How warm winters saved the communist regime from collapsing earlier

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A temperature record after temperature record is being broken this week. Looking out of the window, one would hardly guess it is the middle of January, supposedly the severest month in this part of the world. The human memory is short and although we cannot deny that winters have been generally mild these last few years, warm winters are not an entirely new phenomenon.

A daily newspaper recently wrote that in the early 1970s there were four mild winters in a row and the central planners of the time started making bold prognoses regarding potential savings in the construction business and the energy sector were the climate to change.

The winter of 1974/1975 was reportedly very similar to this one. A meteorologist whom the paper interviewed said that that winter was actually the warmest since records first started being kept at Prague's Klementinum in 1775. The winter of 1974/1975 apparently was a culmination of a warm period which began in 1971. At that time, no one linked this to global warming, but reports did start emerging then that climate change could be influenced by the economic activities of humankind.

The meteorologist also said that in the 1970s the warm weather in Czechoslovakia helped mitigate a difficult energy situation at the end of the Fifth Five-Year-Plan. He says the country's energy reserves were so low then that the mild winters prevented a serious energy crisis and virtually saved the regime. Considering it was so soon after the 1968 Soviet invasion, the communist authorities needed to prove to the public that socialism was the most advantageous of political systems.

At that time, the planners envisaged huge savings in the construction business, be it insulation or the thickness of roofs which would no longer be exposed to large quantities of snow. But then in the 1980s, harsh winters came back with a vengeance. It will probably forever remain speculation whether the warm winters thirty years ago postponed the impending death of communism or at least eased fears of public unrest, but it now looks almost certain that this winter will go easy on my gas bill.