How does an 81-year-old with no faith in an afterlife keep his sense of humour?
This winter has fulfilled the dire promises of the climate-change modellers. Hurricane gusts, 20-metre waves, surging tides: it’s all happening
Looking in vain: lesser celandine needs the sun. Illustration: Michael Viney
In the month of my 81st birthday (please don’t bother, but thanks anyway) it rather seems that the future has arrived without waiting till I’ve gone. How much longer can my polytunnel go on bucking on its arches like a frightened horse without taking to the sky or tearing itself into shreds – this my plastic palace, seat of music and meditation, my place of trust in tomorrow and the springing of green leaves?
How long before the 20-year-old greenhouse (built with concrete pillars, half-sunk into the ground, buttressed against the house and given a sheltering hedge of its own) finally succumbs in a squall of shattering glass? What do we do with all the bits? But that is to anticipate.
Unlike the unfortunate people on the western and southern estuaries, we are lucky to live high on a hillside and can watch with simple awe as the tide sweeps into the freshwater fen behind the dunes. In appropriate lulls, well anoraked, I go for my daily march. The boreen is lined with flailing briars, never so blackly and thornily stripped of leaves. I look in vain among the mosses and ferns for the first bright glint of lesser celandine, but it needs the sun, the sun! And don’t tell me about all your early daffodils: a hungry badger has found my best bulbs and ploughed them up to eat.
Thus my February blues, unleavened, as I write, by any “pet” day of gilded calm. Quite often, given the usual lead time of this column, just discussing the weather is enough to change it by the day my words appear: I sometimes feel I should apologise. But we are now talking about climate, not weather, and this winter has fulfilled – even, indeed, excelled – the dire promises of the modellers. Hurricane gusts, 20-metre waves, surging tides: it’s all happening.
In response from the human world, of course, nothing commensurate is happening. It probably never will until, cataclysm piling on disaster, governments are besieged by a panicked populace – all, by that time, too late and to no purpose.
Most people now, even in the biblically deluded, anti-science strata of the US, accept that climate is changing. But far too many still hold, irrationally, that we had nothing to do with it. In the meantime a warming of two degrees, once felt to be the tolerable limit, has slipped forward half a century. Now the heat is being turned up; four degrees by the end of the century is the outcome advanced in the latest report to the World Bank.