“The Environment is everything that isn’t me”. (Einstein)

“A knowledgeable and courageous U.S. President could help enormously in leading the World’s nations toward saving the climate”. 

When Donella Meadows, who wrote those words,  died at the beginning of the new Millenium (Feb 2001) at the age of 60, she left us bereft of a very fine and articulate environmental brain.  She saw that America needed to take the lead role in firstly recognising, then beginning the long task of rectifying, the damage that modern industrialised societies have done and continue to do to the very thing that sustains our lives, this glorious and beautiful planet.  She saw too how the polarisation of political views, often driven by variances in economic doctrines, increased exponentially the demise of that very  system of life support.

“Everyone, except the far right wing of the Republican party, realises that oil, gas and coal burning are the main activities that have sent the climate into bigger floods, droughts, hurricanes and El Ninos”.

Forgive the rather quasi-political stance this week, unusual indeed for Welshwaller.  Unusual in the sense that I rarely write about the wider aspects of my work, the environment and how it, in turn, is affected by global issues.  In reality I am no more exempt from the influences currently affecting the economic and financial world nor the environmental world than are those that trek daily into the metropolis.  In fact I would argue, I am in the van of such influential and increasingly catastrophic attacks.

Sitting in my little metal box on wheels, sheltering from yet another deluge (I have gradually increased the level of rainfall in which I can work so that now it has to be a real serious storm to drive me to take cover!) I listened to the delightful Martha Carney on Radio 4 haranguing a man from the Environment Agency (that’s an interesting name for a government body is it not ?) who had come on to talk about what the current level of Flood Warnings were.  She basically said ‘the public’ (you do not speak for me Ms Carney) were not happy about the level of protection they were being afforded from the incessant rain and demanded to know why the ‘Agency’ hadn’t done more (in terms of building flood defences) and also started on the government for cutting the amount of money it put into flood prevention schemes.  In so doing she displayed the typical urbanite ignorance of the realities of nature.  She, like the majority of people whose only connection to nature in the raw comes under an umbrella or sun-bloc, blames everyone but themselves.

I am no longer interested in arguing the cause of the climate change – though I do get frustrated when I am confronted by folk who tell me this has all happened before – it seems a little pointless, we are not going to change our ways no matter what we are confronted with.  I feel sure now that we are entering another ELE, after all, the earth has gone through several mass extinctions and is certainly due for one soon.  For the moment I want to argue a few points which have been gelling in my mind for some time but which recent events have clarified.  In particular how this last few weeks of calamitous weather, not just here but around the globe, bring forth issues of responsibility and humility.

To insist that the Environment Agency (and hence the government) defend all property against flood-waters is clearly a non-sense.  Yet that is increasingly the implied view in much media and public comment.  Householders bemoaning their third flood in two years have my sympathy, to an extent.  It is not their fault, but neither is it the Environment Agency, the Government, Tesco or God (nor even Uncle Tom Cobbly and all). God, apparently, is not having the finger pointed in His direction just yet.  Instead, in the frantic search for the guilty, those affected turn to ‘them’.  ‘They’ are increasingly the target, be it because ‘I’ can’t drive to work (as the roads are flooded or snow bound) or ‘We’ can’t have our holiday (because the caravan site is under 4 feet of water or the runways are blocked with snow).  Those whose houses have flooded display a variety of responses, some matter-of-fact, a shrug and a “That’s life” type attitude which I admire, others are, understandably, irate at ‘them’ for not sorting the problem;  “It’s the third time in two years, they’ve done nothing since it happened the first time”, a lady on TV ranted.

On the other side of the Atlantic some very serious fires have raged through Colarado destroying the homes of those who had (foolishly some may think)  built their million dollar dream homes in what is colloquially called the ‘urban wildland interface’,  zones clearly likely to burn in such conditions. Only last week 5 million lost power as thunderstorms, in a phenomenon called ‘derecho’ , roared through the Virginia, DC, Maryland region and then in New York, on July 4th of all days, a storm cost the lives of 4 children as their boat capsized as they awaited fireworks celebrating that most famous of Stateside holidays.

Only a short few months ago much of southern and midland England were suffering prolonged drought and fears for the coming winter were being voiced. Over two thirds of the United States is in serious drought.  We almost forget the issues of Africa when we are inconvenienced. In March the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of  “unprecedented extreme weather and climate events to come”.  Were you listening ? I suspect not.  We have become tired of talk of ‘Global Warming’ of ‘Climate Change’, especially as we talk incessantly about ‘this awful weather’.  It would no doubt be the same if we were suffering a ‘hot summer’.  A hot summer is what the U.S. is getting and that following a pretty hot spring and warm winter.  I know, I was in short sleeves in January down on the coast at Charleston.  The regular reports I receive from a North Carolina Farm talks endlessly of the unbearable heat.  The great Smithsonian Festival on the National Mall in Washington D.C. that I often reminisce about, suffered a catastrophic storm last weekend that caused a two day closure and loss of power.  This weekend the temperatures are around 105 Fahrenheit (in the shade).  Still people don’t really believe nature will get them, as a result babies left in cars die and old folk pass away.  Here we have had extreme weather conditions for several weeks, culminating in serious rainfall this last 48 hours that has caused huge flooding and serious disruption. As I write, a month’s rainfall has dropped onto Devon causing flooding that is ‘life threatening’ according to officialdom.  In the Black Sea area of Mother Russia over two month’s rainfall fell in 24 hours resulting in a death toll (so far) of 140. Now its the turn of the Far East, can you believe Japan got hit with 31″/80cms of rain in 72 hours !!?

The disruption – picked on by the media – tends to focus on rail delays, road travel difficulties and flooding of property.  Those fade from the headlines in favour of the ‘disaster’ of folk being unable to get to Silverstone to watch practise for the F1 British Grand Prix or  (cries of horror!) play delayed at Wimbledon.  We are being denuded and deluded.  Does no-one realise the massive problems these changes are causing to our most important activity ?  Would any of you agree with me what that is – food production, agriculture, farming !

Now this brings me to the mainstay of my thinking.  If such ‘extreme weather and climate events’ are to be more and more common we need to forget arguing the cause, forget even the effect, we have to urgently consider what needs to change in order that we can live as best we can in the prevailing conditions, here on in.  Britain’s seasons have shifted, those involved in agriculture, those who work outdoors, like yours truly, know full well this is the case.  I only have to look back over my diaries of the past 20 years (in which a daily weather report is written) to see this pattern of change.  I have already had to adapt my work schedule to accommodate the changes.  What of farmers and the crops and livestock they produce?  Globally there are serious production issues, food shortages are another cause celebre, strong points of view as to the world’s ability to feed the ever growing population range between ‘there’s plenty if we just…’, to ‘starvation is looming for millions’.  It is difficult to feel connected to such macro issues, we tend to be able to see issues which affect us and those we know.  A macro view of climate, of food production (and all the issues surrounding it, such as genetic modification, use of pesticides, human and animal illness), of water shortage, is not possible for the average individual but we do not have to look very far to experience the effects at first hand.

Whilst I’m not an agriculturalist I am ‘of the land’.  My work and my life is within ‘the country’, within a landscape and community that is involved in food production.  One of the big problems of society and how it views and reacts to climate change is the vast distance that exists between those that produce food and those who eat most of it – in Western industrialised countries.  This disconnection has been articulated for me this last few weeks by an inspirational and wise man from the American mid west, Wendell Berry.  A gift from my Farmer friend and walling partner in North Carolina has had a deep and challenging impact upon me.  The book was waiting for me on my arrival home from my Scottish ramble, and in that short few weeks I have been intellectually challenged and spiritually depressed.

Depressed in the sense that I, Berry too in a way, see the pattern of human behaviour as beyond redemption.  Like it or not the greed which pervades all our societies, the willingness, deliberate in most cases, to outdo our neighbour and to benefit us and ours is endemic.  Whether it be the conmen who take money from people with ne’er the slightest guilt, the invisible Nigerian who tells me millions awaits me if only I will give him my bank details so he can transfer the money of a long lost relative, or my neighbour who tells me this particular piece of machinery he wants me to buy off him is in really good condition, a bargain, when in fact he (and I) knows full well it is in need of expensive, uneconomic repair.  If mankind is willing to treat other humans that way what chance the environment?

The increasing divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is symptomatic of this greed.  It is thus hard to avoid a wry smile when the rage of nature hits on the ‘haves’ as well.  It is the same in the current economic crisis.  Millions of unemployed people are forced to live on ridiculously low income and rely on food hand outs.  In the U.S. tented camps of the dispossessed bring shame on the richest nation. Here the homeless crisis deepens and the true colour of the social conscience of this government is at last being shown in all its treachery.  All this while millions continue to starve in Africa, while our demands continue to deplete the resources of the planet, especially the destruction of the life giving rain forests. We have, in my view anyway, probably gone beyond the point at which we can save ourselves.  Not necessarily that we might not yet be able to reverse the warming of the planet in scientific terms, but that we will never change our behaviour in time.  In fact I can’t see how we could change our ways.  How could we manage without the vehicle, how could we feed everyone without mass production industrial farming, and how could we reduce the world population to a sustainable level ?  The balance has tilted against mankind.

The massive unemployment around the globe, in the supposed civilised industrial societies, threatens once more social cohesion.  The gradual emergence of the Right in Europe, the creep of Nationalism, are all the hallmarks that were missed in the 1920s when Fascism began its cancerous spread. Riots raged in Britain last year and may well appear again.  Disenfranchised youth have nowhere to turn.  There is no real prospect of ever again generating sufficient employment, ‘full employment’ as enjoyed in the post-war economic boom periods.  No mass employment opportunities exist or ever will, there will be no local steelworks employing six thousand, no mines employing tens of thousands, no agriculture employing the rural population.

A long time ago these words were spoken:

“No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.  Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance.  Morally it is the greatest menace to our social order”.

It is a salutary lesson to stand before a certain set of stone tablets and read:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those that have too little”.

I was quite shocked to read that, even more shocked when a further tablet announced:

“Men and Nature must work hand in hand.  The throwing out of the balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men”

For sure,  some of you reading this will know immediately who said those fine words, others will not.  The photograph below is taken at the same place where those tablets of stone stand, look hard at it people, we are back there.

The Bread Line

Many thousands of our fellow citizens are again on the Bread Line, we all bear the shame.

I am not pointing the finger at any people or nation here, no one stands blameless.  I am trying to say we have made our bed and now must lie in it, be we hot or cold, wet or hungry.  Let us stop the disbelief, stop the blame game, stop the inaction.  I happen to think the only chance we have is for the United States to take a lead, the lead.  If it can get its house in order then there is a chance for the rest of us, notwithstanding there is another problem area to the east !  I don’t know if Obama has the courage or might to confront the vested interests, I feel sure the alternatives do not.  I somehow doubt that leadership from the top is the answer in any case; for me grass-root movements are always more effective.  As more and more people have less and less maybe that minority of ‘have nots’ become the majority.  Sadly, even if that were the case, we do not have the alternative models of economic and political systems.  Those that were tried in the last century failed dismally too.   For sure Capitalism and the Global economy has led us all to the brink.  Do something yourself, anything will help.  Buy more local food, stay at home more often, work at something that repairs the earth not diminishes it, even if it costs you.

The absurdity of it all was brought home to me when I read the facebook posts of friends forced to deal with the extreme heat without their air conditioning because the power had failed (last week in D.C.)  Of all the things that can be held up as absurd AC stands, for me anyway, tallest.  The increasing heat of the sun is causing folk to use their AC more and more, and yet that very sun, that energy, that heat, is increasing because of the demands for fossil fuel power to run the damned AC systems.  Use the sun to run your AC !  Not for Christ’s sake but for all our sakes !! (note: it is of course not the sun that is getting hotter but our defensive ozone layer getting weaker)

Wendell Berry writes of our disconnection from the land and from each other.  He points out the folly of all of us working away from home, of the drive to always have a ‘better’ career than our parents, of the unjust and un-necessary large pay cheque.  Another writer for whom I have great admiration is John Seymour, no longer with us unfortunately but ahead of his time by a generation or two.  The words of his that stick in my head are “not everyone can have more than enough”.  What good is more than enough if nature comes a calling?  It is, as the New York Times writer Tim Egan, stated just this last week – “the price of living in a world we made but no longer dominate”.

FDR memorial

For those of you who didn’t know who said those words and when, here’s a clue. It was a frighteningly long time ago, he was right then but nobody listened so, sadly, he’s even more right today.

Do the best you can is my motto.  Try to live up to our responsibilities, having borrowed this planet from our children lets at least make an effort to leave them a fighting chance.  I try to set an example to those around me, I’m not fooling myself that they notice or listen but at least I’m trying.  I, like millions of others, now pay the price of the industrial folly.  My work is affected negatively by either extreme heat or rain or snow, thus climate change is in my face and in my pocket.  Try to do something yourself, go one step further each week, if not, the end of the road for all of us is just around the next drought or hurricane or famine or (oops, forgot these !) mega volcano !!

That’s all for now folks, and thank the Lord for that (I hear you say).  God and goretex willing I’ll have some walling to report next time !


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