Monday, 30 July 2007

A Few More Water Thoughts ... And Some History

By Martin Spray

Whether down in the water or up on the hill, we’ll all have to pay for whatever comes after the floods. I hope it will be assumed that this summer is not a one-off event and that we act accordingly. Some actions are relatively simple. Water butts built in as a matter of routine is a good example – and not just to collect water for the garden. Thought needs to be given to grey-water storage as well. There are plenty of ideas around at this small scale – some, for instance, came under the heading of permaculture. Not that all could easily be translated into a city context. And this still leaves the big question: what to do about global warming, whatever might be the cause?

Yes, water is quite heavy ... but surprisingly cheap. I can’t remember how much I pay for water. We have a piped supply in, but soakaways, storage tanks and a septic tank, and so a small bill. It would still be small if I constructed a waterfall in the garden and ran tapwater over it all day and every day of the year. As a society, we have a very basic and huge problem here: the change we need to make to our attitudes to, and the way we value, such ‘resources’ as water is a revolutionary one. Conservationists are as reluctant as anyone to face that. Mea culpa. And mea culpa is what most worries me and leads to thoughts about catastrophe theory.

I suppose age is making me a bit impatient. I want new forests, with big herbivores and a few top carnivores, and I want them now. I can see that there are lots of positive things happening out there (including the start of new forests) but, in conformity with human nature, we really aren’t yet facing the big issues. Of course things take time ... but I am persistently and increasingly aware of saying, and of hearing, the same things as thirty, forty years ago. It’s as if (as they say) only the names have been changed.

And finally ...

I am not sure that one can take heart from them, but here are a few fairly random historical comparisons with the recent weather in Britain. They are dippings into J.M. Stratton’s Agricultural Records A.D. 220 – 1977.

Between June 29th and August 15th rain fell on 47 days, and every day but one in July was wet. Only once in the summer did the temperature rise to 76F.

Almost continuous rain fell from the beginning of April to early July. “All low meadows in the kingdom floated ... The damage done almost incredible. In three days five inches of rain fell”.

An excessively wet summer, with almost continuous rain from mid-summer to Christmas. Serious floods followed, and much of the harvest was not gathered. The Black Death caused very heavy mortality.

On June 24th a tremendous storm caused flooding and much damage to cornfields in the west of England ... Owing to almost continuous rains, the harvest was very late, some of it not being gathered until November 1st. Many people in England died of famine this year.

A year of storm and rain, with much consequent disease. This began a series of famine years which lasted until 1066.


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