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Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

lightning and tornado hitting village

Photo by Ralph W. lambrecht on Pexels.com

On the night of November 28th 2019, Channel 4 broadcast a debate on climate change, on the steps we might take in the UK to put our carbon footprint in order, and provide an example of best practice that others in the world might follow. Leaders of all the main political parties were invited to speak and all agreed something must be done, the only difference between them was how much each would fall over itself trying to outdo the others’ ideas.

At bottom it required a radical move away from carbon based fuels and intensive agribusiness but, with targeted investment, it looked possible, that we might indeed reduce our carbon emissions to zero by 2030. I felt the vision served that night was not one of a defensive decline, but more of a positive, prosperous and sustainable green economy, one built upon a genuine political consensus, and I was heartened by it. The debate was of course part of the build up to the 2019 general election.

Notable by their absence that night were the Conservative party and the Brexit party. The podiums they might have occupied were replaced, much to their annoyance, by dripping ice statues, which spoke volumes to the nation, that those parties had nothing to say about climate change, let alone how to mitigate it. Their crass no-show seemed disastrous, guaranteed to wreck their credibility and severely damage their chances of winning the election.

But the Conservative party romped home to a massive majority and are now in power for the next five, possibly the next ten years. Everything progressive that was debated that night was rendered meaningless, and won’t now happen. This implies the majority of UK voters either don’t care about the impending climate catastrophe or – even as Australia burns and Greenland melts – they still don’t really believe in it.

We can’t wait another ten years to do anything about it. By 2030 all the sensitive ecological tipping points will have been tripped, and savage environmental phenomenon will have settled in on a scale that makes it obvious to even the most egregious denier the planet is adapting itself to our toxic presence with a view to wiping us out.

The feeling among many climate scientists is that even if we act now, and in unison, globally, it’s probably too late to do anything other than stabilise the climate in its present state of distress. Without action, as now seems the case, not just in the UK, but across all the major world powers, vast areas of the planet will become uninhabitable, harvests will fail and future wars will be fought, not over oil but over fresh water, grain and habitable territory. Meanwhile, unimaginable numbers of climate refugees will cross the world trying to find safety in the temperate zones. And they will not be welcomed.

The rich are insulated from the problem by virtue of their wealth. They are buying up land in places like New Zealand in order to build their fortified palaces, complete with zombie apocalypse bunkers, where they imagine they might continue to consume in extraordinary luxury the last of the planet’s resources. Meanwhile, our children will struggle daily in the face of hardship and danger.

So what to do? Well, in my latest work in progress: “Winter on the Hill”, (currently being serialised for free on Wattpad) my protagonist, a former eco-warrior, veteran of street protests, and with a criminal conviction for civil disobedience, surveys the wreckage of that climate debate and the ensuing results of the 2019 election with a cool head. His conclusion? He buys himself a three litre diesel four-wheel drive SUV, takes up hill-walking and, though it’s late in the day for him, he falls in love, more than once. The argument is lost, he says, no sense even debating it any more – just enjoy the next twenty or thirty years as best you can, because that’s all you’ve got left.

He’s an interesting character, at times prickly, and something of a socialist firebrand which may annoy some of you, but he’s also a very persuasive old curmudgeon, and I’ll be spending the next year or so getting to know him. I hope to convince him he’s wrong of course, not about love – I mean good on him for that, the old dog – but that we need him back on the barricades. Oh, and he’s to swap that monstrous diesel for an electric vehicle that won’t pull the skin off a rice pudding.

How do you rate my chances? Well, from the off, and as dispiriting as it is, I’m already tempted to concede that he might be right.

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trees on fire

It was George Orwell who made the observation that nations do not go to war unless the rich believe they can profit by it. In a similar vein, had he been writing today, he might have said the same thing about saving the planet, that unless the rich can be convinced there’s more profit in green technologies than in coal and oil and gas, the earth is bound for a final act of devastating climate change and mass extinction of species, including us. To whit we have recently had the bizarre spectacle of one of the most powerful nations on earth, with a straight face, presenting arguments for the increased use of coal – this at a summit on climate change, and how to avoid it.

There is something deeply disturbing about an otherwise intelligent species that would saw off the final branch of the tree, the branch it’s actually sitting on, in order to continue profiting at the expense of the tree, and even the certainty of it’s own demise. But then profiteering never did pay much heed of future consequences.

The latest reliable figures now give us twelve years to make a difference. This means stopping any further release of carbon and methane into the atmosphere as a result of human activity – carbon from fossil fuel burning, and methane from factory style meat-production – and that means right now.

What is most clear in all of this is that the danger is real, and the effects are already being felt, though mainly by the world’s poor, and that until it is the rich who suffer grievously, nothing will change – but by that time it will be too late. What I’m not so clear about is what happens after that, whether the earth will restore its own equilibrium once it’s rid of the parasitic scourge we have become, or if the changes will be so dramatic we’ll have pushed the planet into a runaway reaction, the end result of which is the global sterility of another Mars. I’m sure the rich think they can ride out any storm, build underground bunkers in New Zealand and survive by eating Soylent Green, that only the ninety nine percent of us will starve. But I remind them that’s not much of an existence when we once had a whole planet to explore and cherish, and then who will be left to tie your shoe-laces?

When we consider the vastness of the universe and the sheer number of planetary systems we now know exist around other stars, it’s logical to assume other forms of intelligent life have arisen. The Drake equation predicts the universe should be positively teeming with life, yet when we listen to the sounds of outer space we detect no sign. Our apparent loneliness is eerie. One of the theories explaining this isolation is that when civilisations have reached a point of technical sophistication whereby their radio signals are so strong they begin leaking into outer space, they’re only a short way from also developing the technologies they’ll eventually destroy themselves with – as in the case of nuclear weapons, or that they’ll find themselves incapable of organising globally to control the effects of over-consumption and over-reliance on sources of energy that are ultimately deadly to the planet.

I know we like to think we’re different, that we’re a plucky species, that we’ll eventually overcome our differences, rise above them and somehow squeak through into that Utopian future. But the signs aren’t promising. Hollywood doesn’t help. It likes its disaster movies, but the good guys always survive in the end, and usually by means of a judiciously timed nuclear explosion. If these movies ended with the earth as a charred cinder and your leading man and lady as no more than bleached bones it might focus minds a bit more.

Nuclear weapons and climate change are the most critical threats facing humanity today, yet to read the news one learns only of the latest twist of BREXIT, and the latest ill judged tweet from the leader of the free world, who anyway assures us climate change IS A HOAX. The last four years have been the warmest recorded. The World Metrological Organisation tells us: sea-level rise, sea ice and glacier melt, and ocean heat and acidification were continuing. Extreme weather had “left a trail of devastation on all continents.”

Of course it’s hard to see what one can do as an individual, apart from spreading the word in the hope someone with more power and influence will see the profit in wind-turbines and photovoltaics and a zero carbon economy, that what does it profit us anyway to go on burning coal if it’s to ultimately cost the earth?

It seems futile merely swapping out all the lightbulbs in my house for LEDs when toffs are still cruising about in Range Rovers, doing 12 miles per gallon. But I did get rid of my last incandescent light bulb recently, and it’s a start, not that it’ll change my energy bill much, but that’s another story. Small things, small steps are the way, I suppose, but twelve years isn’t such a long time for so pressing an emergency, so next time you get the chance to vote, scrutinise your candidate’s stance on climate change and go with whoever promises to wake up and save the planet.

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chinookAfter a quieter day, one in which the village clears away the mess from recent floods, we are unsettled again. It’s not so much the weather forecast which promises storms, but the arrival of the army and the Chinook helicopter. Stealthy the Chinook is not, and the steady, thudding rhythm of its rotors has been compressing my eardrums since noon.

There are holes in the flood banks, and the Chinook will plug them by dropping grab-bags of something or other – the media say sand, but this sounds inadequate to me and I’m hoping for something rather more substantial. The media, who have by now invaded the village in strength, also tell us the banks are to the south, when in fact they are to the west and the north. This lack of accuracy is disconcerting but not altogether surprising.

The flood banks have been breached in two places. Further meaningful information, such as the extent of the damage, the resulting danger, and the feasibility of repair is unavailable. The public, those threatened by these breaches, are advised to keep away from the “area of operations”. This is sensible, I suppose. But there is also a risk here to each of us, personally, and the media can be relied upon for nothing more than emotive garbage – pictures of Christmas trees being chucked into skips and our womenfolk dutifully choking back tears for the nice journalist bastards.

So, I set out to learn what I can by observation on the ground. There is a highpoint to which I might walk and maybe glimpse what is going on,  but I fail to get through a police check-point on the main road. There’s a bigger police presence now and a WPC has me dispatched in short measure by one of her community support minions. The young man peremptorily delegated to tackle me is polite, apologetic. His accent betrays a drafting in from far away.

I try another route, threading along a network of farm tracks, out across the flooded plains. The waters have receded a little, leaving the tracks passable to Wellington boots, though the meadows are still like lakes. Here, reflections in the water have brought the sky down to earth. The effect is dizzying, beautiful. Murmurations of birds have begun to explore their novel bounty.

By this somewhat open subterfuge, I am able to approach quite close, in fact, to the “area of operations” and, through binoculars,  learn the extent of the breach. The hole in the river’s flood banks is of awesome proportions. I am humbled by it. These banks have stood for centuries. I have walked their tops on balmy summer days, confident they will stand for ever. Why now such a dramatic collapse?

Here also, I find a handful of  moss-dwellers, with whom to swap stories. The best information, the most useful, is that gained at first hand and “local”. The usefulness of information decreases the more removed its source. Information on the TV or in the paper press is of course not information at all. It is infotainment, possibly manipulative, and worse than useless.

I watch for a while as the Chinook drops its bags, four at a time, sending up an almighty splash. It is more likely building aggregate, I think, than sand, which would simply be washed away the moment it hit the water. The roar of outraged river is drowned by the roar of the Chinook’s engines. I estimate it will take a thousand bags to plug that hole, five minutes per drop. You work it out. Operations have just begun in earnest, but there’s only ninety minutes of daylight left, then the Chinook will be going home for its tea. I am  not hopeful the hole will be plugged in any meaningful sense by nightfall. This is useful information.

I’ve seen enough now, and turn for home, the light fading.

The Chinook is a mighty bird, noisy as hell and ungainly to look at, but steady as a rock and graceful in the air. A daunting job, that pilot has, stopping the next tide from coming in where it ought not to. But those bags of dropped stuff looked pitifully small, beneath its belly, and that hole dauntingly big. On the plus side the tides are tending now towards the neap rather than the spring, and the fire brigade’s massive pumps are making a difference. This also is good information.

Meanwhile, in the village, more sand has arrived, donated by builders’ merchants. Local people organised by Twitter and Facebook, shovel it into bags. Anyone with a van or a tractor and trailer tours the village, dropping off bags wherever they are needed. Unsolicited, I have acquired a pile of ten. They look inadequate, but I’m grateful, and anyway I’m sure I won’t need them.

We are all a little jumpy now, feel irrationally threatened by even the promise of a spot of rain. But the river levels have dropped to no more than boisterous levels. Only the media  insist we’re doomed. I’m sure they hope we are. Great story isn’t it?

As I write a reporter stands not fifty yards from my home, talking empty nonsense to the entire nation. I see him on the TV in realtime. It’s disorientating. Shall I run out and photo-bomb? Offer him a cup of tea? He says nothing I can remember even five minutes later.

Dark now, 11:00 pm, a storm moving over – for some absurd reason they are calling it “Frank”. It’s raising a roar of wind in the chimney, promise of more rain tomorrow. But I note there has been an adjustment in the psyche’s perceived threat level. The risk is still severe, according to the Environment Agency,  but on the front line we are less reactive, no one staying up until the small hours this time. There is less traffic on the little road outside my window. Normality is relative, and human beings are adaptable creatures, defining their normality by whatever circumstances they find themselves in at the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The climate is changing. In my part of the world we’re noticing a shift in patterns of rainfall. Monthly averages seem about the same, the difference being that nowadays, you can get your month’s rainfall over a period of twenty four hours, in a sustained heavy downpour that simply overwhelms the river systems and the drains.

My home village is built along the banks of a normally sleepy little river. But now and then the river will get its dander up and surge like a silty brown snake down the main street, washing silt and poo through people’s houses. You could expect an inundation like this once in a generation, which was bad enough to have to cope with, especially if your house was one of those in a flooding black-spot. The village old timers will shake their heads and tell you tales of the great floods of ages past, but now we’re coming to expect a damaging flood every year. This year it’s already happened twice.

The last flood entered people’s homes in June, and the village has been near impassable since then for all the builder’s skips and vans, while the insurance was sorted out and repair work got under way. It’s still ongoing – reflooring, rewiring, replastering, refurnishing, decontaminating.

My own home, being built on slightly higher ground has thus far survived flooding, and I take some reassurance from the fact there are seventeenth century cottages here that have never flooded, especially since I live in a bungalow, and don’t have the option of moving my valuables upstairs whenever the river’s looking grumpy.

It’s been raining for two days now and, driving out to work this morning, I had to detour to avoid a lake that had occupied the centre of the village overnight. The river, in flood, had met the incoming tide in the small hours of the morning, taking some unfortunate souls back to square one with a call to their insurance company, not even having had the pleasure of moving back into their homes since the last flood in June.

That last flood happened over a weekend, so I was able to help out a bit and stack a few sandbags in the vulnerable areas, for all the good they seem to do. We made the TV news, that day, and we probably made it this evening as well – though I didn’t watch, because I think there’s something ghoulish about a TV reporter with a grave face and gleeful heart –  we’re well known for flooding here now, and it always makes for a good local story.

That last flood, with the village all upset, the media arrived in the thick of it, driving their whale of van into the chaos with an arrogant self importance that took my breath away. Never mind sorting the mess out, let’s get a picture of it and some reaction from the shell-shocked victims. So you get insensitive men with orange tans, wearing silly hats and floral patterned wellies, thrusting microphones into people’s faces while they’re still swilling out their homes, and asking them how they feel. Well, how would you feel?

One poor woman I witnessed being subjected to this vulgar insensitivity – white faced and tearful – having seen her lovely home ruined – just stared at the rather camp-looking ghoul, speechless. I was speechless too, and rather hoped he’d ask me for my reaction. We’re “the media”, he seemed to be saying, that he had a direct line to that great satellite in the sky, which made him terribly important of course, more important even than the fire crews who’d come to pump out people’s basements.

There’s been no loss of life in our locale, thank God, though there’s something quite sinister about a sluggish three meter surge pushing its way through the village, spilling out into side streets, swelling into great lakes and brushing up against the doorsteps.

We’re going to have to adapt to this, but short of raising our homes on stilts, I’m not sure how. It’s either that or we just evacuate large parts of pretty, seventeenth century housing. Anyway, I’m hoping we’re done for this year, but I’m reminded that the really wet season hasn’t started yet.

It could be worse; it could be hurricanes.

 

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