AS the temperature tops 30° yet again, we comfort ourselves in the cool rooms of our old house, with its two-foot thick stone walls. And we sympathise with all the people we meet whose houses or flats have thin walls or face directly south and west.
We pray for the rain, which mercifully comes, and people are dancing in the streets outside our house. Our raspberries and runner beans are grateful, but how much more so are the farmers and the growers, whose livelihoods have been under severe threat as the drought continues.
Is there enough rain? How long before people are once again moaning about “the weather”? How quickly will the “wealthy” farmers and growers be blamed, when winter brings the inevitable rises in food prices caused by the scarcity of harvests reduced by the drought?
We have short memories – although those of us old enough to remember 1976 will still recall the fear of fire, and the exhaustion of hot nights and stifling offices. We were living in the New Forest then, and there were fires that burned out of control for days. Long months after the heatwave broke and the weather returned to “normal,” you would sometimes hear a strange underground crackling when you walked in the woods – the fires continued to smoulder in the soil below the trees, and occasionally a conifer would fall with an explosive crack.
But the 2018 heatwave has been different, because it has exposed a lot of questions about how we live now. For a start, we know more about climate change than we did 40 years ago. Climate change deniers will find any excuse under the sun (forgive the pun) to refute the argument, but the weight of real scientific evidence is so strong, that you have to be particularly addicted to fossil fuels (and their profits), blind or uncaring of the consequences of melting arctic ice and equatorial desertification, or so completely wrapped up in your biblical view of divine purpose, that you ignore the facts.
The recent heatwave has highlighted the growing problem of old people on their own, some lucky to be visited by kind neighbours, but many reliant on caring but time-pressed professionals who come in two or three times a day to dress and feed them. When they are gone, many old people are alone, liable not only to isolation and depression, but in extreme heat also to dehydration. The carers may put out a jug of water and a glass, but many old people simply forget to drink.
We know we should be building in a more sustainable way, building climate change resilience into homes. We KNOW this. We know that houses should be properly insulated – against cold and heat – and properly ventilated. But the volume house-builders don’t build these homes. Indeed, they don’t even build the affordable or social housing that is usually part of the planning permission for their developments. A slip of the digital pen somehow erases the allocation; the builder pays too much for the site and “can’t afford” to provide social housing. And so we can neither meet the requirement to build for climate change nor the need for houses for young people to stay in their communities and affordable homes for young families.
We know that trees give shade and woods help to develop micro-climates, stabilise the soil, protect crops and over time can help to reduce the threat of flash flooding on hillsides. But councils and public authorities fell more trees than they ever plant – particularly in urban areas or alongside roads or railway lines – often on spurious grounds of health and safety. And many estate and farm landlords, I learned recently, do not like tree planting schemes because they reduce the value of the land. No, me neither.
Watching the television films of the terrifying fires in Greece and California, thinking of the residents and fire-fighters who have died, the thousands of acres of trees, homes and crops destroyed and the wildlife killed, it is hard to hold back the angry tears of sorrow and frustration.
While vain and venal politicians play nasty games of back-stabbing and one-up-manship, social media addicts bask in their selfie-reflected glory and global corporations lobby their way to ever greater profits, the planet is slowly burning up. It is hard to feel optimistic in summer 2018.