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Warm Weather a Challenge for Ice Festival

February 26, 2007

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Is it global warming? Who knows. The citizens of Harbin are certainly angry.

Warmer than expected weather has melted some beautiful ice sculptures at the Chinese city's annual ice festival. It's a celebration that goes back nearly 1,400 years to the Tang Dynasty, with a fine tradition of carving elaborate sculptures and having them on public display for a celebration of the country, its arts, and its winter. The festival begins on January 5 and lasts through the New Year.

That winter has been shortening lately, with warm temperatures turning ice lanterns into mush and melting a huge ice castle that authorities have now made it off-limits to visitors, for fear that it might collapse altogether.

Harbin isn't used to all this warmth. It's way up north, in the northeast part of the country, and is usually buried in snow and ice this time of year. The festival usually brings 5 million visitors and is a million-dollar boost to the city's economy. Those numbers could both fall this year.

What's the cause? Scientists tell us that such warming is worldwide and is caused most directly by the greenhouse gases resulting from the burning of fossil fuels, like coal and oil and gasoline. China has vaulted into the stratosphere of global greenhouse gases, becoming the world's second-largest producer, trailing only the U.S. As more and more industries and cars appear in China, that listing is liable to swap.

And it's not just Harbin. Beijing, the country's capital, is 650 miles to the south but still feeling the effects of global warming as well, with the warmest New Year celebrations in 55 years. Reports from other Chinese cities mirror Beijing's.

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