Ever hotter, ever drier, with empty reservoirs and no sign of respite. ‘Stay calm,’ says John, our serene farm manager – but I feel myself becoming increasingly unhinged in the heat. It feels personal. Tantalising but ever-receding suggestions of thunder are torture as we watch stressed lettuces run to seed for lack of water and normally robust cabbages retreat into themselves, attempting to hang on to what they have. Those who have seen Gérard Depardieu as the tax inspector turned farmer in Jean de Florette will have the picture: he loses his mind while his farm collapses around him for lack of water. Gérard’s drought turns out to be caused by nothing more than a covered spring, maliciously blocked by his covetous neighbours. I am not sure our problem is so simple.
The sun, normally welcome, becomes a cruel and unforgiving enemy when water is short. Is the driest and hottest summer since 1976 mere weather, or anthropogenic climate change? Our primitive ancestors might question whether they had buried enough corn dollies or worshipped the right deity. If all else failed, they might sacrifice a goat. Of course, we know better; we are so clever and enlightened that we burnt millions of years’ worth of fossil fuels in one generation, dashing for growth. Is this an early manifestation of the predicted resulting climate change? Perhaps it is too soon to say with authority – but by the time we have that authority, it will be too late; the melting regions of permafrost will be emitting methane in a positive feedback loop with consequences the most accomplished climate scientists can only guess at.
So, is this how it starts? Is this how it will be when our self-regulating natural planet, that has looked after us and tolerated (even compensated for) our abuses, can no longer take the punches? As the crops wilt and the ground cracks, I must remind myself that no one here will die; this is a matter of convenience and bank balances. But it is also a window into the world where food security and seasonal rains are already matters of life and death for subsistence farmers. There will be no spring to unearth; corn dollies will not help. For those farmers and for ourselves, we must learn to share more and live with less. It is our appetite for cheap and convenient energy, not goats, that we must sacrifice.