Fire and Plumstones
January and it rained at last and the acrid stench of wet, newly burnt land, livestock, wildlife and property dulled any sense of relief. Each day television crews working at infernos’ edges reported new outbreaks burning out of control while thousands of fire fighters from across the country joined ranks to defend the vulnerable. And later we were witness to the awful plight of those returning to the charred ruins of homes and gardens, pets, stock and native animals as families picked through the ashes for signs of life before the flames. It is still sad beyond description.The reminder is constant in the new category added to our roadside fire gauges – CATASTROPHIC! Scary stuff? You bet.
On Friday January18th, Sydney broke all records when the mercury topped 45.8 in the city and further west reached a scorching 46.5 degrees (115.7°F). During the day more than 200 people were treated for heat stroke; hundreds of commuters were stranded when steel buckled, signalling systems failed and overhead wires melted while beyond the city serious fires raged. I was afraid, stayed at home, shut all the windows and doors and sweated out the blistering heat. Even our dogs were treated to a rare invitation to come inside where they lay panting on the tiles of the kitchen floor. Without air conditioning and fans that simply serve to push around the already warm air, not a lot of energy was exerted and our garden wilted as I watched. These days even backyard food production is trickier than it should be.
For commercial producers it is now more than tricky to bring crops to fruition in seasons such as this. At our local organic market I speak to producers who struggle with their crops. Jamie, from Windy Hill Orchard near Young on the southwestern slopes of New South Wales, has watched weather patterns change since his family established the business 26 years ago. Rain, once spread out evenly over the seasons, now falls sporadically and unpredictably as feast or famine weather patterns play out on the land. According to Jamie, the seasons have moved and he reckons they are now as much as two months out. Shorter, milder winters do not allow apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums to set, the constant lack of rain dries their flesh and sustained highs of 47oC do not a stone fruit crop make! Yet weather is not the only threat.
‘What about open cast mining in your area?’ I ask him. Now a mere 60 km away from Windy Hill, mining activities threaten more than the natural landscape. ‘Those large holes in the earth’ Jamie informs me ‘create micro climates’ and micro-climates, as we know, disturb the larger patterns. It is a planetary given that ecosystems are interdependent. Groundwater consumption and contamination, air pollution and altered landscapes are but the tip of the melting iceberg. Just as we all do deep in our hearts, Jamie understands that the fossil fuels our country has in abundance are at the heart of climate change and, just as we all do, he feels powerless as an individual to bring back the balance. He is simply working too hard to make a living and hang onto his land.
I had an eerily similar conversation twelve years ago while sitting on baked earth in a remote village in India with a block printer who told me in no uncertain terms that the climate was changing. Ismail pointed to the overhead vault of sky and said ‘something is wrong up there and is making it wrong down here’. The river had already dried up, indigo crops failed and in recent years, encroaching industry, powered by plants fed on fossil fuels from Australia, continue to substantially lower the common water table.
No longer can we be guaranteed the usual. Yesterday, when I made a booking at Shaam e Sarhad Desert Camp in Kutch for my October tour, Paarth informed me that, after the late rains in September and October in the past two years, he could not guarantee the camp would be open. Rain in Kutch in October, November and even January? And today Sushma pushed that out to February when she told me via Skype that it rained again just three days ago. I have covered myself by double booking elsewhere just in case and wait and see.
Apart from making radical changes in our daily lives, banging on the walls of bureaucracy and signing AVAAZ petitions, wait and see is the name of the game in this small world we share. My atmosphere is your atmosphere, my sea is your sea and my life is yours. Treat them with care.
I have not yet mentioned the floods.