks that consistency of being cold. Two years ago, it was cold like the old days after a long, long time, but in the following years it went back to not-so-cold winters.

Now I don't know if global warming has anything to do with this change in Bahrain's weather pattern, but I do know that a change has taken place and it hasn't been altogether pleasant. Lack of consistent rainfall has increased the temperature levels, and the intermittent cold wave has had an effect on every one's health. If this kind of radical change was limited to Bahrain, it wouldn't have been much of a botheration but meteorologists are talking about a global trend.

The Copenhagen Summit was supposed to address this problem but it has only succeeded in minor agreements while tough decisions have been postponed for another year. This has always been the case with climate issues. Kyoto Protocol sought to reduce noxious fumes from entering the atmosphere, but some countries refused to sign the dotted line since, they felt, it was not in the best interest of industries.

The economy seems to be at the centre of the argument, and is most likely going to be the key factor in unifying opinion makers and decision makers from around the world onto a common platform. Developing nations would like better funding for introducing ecofriendly industries and infrastructure while the developed nations are not excited about giving aid.

I do believe that the climate issue is not an economic issue alone, but is a spiritual and moral problem. If we believe in the existence of God and that He is involved in our lives, then, taking care of the world He created ought to be a natural response. Somewhere in the Bible, it talks about the concept of stewardship of all the Earth's resources and that human beings have been given authority over the entire flora and fauna. Question is, what have we done about this stewardship?

Currently, there are two sets of views on the subject: one that believe the science is all flawed and the other puts the blame at the entire human race for being negligent. The arguments seem to be nothing more than face-saving than anything else. Hence, teh ready-made answer is to blame the 'other' instead of admitting that a mistake was made. I am reminded of the Genesis story where Adam after biting the fruit denies responsibility for his disobedience and puts the blame on his wife for making him eat what he was not supposed to.

I wonder if the current climate debate is a repeat of that story: man is not at fault for global warming because it's nature that is responsible for the mess, not us, it has never been us... nature made us do it, right... hence, we must be left alone to strengthen the economy by building factories that spew fumes. Who cares about the future since we wont be there to see what happens? It's today that we need to worry about!

Copenhagen has not come to an agreement that will be legally binding on all the signatories, and that's the real tragedy at the moment. Final decisions have been postponed for another year when world leaders meet in Mexico. Kyoto should have been the venue for an agreement but due to various circumstances, everyone expected Copenhagen to deliver instead. Frankly, it seems to me like nothing less than passing the buck and not taking a decision.

The sad thing is, while the rest of the world dithers, countries like Tuvalu, Maldives and most likely even Bahrain, will end up suffering when the sea levels rise and create havoc. So while there is a bit of nostalgia for cold and wintry Christmas-es, I do long for them to return and remain a regular feature of Bahrain's winter because their presence would, perhaps, indicate a pleasant change in the atmosphere.

Or better still, it will enable countries like Maldives and Tuvalu to have a truly merry Christmas 50 or even 100 years from now.

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