“Grandpa, Mum showed me some photos of when you were young the other day. There was whiteness all around you. Was that some kind of a special powder you sprinkled around?” says 10-year-old Tin to his grandfather. The year is 2060. For more than a decade, not a single snowflake has fallen in Slovenia, and most children have never seen snow.
Grandpa says with a smile: “You know, Tin, the white powder you saw in the photo was snow. Snow is water in a different physical state. It only appears when it's cold enough. That’s when snowflakes fall from the sky instead of raindrops. Snowflakes are wonderful, soft crystal formations that bind with one another as they land on the ground, creating a soft, fluffy layer, suitable for all kinds of shenanigans. The Inuit who live in the North have a different name for every type of snow, and there are around 200 of them!” The train of thought inadvertently takes him back to the past. Laughing, he decides to tell Tin about their snow adventures. And Tin’s eyes light up.
“So, well... Where was I?” says grandpa. “You were telling me about the snow and all the shenanigans,” answers Tin. “Yes, of course. Well, here’s what happened. Once were winters. Until I was about 30, we saw real, actual winter practically every year, covering the mountains with a blanket of snow several metres thick. Sometimes, snow also fell in the valleys. People used to complain because they had to remove snow from carparks, and because the cars were less obedient than they were in other seasons. But for those who loved nature and the mountains, snow was the greatest thing ever.” His train of thought takes him back to those days. “I remember that my parents took me skiing more or less every weekend. Skiing is similar to water skiing, with the only difference being that we used gravity to push ourselves forward as we were gliding over the snow. This was a really fun activity. You could either ski in a ski centre where a ski lift took you up the slope, or you could opt for cross-country skiing where you had to stick synthetic skin on your skis in order to mount with them, and remove the skin before descending. That was really something! Skiing over freshly fallen snow made you feel as if you were gliding over fluffy clouds.
“Whoa, grandpa! Did you do anything else?” asks Tin, who is really getting curious. “Yes, we also went sledding. This activity was mostly enjoyed by children, but even the adults loved to go sledding in order to awaken their inner child. In my twenties, I even took up sledding competitions on natural tracks. We travelled all over Europe and competed against other nations. The Austrians were the true champions; we mostly just thought of it as a fun thing to do together. But you could already see that our climate was changing.” He continues: “I remember the winter of 2012. We were attending a competition in the German town of Oberammergau. Since there was no snow in our country, we showed up for the event without training. In my broken German, I tried to explain to the other teams: “wir habe kalt aber kein schnee” (we have cold but no snow). Obviously, we didn’t achieve any impressive results that season, but we still had a good time. But we had no idea that in the future we would be having neither cold nor snow. One of the negative traits of human beings is that we rarely think about the long-term consequences of our actions. Remember that.”
Tin is interested in the environment, which is why he attends an environmental club. He remembers the teacher saying that, since 2000, summer droughts have been getting stronger. He asks his grandpa if he knows the reason, and his grandpa answers: “Well, like I said, snow is nothing else but water in another physical state. Since snow crystals come in various shapes and sizes and since they bind with one another, they remain on the surface of the Earth for much longer than the usual water drops. A sufficient amount of energy or, rather, of heat then melts the crystals, transforming them into water drops that travel down ravines, streams and rivers towards the sea.” He takes a sip of tea and continues. “Back then, the snow blanket that remained in the mountains until June or even July used to serve as a huge water reservoir preventing drought. At the same time, water evaporated from snowfields into the atmosphere, causing rain to fall.” Thinking about his neighbour Rudi, a farmer, he continues: “The snow was also useful for farmers since the soil was sufficiently moist before spring, which made it just right for sowing. Today, our neighbour Rudi must dampen the earth before sowing, thus using even more water.”
“Oh no! But was there anything you could have done in order for the snow to stay?” Tin seems unable to leave it alone. Grandpa scratches his head, averts his eyes and replies sadly:
“Sure, there was. If we could only somehow reset society at that time, and if we had all started doing something as individuals...
If we had gone all to work by bike instead of using a car. Instead, we each travelled to work alone in a car made for 5 passengers.
If we had used high-speed trains and not planes for travelling within a continent.
If we had become humbler and if we had bought less things. Instead, we were buying cheap Chinese and Indian clothes that we threw away after a couple of wears.
If we had followed a more prudent diet, one where cows were not optimised in order to produce meat but were optimised in order to simply be cows instead.
If we had bought locally grown produce. In January 2020, my kitchen counter was filled with fruit from 5 different countries at any given moment, not to mention the other ingredients in our pantry and fridge.”
With a tinge of regret, Tin says: “This is really horrible. I’d much prefer to see snow than have you enjoy 5 types of fruit in the middle of winter. And I prefer going to school on foot than having to suffer through summers without water. Luckily, a plant-based meat alternative was invented. What I wouldn’t do to be able to jump into a pile of soft snow and ski, even if just once!” He adds: “Grandpa, I’m a little angry with you all. But, like you said, we really have the unfortunate trait of not being aware of the consequences of our actions.”
Will our grandchildren really live in a world like this? Are we waving goodbye to white winters? Let’s think about what we could each do in order to allow our grandchildren to enjoy the diversity of our beautiful planet.