The Great Brown North? -

The Great Brown North?

Recent climate data suggest it may be time for a new national nickname


(James Poulson/AP Photo)

Good news, Generation X: at long last, earthlings of the post-baby-boom set, like me, have something to impress the kids who came after us.

The Greatest Generation were born in the Depression and lived through World War II. The Baby Boomers had the sixties, social consciousness, psychedelic adventures. And what does my cohort get? Memories of February, 1985. It was the tail end of the Ice Age, complete with mittens burned on radiators, wet socks in cold boots, and snowball fights.

Oh sure: you youngsters may have had a taste of such things. But we actually lived through them. Times have changed, kiddies. And this is no tall tale.

Take last month, for example. Figures released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration National Climatic Data Center show we’ve just enjoyed the fifth warmest October on the planet (average combined global land and ocean surface temperature) since records were kept. Yes, parts of the Canadian West got whacked with snow! Big time regional bragging rights there. But in many parts of the country, not to mention the rest of the world, this would have been an ideal year to go out  on Halloween as diving sensation Alexandre Despatjie. (You might even have gotten away with not wearing a towel.)

Taken as a whole, October was a warm one, and that’s getting to be the new normal: the last time the Earth had a below-average October, collectively speaking, was in 1976. (That was about a month after the 1976 Canada Cup, remember that? About 15 million Canadians don’t. They’re too young.)

So much for going out on Halloween in a snowsuit, Generation Next. (In case you’re wondering, the record coldest October on planet Earth was in 1912, when my dad’s dad might have gone out dressed as Sir John Franklin, lost in the Arctic.)

Speaking of record coldest, kids these days just don’t know what cold is, here on Earth. Take a gander at this chart, showing no record cold temperatures this year to date, for the whole planet.

Okay, but that’s just this year. We must have had a brag-worthy cold snap recently, right? Well, not so much. Locally, yes. But collectively? Get this:

“This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature. The last below-average month was February 1985.”  For planet EARTH. Thank you, NOAA for that terrifying reminder of what a geezer I’ve become.

A little context, here: in February 1985, a  precocious Canadian twenty-something named Bryan Adams was hitting the top of the charts with a little album called Reckless. Another precocious Canadian twenty-something, Michael J. Fox, would soon be raking it in at the box office as the star of the year’s blockbuster, a teen comedy called Back to the Future.

Now that the future is actually here, guess who’s not going to be bragging about tough winters here on planet Earth? Anyone who doesn’t remember ‘Summer of 69’ debuting as a 45 rpm single, or know what a Flux Capacitor is. Any whippersnapper under the age of 28, that’s who. Alexandre Despatjie, I’m looking at you.

Incidentally, the local picture is no prettier than the global one. Again from NOAA:

“Much of the United States, south central Canada, northern Argentina, part of southern Europe, parts of the northwestern and southern Atlantic Ocean, and parts of the southern Indian Ocean have all experienced record warmth for the year-to-date.”

Now, one thing some of you youngsters will be able to brag about is going out on Halloween in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, assuming you weren’t too busy cleaning up downed trees and dealing with flooding. That was a pretty nasty storm, alright.

But you know who really gets bragging rights this year? Farmers of the American Midwest. The drought in the Midwest, not the superstorm, earned the distinction of most expensive natural disaster in the U.S. this year, in monetary terms—enough to knock the U.S. GDP down by a half per cent or more. And we still don’t know the death toll from the accompanying heat wave. Canadian farmers got lucky this time. But they’re worried about next season’s crops already. Precipitation, of course, is the other part of the picture.

You make of all this what you will. Maybe we have a climate problem here or something, that you kids can clean up somehow, with your cell phones and social media and what-have-you.

As an older, wiser person, who has lived through the likes of both 1976 and 1985, I’m worried about our national identity.

All this weird weather data has got me thinking it’s time for a recalibration of our sense of ourselves as Canadians. I mean, is this still the Great White North, when vast numbers of us are raking leaves in our t-shirts? Even if it’s a little colder around here than it is in a few other places, it wouldn’t do to walk around wearing a nickname that makes us sound cooler (pardon the pun) than we really are.

Considering how many of us weren’t even born during the great global cold snap of February 1985, maybe we ought to play it safe and give ourselves a new handle. Judging by these latest figures, (not to mention view out the window in much of the country), I suggest the Great Brown North. (Note to entrepreneurs: the URL is still available, as of this writing, in both .ca and .com versions.)

If nothing else, our friends in more southerly climes won’t be able to accuse us of boasting, for merely having winter weather at all.

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