In January, even before the coronavirus pandemic put the world askew, Jan Tore Jensen noticed some disturbing changes to the rhythms of life in his home city of Oslo, Norway. “The botanical garden in Oslo was opening up. Flowers were blooming, and something was kind of off,” recalls Jensen, head of Norwegian outdoor-gear company Bergans.
The normally wintry city was free of snow until the last day of January, and for the first time ever, Oslo ― along with fellow Scandinavian cities Stockholm, Copenhagen and Helsinki ― witnessed temperatures above freezing every day of the month, the warmest European January on record.
Winters have been trending warmer for years, and in northern European countries like Norway, where snow-filled winters are part of the national identity, the loss is palpable.
“Norwegians are born with skis on their legs,” says Jensen, echoing a popular saying about the sport, which has millennia-old roots in northern Europe. But now a number of ski trails around Oslo depend on artificial snow machines. It’s an economic blow to the bottom line of companies like Bergans that are invested in outdoor recreation, but it’s also a cultural and emotional gut punch for Norwegians.
In response, Jensen and his colleagues began discussing what they could do to keep winters from disappearing, and in late January 2020, Bergans partnered with the World Wildlife Fund’s Norway office to launch a campaign called “Save the Seasons.” The objective was to push the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to recognize seasons as an aspect of world heritage, along with unique physical sites like the Taj Mahal and intangible cultural heritage — including traditional Thai massage and Turkish archery. “If we get the seasons listed, then politicians are obligated to do something to protect them,” says Jensen.
The broader aim is to start a conversation about the losses climate change is inflicting and to push...