Saturday, 17 September 2016

The aesthetics and guilt of climate change

The past week in Warsaw has been glorious, with temperatures in the mid- to high 20Cs. But I'm wrestling with my conscience about the balance of enjoying the sun and worrying about climate change. Consider this: every month since October 2015 has set a new record for high temperatures. This past July and August were the two hottest months on this planet of ours since mankind started keeping data.There is little doubt that the planet is warming up; the key question is whether there's anything we can do about it.

Above: the base of Warsaw Spire, glinting in the morning sunlight yesterday. I'm minded of the fact that I've twice visited Los Angeles, both times in mid-September, and both times under those famous blue skies, blue skies that have inspired artists, writers, musicians and film-makers. Warsaw seems to be getting a climate that's seeing an extended summer. Ten cloudless days (well almost - on Tuesday afternoon, I could see some clouds on the horizon from my 9th floor office, but they'd gone by the early evening); quite marvellous and eminently enjoyable - but should I be feeling guilt - anxiety even - at the way the climate is changing?

Yet this long spell of beautiful hot sunny days is something I want to keep on keeping on. Hotter Septembers in Warsaw? Why, yes - they lift my soul and bring the Sublime Aesthetic to my home town; to quote J.M.W. Turner's famous last words - "The Sun is God", I must say, aesthetically speaking, I concur, for on days of such stunning brilliance I am brought nearer to the essence of my existence, of consciousness, as the sun streams in through the ocular orbits and stimulates one's being.

This morning, landing at Luton Airport through a thick layer of cloud, I emerged in a grey drizzly world far removed from the dazzling skies at 30,000ft, I felt this moral/aesthetic dichotomy acutely.

Yes, our planet needs these damp, cool, cloudy days, just like we need green vegetables in our diet. Except I don't like damp, cool, cloudy days. I want an endless summer.

But I should be careful what I wish for.

As I mentioned in May [here], Poland's hotter, drier summers are likely to be matched by winters that are largely snow- and ice-free. While this means less transport inconvenience, lower heating bills, less bulky clothing etc, there's also the aesthetic loss - those days of fresh crisp snow on the ground, a hard frost - and those piercing blue skies. The phenomenon of hoar-frost - the frozen fog on the twigs and branches of trees, lit up by a low winter sun, white against the azure heavens - is something I'm lucky to catch once every two or three years now.

Some of us are lucky enough or motivated enough to be able to choose where we live. I have made a choice, some 20 years ago, and am happy with it - climate plays an important part in that choice. Real summers, real winters - not a climate where it can be 12C in July and 12C in January and where months can go by without a sunny day. The summers are getting more like the idealised summers that I yearn for - and I don't have to travel to the Med to experience them. I have them at home. But the winters... Recent Warsaw winters - real winter, where the ponds freeze over so solid you can drive a car over them - have been getting shorter and shorter. This blog will stand as testimony to how Warsaw's climate has been changing since 2007.

This time three years ago:
Rich man, poor man, entrepreneur, banker

This time five years ago:
At the hipsters' ball

This time six years ago:
Cycling through the spirit of place

This time seven years ago:
Invaders or liberators?

This time eight years ago:
Adlestrop, en route to Kraków

This time nine years ago:
Return to Zamienie


Anonymous said...

J.M.W. Turner's famous last words - "The Sun is God"
Turners finest works were inspired by the year without a summer - 1816 - when volcanic ash filled skies around the world. - Marek

Michael Dembinski said...


The ash created a haze, creating a subtle light that Turner managed to capture so perfectly. Remember Eyjafjallajökull? Similar (though far less pronounced) effect... Spring of 2010 - volcanic lavendar.