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  • Debbie Howells

Climate crisis - the heat is on

When I wrote The Life You Left Behind, part of the inspiration was to explore the way we live and the impact it has both on our mental health and on the environment. It seems somewhat timely - while the UK is experiencing unprecedented high temperatures, France is experiencing the worst drought on record - for weeks, thermometers here have been pushing towards 40 degrees. Meanwhile, there is flash flooding in the States, not to mention the catastrophic wildfires in Australia last year.

We’re living in rural France at the moment. The grass is brown, gardens wilting, the forests parched, swathes of it on fire near Bordeaux. During the day, shutters are closed. Dogs and cats seek out shade, while fields of sunflowers and maize are dried out – the crop is predicted to be significantly less this year. We’re surrounded by stubble fields and dried-out woodland, and more than once we’ve woken up to smoke on the horizon, which if I’m honest, is quite frightening.

With food costs already rising, the shortage of grain is going to impact on the cost of animal feed, too, which in turn gets passed on to the consumer. But many crops as well as meat and dairy production are going to be affected. Meanwhile, temperatures are believed to be increasing more rapidly than formerly predicted. Easy to imagine it’s all going to get worse.

We’ve been through heatwaves in France before. In 2019, we experienced a week of temperatures which peaked at 45 degrees. Chilled wine helped the stifling evenings (2 or 3 euros a bottle, by the way) but it pushed us to the limit! This one has gone on far longer, which has made me think how it would be in the UK if the last heatwave had run into the current one. It isn’t a comfortable thought but perhaps not an altogether unrealistic one.

Most of us are aware of the major areas contributing to climate change. The main cause is burning fossil fuels to produce energy and power methods of transportation. Others include deforestation which unbelievably continues and the vast scale of livestock farming required to satisfy our appetite for meat and dairy. There’s also the incineration of the mountains of plastic waste we produce.

The bottom line is that each one of these is down to us. It means it doesn’t have to be this way. It won’t be instant but we can change this. Many of you, like me, must be so frustrated with the lack of political action in addressing these issues. So much talk without action, just greenwashing and obscene profiteering which unbelievably we’re told we have to accept – though I can see people are starting to fight back, which is much needed, and we all deserve to have a voice.

Several factors seem to be coinciding at the moment – rising temperatures, increasing food prices, the cost of energy in the UK. Incidentally, in France, the rise in the cost of energy has been capped at 4%, because energy is nationalised here. Food is cheaper here, too. But in the UK, the unbelievable rise in the cost of living means it’s a worrying time for so many people.

Instability can feel frightening and right now, throughout the world there seems to be widespread chaos and breakdown. That this is happening right now when climate change is accelerating adds to the undercurrent of fear, not just for us, but for future generations, and the headlines we’re fed tap into this.

But instability and chaos very often precede change. And it’s up to us how we choose to live! With all this going on, it’s easy to lose track of how dazzlingly beautiful this world is; how we can change the way we engage with it. Around us are shining examples of human courage and strength; of light, too. People want to live differently, in a way that is respectful to nature and this planet, which means there is very real hope that in time, something much better will come out of this.

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