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The climate is changing—New Year’s Eve celebrations should too

Fireworks light up the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House during new year celebrations on Sydney Harbour
REUTERS/David Gray
Deputy premier John Barilaro, as well as 250 thousand people, called for cancelling the 2019 Sydney fireworks.
  • Daniel Wolfe
By Daniel Wolfe

Things reporter


Ringing in the new year is all about rebirth: From the ashes of the old year will rise a new one, a new you, ready to tackle a fresh set of challenges. If only 2020 didn’t have to rise from literal ashes.

After experiencing some of the country’s hottest days on record, Australia’s bushfire season has been more brutal than years past. Four states have fires raging over a cumulative area of 11.4 million acres (4.6 million hectares)—bigger than the NYC or London metro area. The fires in New South Wales have claimed 10 lives as fires have merged outside the greater Sydney suburbs. While it’s normal to see fires this time of year, hotter temperatures, drier conditions, and higher winds build the blazes faster, increasing the span and scope of their damage into populated areas.

As the fires continue, affected areas are complying with region-wide fire bans—no fires, no fireworks. In Australia, it’ll be a very different kind of New Year. And in Moscow, too: Russians are experiencing the country’s warmest December in 140 years, leaving the normally snow-drifted sidewalks bare. This new decade may mark a 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) worldwide temperature increase over pre-industrial averages, and our new year’s traditions are beginning to reflect that fact—if not in our resolution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in the way we celebrate.

Germany, for one, is choosing to adapt to the reality of a climate change by temporarily pulling the plug on private fireworks displays. In addition to the fire threat associated with dry, hot conditions, the explosions contribute to emissions, fossil fuel consumption, and poorer respiratory health. Germany’s environmental agency proposed New Year’s Eve be a firework-free evening, sparing the country of 4,500 tons of dust linked to health risks. “This corresponds to about 15.5 percent of the particulate matter emitted by road traffic each year,” Maria Krautzberger, the agency’s chief told Rheinische Post.

AP Photo/Rick Rycroft
What good are fireworks when smoke gets in your eyes?

Meanwhile, Moscow is in denial. On the flip side of the hemisphere, winter normally blankets the historic Moscow roads starting in October or November. And with extremes in weather patterns increasing, Russia saw its near-coldest days on record just last year, and Moscow saw its heaviest snowfall in 100 years. But this year, with temperatures in the 40s and dry streets, city officials crystallized a plan: Haul in block-long piles of artificial snow to give the streets a wintery atmosphere.

Photos from Moscow show backhoes spreading snow to get shopping patrons in the holiday spirit. At least we have the pleasure of taking a picture in front of the Kremlin with some snow,” a couple told the Guardian. “It’s not festive at all,” said a resident to the Moscow Times.

Some people are ready to embrace a new kind of new year. Over a quarter million people signed a petition for Sydney to cancel its New Year’s Eve fireworks display in solidarity with the ongoing bushfires. Deputy premier John Barilaro called to cancel the festivities, too.

But Sydney’s fireworks display is set to go off as planned as the world’s first 2019 New Year’s Eve celebration—citing the potential loss of $130 million in business for New South Wales.

When midnight strikes around the world, we sing Auld Lang Syne, but consider the lyrics’ meaning: should we do something just for old time’s sake? From fireworks, fake snow, to confetti—biodegradable or not—keeping these traditions in spite of an endangered world is costly. So it’s time: Time to lose the Instagram-worthy snow covered streets and magnesium-illuminated night skies. In the future, they’re feel tired and out of place, just like all those 20/20 jokes.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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