Phew what a scorcher! – says the sub editor for the 10,000th time
The Met Office defines a heatwave as a period of three days or more when the temperature rises above the expected. So no argument then! we’re in a heatwave; something I guess most of us in the UK would have known without the benefit of the definition. However, definitions sometimes throw up potential problems such as this one. In a time of global heating what’s expected? Upon what form of statistical calculation is that decision made. Is it the average temperature? the mean temperature? – and what happens when the temperature is rising year on year? Even if the mean June temperature is calculated over the past five, ten or even fifty years, it will surely rise; and at what point will the media be dutifully reporting a cold snap because the mean June temperature falls below a level that we’ve become wearily accustomed to. Maybe we need an alternative way of expressing the impact of temperature rises – for example excess deaths; the effect on crops; the price and availability of food; the water levels in the reservoirs; pollution in rivers as the reduced dilution effect of dry weather gives the game away ?
Of course, what we usually do in the real world is lament the idiocy of politicians who are too cowardly to address the crisis, and get on with it as best we can. Here at the Potwell Inn we’re getting up early and going to the allotment soon after seven o’clock so we can get three or four hours in before it’s too hot to work any more. Some jobs are much harder – for instance setting out young plants when temperatures are likely to rise to 30 C (86 F). They need intensive care from day one. The simplest manual jobs like tilling a bed or raking in compost or fertilizer can be exhausting, and watering becomes a test of stamina. At its worst I can walk 10000 steps between the water troughs and the allotment.
But there’s an upside too. After a seemingly endless winter in our flat we both felt thoroughly seedy and out of condition, but now we’re suntanned and as fit as fleas. Allotmenteering is both a physical and also an intellectual challenge – trying to predict what might happen next. I suppose you could say it resembles sailing, inasmuch as reading the weather almost becomes an obsession. We look to see where the wind is coming from. South westerlies can be warm but they also bring rain in from the Atlantic. A cold easterly can decimate fruit blossom and kill tender plants – we lost our Tarragon and Rosemary as well as an established Clematis during the winter and any heavy rain or snow can be destructive of plants or netting. It’s no use thinking “I’m not going out in this” because staying in might cost you your crop or your nets.
So we don’t feel in the least downhearted about this heatwave because, like the Mexican Fleabane in the photo, we can – if we work at it – adapt to all manner of changes. Don’t for a minute imagine that I’m saying we can adapt ourselves out of catastrophic climate change without changing our whole lifestyle. What I am saying is that being hard-up for most of our lives, being prepared to keep the household just about going by earning a living wherever it’s possible is a great training in resilience – I’ve washed up in a hotel, driven buses, been a rather poor welder, a groundsman, a night cleaner in a factory, worked nights on my own in a rat infested factory sawing large blocks of polystyrene foam into sheets, and worked in a prison and a couple of old style mental hospitals. I can cook, clean and grow stuff and of course I worked as a parish priest for 30 years and I think I learned a great deal about being human or how not to be human. Madame has a very similar skill set and so we muddle along contentedly together, knowing that a good life doesn’t depend on having a Range Rover.
I’ve been reading a short article by Prof Massimo Pigliucci in “Philosophy Now” which I picked up from a newspaper stand before I looked at the price. Anyway the article lists six ethical ideals shared by almost all the world’s faiths. This is a long way from religion in the commonly understood sense. These values are:
- Practical wisdom
- Justice / morality
- temperance / moderation
- fortitude / courage
- Transcendence (gratitude, hope, spirituality
This group of dispositions broadly represents what’s usually called Virtue Ethics. To risk simplifying the idea so much it becomes a parody, these kind of dispositions, when internalised and lived out in everyday life, are the most effective guidance we have for flourishing – not for getting rich, or amassing honours and power but simply flourishing, being / becoming human. When you think about it it would be hard to express a better wish list for gardeners, nurses, or so-called captains of industry.
There’s a kind of grim satisfaction in knowing that when the climate catastrophe finally strikes us, the wealthy can only hope to buy a few more years of absolution from the bletted fruits of their behaviour before they realise they’ve got no talent for being human and no skills to change themselves. The snake oil salesmen and the invisible Seventh Technological Cavalry will have fled, and their last moments will be spent howling at a blackened sky like Violet Elizabeth Bot “I’ll thcweam and I’ll thcweam and I’ll make mythelf thick!”