Santa Claus sits at his desk at the northernmost point of Earth, with a look of intense focus.
Claus, 144, is updating an Excel spreadsheet.
“I have to update the naughty list every day,” Claus said. “There is no room for error. If I make a clerical error and one undeserving child is put on this list, it would be a complete disaster.”
It is hard work, but the heavy-set man with whiskers and a red suit has come to expect it this time of year. For more than a century, he has been overseeing the manufacturing and delivering of millions of toys to children all over the world.
Fortunately for Claus, he doesn’t have to do it alone. He employs several hundred loyal staffers. A small but impressive band of reindeer handles transportation, but most employees are elves, who work in manufacturing.
“They are so versatile. They can make everything from yo-yos to X-Box 360s,” Claus said. “Their output is amazing.”
And, the staff members are rewarded for the hard work. Santa provides working conditions that those in the United States could only dream of. They get months of vacation time, their generous wages are tied to inflation, and their health and dental benefits are arguably the best in the world.
“It’s like Norway on steroids,” said one elf, who asked not to be identified because he’s not authorized to comment publicly on personnel matters. “There was talk about starting a union, but our working conditions are so favorable that we didn’t see the point.”
Moreover, Claus’s operation is environmentally sustainable. His reindeer can fly without using any natural resources or emitting greenhouse gases; the elves produce toys using pre-Industrial Revolution techniques that, while time-consuming, are far more eco-friendly.
“Everyone here is happy and has the Christmas spirit. It is a great working environment,” said a jovial Santa Claus, as he and his wife, Jessica Mary Claus, signed payroll checks.
Claus’s jolly exterior, however, masks unmistakable fear. The reason? The future of Christmas, and the fate of the entire Claus Empire, is in jeopardy from the threat of global warming.
The North Pole is not a land mass; it’s a large block of frozen seawater in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. Recent data from a NASA satellite indicate that the Arctic is melting faster than ever before.
At summer’s end, the Arctic ice was half what it was just four years earlier. Some scientists predict that there will be no summer ice by the year by 2012 and that the entire Arctic could be gone by 2040 — putting Claus, his helpers, and Christmas in jeopardy.
“If these projections are accurate, Christmas as we know it will cease to exist,” said Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who leads eight of his colleagues in transporting Claus on an international voyage every year on Dec. 24-25.
“I try not to think about it too much because we have so much work to do,” said Mrs. Claus, who married Santa in the late 19th century after she fled her homeland of Sombertown during the reign of ruthless dictator Burgermeister Meisterburger. “But, I have to admit, it keeps me up at night.”
Analysts have been unable to find a solution to the crisis.
Some have suggested constructing “manned drifting stations” similar to ones in Russia. The problem with this proposal, experts point out, is money. No single country owns the North Pole — Claus’s Christmas “kingdom” is in fact a limited liability corporation — and so nobody is taking responsibility to shell out for such a project.
Others have suggested relocating Christmas operations to another area, such as Greenland or the South Pole. But, according to Claus, even if such a project could be funded, it would not solve the crisis the region faces.
“These are all Band-Aid solutions,” Claus said. “The only way to save Christmas — and the planet as a whole — is for everyone to do everything possible to stop global warming.”
Last week, at a global warming conference on the resort island of Bali, Claus made a brief appearance to pressure nations to act on global warming, imploring the European Union to “think of the children.”
At the conference, former U.S. vice president Al Gore told delegates in his speech that “my own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali.” He added, “And the United States is among the top beneficiaries of our distinguished guest, Mr. Claus. We must act now to save Christmas.”
Claus said he is especially concerned about China and the United States, which have the highest carbon-dioxide emissions in the world. Carbon-dioxide emissions, according to most scientists, are among the chief causes of the planet’s rising temperature.
“I try to be hopeful, but it gets hard,” said Claus, who was disheartened to learn that the United States has rejected a recent United Nations proposal to reduce greenhouse gases by 25 to 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels. “It is unfortunate that the (U.S.) government is so concerned about economic growth, at the expense of our ability — and our children’s ability — to survive on this planet.”
As the interview at the North Pole wrapped up, Santa finished a cup of hot cider and turned off the lights on his Christmas tree.
“I need to rest. We have a lot of work to do,” he said with a smile, noting that he had plans to sweep his chimney and clean out his gutters the following morning. “This is my home. I have got to take care of it.”