Little Fluffy Clouds

Riding southern English counties this week, I always think England looks its best around this time. The vegetation is lush – there’s been enough rain and enough warmth, and it’s rained recently enough that everywhere is still relatively clean. (Lots of the uglier sides of humanity, not least littering, are also being hidden by all the growth. It’s only a fig leaf, but it’s better than nothing.) And on good days, with a little warmth combined with blue skies, just a few clouds, The Orb’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ for a mental soundtrack and the ability to get outside – on foot or on a bike – to appreciate it, and you could think ‘what more could anyone ask for’.

OK, the little fluffy clouds Rickie Lee Jones was talking about in the song were in Arizona. OK, a fair distribution of wealth, an end to racism and bigotry and prejudice of any kind, an overwhelming rejection of greed as a worthwhile value, an end to patriotism and religion, the rise of rationality and empiricism, the outbreak of peace through negotiation worldwide and global cooperation in the face of climate change could all be asked for, quite legitimately, but you know what I mean …

Little Fluffy Coulds

Little Fluffy Coulds

A Multi-Coloured Future

I took the snap below (near Henley) because I don’t think I’ve seen that colour combination in fields before. The reddish-coloured-grass is struggling to recover after the winter’s floods. I don’t think the die-back and discolouration has been caused just by being too long under water; other places haven’t gone the same way.

Years and years ago a friend met a soil analyst who’d been looking at the flood plain between Henley and Shiplake, and he said the soil was badly polluted with pesticides running off from the hills. Perhaps that’s the cause – the floods created a lingering pesticide bath for the low-lying land.

(He also said that he wouldn’t eat anything grown on the land in question. Of course, plenty of crops were and are.)

Whatever the reason for the red grass, I guess the future will hold many more unusual sights in nature, as the consequences of climate change become ever more apparent. I guess lots of disasters have a ‘wow factor’. I rather suspect that any ‘wow factor’ won’t prove much of a compensation for a parched or poisoned environment.

Coloured fields nothing like nature intended

Colours nothing like nature intended

The Joy Of Self-Delusion

Cycling around South Oxon today, in lovely but unseasonably warm weather, I found myself wondering about the distinction between us and rats.

To explain: the latest IPCC report confirms what we already knew – because of climate change, the planet faces a bleak future, and thus so do we all.

It’s that simple. This made top story in some news outlets … for a day. And that’s it. The scale of news media’s response is a good measure of how we are collectively going to respond to this looming calamity. We’re not. We know it’s coming, but it’s not going to set any meaningful national or global agendas. It’s not going to make any significant difference to how we all behave. And then, sooner or later, the problems will force themselves into our lives (if they haven’t already), and then we’ll struggle on, and cope as best we can – or not.

Perhaps some did, but none of the news reports I saw made mention of the screamingly obvious elephant in the room: population growth. If you really want to tackle both the causes of climate change and help mitigate the consequences of it, there would be a world-wide drive to discourage the human population from growing. There’s as much chance of that happening as there is of us all decamping to a new planet to live there happily ever after.

What I did see in the news reports was the inevitable clutching at straws – the mentions of ‘perhaps this report by the IPCC might be alarmist’, or ‘perhaps some crop yields will increase’ or ‘perhaps human ingenuity can come up with solutions’.

Crops in unusually warm spring weather

Perhaps all this unseasonable warmth will mean bumper crops. Perhaps.

Ignoring problems and instead clutching at straws: this isn’t surprising behaviour. It’s akin to smokers believing that they won’t get lung cancer, or the obese not believing it’s what they eat that’s the problem. (Said the over-weight ex-smoker.) There are any number of examples of how humans like to and, more importantly, are able to deceive themselves.

There’s a famous – if pretty grim – experiment from the 1950s by someone called Curt Richter. In a nutshell: if you put rats in jars of water that they can’t get out of, they’ll give up struggling fairly quickly and drown. If you set the same conditions up but take a rat out before it drowns, then put it back in again, it will struggle on for far longer, before – of course- it eventually drowns too. Such is the power of hope.

The distinction between us and rats is that the rats need an external cause to have hope – they need to be rescued (albeit briefly) before they feel they have a reason to struggle on. That is to say, they can’t fool themselves that there’s hope. Unlike rats, we can fool ourselves and have hope despite all the evidence to the contrary. Whether that makes us the superior of a rat or not, I’m not sure.

A Trashed Home

Inevitably, I ride the same relatively small geographic area a lot. I’m on first name terms with most of the pot-holes. Sometimes, before setting out, I can struggle to feel much enthusiasm for any route I can think of: they’re all too familiar. That said, once I’ve set off, I generally find the simple fact of ‘being out’ is more important than where I’m riding.

Thus far this year, I’ve ridden far less than I normally do: some exceptionally bad weather combined with niggling problems with joints and what-have-you have conspired against me.

So, getting out a bit more now, there’s an element of looking afresh at the familiar: I’ve not seen a lot of it for quite a while. And that’ s both quite refreshing and depressing.

I know I’m contributing nothing new by noting that you see things differently if you’ve been away from them for a while; it’s just human nature. Another side of returning to somewhere familiar is the feeling of ‘home’: the pleasure to be had in the sensation that you’re back on home turf – in ‘your patch’.

So it is, then, mildly alarming to be back out re-visiting home turf, only to find there’s a lot of damage around. Woodland, particularly, has taken a fair old bashing in the last few weeks. Where the flooding has persisted – indeed, is persisting – it’s obvious that nature’s not going to be doing a quick bounce-back – it’s gone on too long this time. And that’s all to leave aside the damage to the infrastructure – the pre-existing rotting has accelerated.

Damaged forest trees

Home turf, under attack

No, it’s nothing as dramatic as finding your house has been burgled and trashed in the process, or anything similar, but it is nevertheless in that same general area. If not my home then my ‘home patch’ has been under attack, from the weather and from institutionalized neglect, it’s not bouncing back readily and it doesn’t look as if it’s likely to. Depressing? Yes. Disturbing? I think ‘yes’ to that too. Somehow, by some historical accident, my 50+ years of living in Britain have seen generally improving standards in pretty well all aspects of day-to-day life. The implicit, unquestioned assumption had been that that was normal, that it would continue. That now feels unlikely.

And today a leaked draft of the next IPCC report on Climate Change confirmed the worst fears in that area.

1,004 Words

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then herewith 1,004:

Cycling and walking curtailed by flooding

Cycling and walking curtailed

A Dearth Of Birds

Three people within a local two-mile radius who I know regularly feed the birds in their urban gardens are reporting far fewer feathered visitors than usual. Someone else, a few miles away and out in the country, is saying the same.

Possibly, it’s just a function of a mild summer and early autumn, and there being lots of natural food around. Possibly.

On the other hand, if that were the case you’d expect to see more bird life in the country, but as I cycle around the lanes of South Oxon and Berkshire, I’m fairly sure I’m seeing far fewer birds about in fields, hedgerows and so on.

Possibly, the weather has changed migration patterns. Possibly. On the other hand, I think I’m right in saying we’ve plenty of native birds that don’t migrate. And besides, even if migration patterns had been disrupted, I’d have thought that would just mean different birds being here at different times, not fewer birds.

I’m not a dedicated, knowledgeable bird-watcher. None of the people feeding birds that I’ve referred to are, either. Hopefully, these are just inaccurate impressions and nothing’s amiss.

I suspect if our collective impressions are correct, whatever’s going wrong will have very serious implications.

Rooks over a field

Just a few