Obviously the winter outdoor ice skating rinks which increasingly crowd the UK’s public spaces are right on trend. Just tick them off: the shift from services to experiences, the rise of shared social meaning, and the commercialisation of parts of the public realm that would otherwise be commons. But – having just come back from an ice skating session at London’s Natural History Museum – it’s hard not to conclude that there’s a deeper social meaning playing out as well.
One doesn’t need to be a climate scientist to work out that the carbon impact of building and running outdoor ice rinks in temperatures which are generally comfortably above zero has a sharp carbon impact. (One rink – at the Eye of York – seems to be alone in having a sustainaility statement online. It has offset the carbon emissions, but I’m not going into that controversy here).
This is where the deeper social meaning comes in: that as a species we are in continuing denial of our part in warning the planet through our actions, and so we believe that at some primitive psychological level that we can make the colder world that is so embedded in our culture and histories. A Freudian analyst might consider this as a version of the ‘return of the repressed’.
The notion of being from a cold country is deeply embedded in the Northern world; the histories of the frozen Thames and the ‘frost fairs’ (another tradition ‘recreated’ recently, although without actually freezing the river), the enduring success of schmaltz like ‘White Christmas’, and cultural signs such as the surprising popularity of Raeburn’s modest portrait of the “Reverend Robert Walker Skating On Duddingston Loch“.
For the Natural History Museum’s part, given its work around climate change effects on species, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they know well enough about the climate change effect of the ice rink, but decided to take the money. How apt, then, that the sponsor is British Airways. Perhaps the age of irony is not yet dead.