That was the word used by the BBC weather forecaster on a prime time news and weather broadcast about our 'spring' day yesterday. Torrential rain, bone-aching temperatures, and death to any small tomato plant that doesn't have a really sturdy stem. Which means I lost about five. I have enough left, if it will only dry out, but still, it's depressing, and more rain is forecast for the weekend. We have had six—count 'em—six cold, wet summers in a row. This morning we received the happy news that the jet stream is 2000 miles south of where it should be at this time of year.
Last summer even the professional gardeners on TV were happy to harvest courgettes that were only five inches long. Everything I harvested—squashes, tomatoes, beans—tasted watery. The tomatoes got blight so almost no-one had any in their gardens; I managed a few because a) I sprayed with a copper solution designed for veggies and b) I picked them green and brought them inside. I've put all the tomatoes in pots this year, because it takes a year for the blight to get out of the ground.
Amid the gloomy weather, which is all too uncomfortably reminiscent of the violent change in Juneau's weather that began about fifteen years ago, comes the catastrophic—yet somehow grimly appropriate—news that CO2 levels have now reached the 400 ppm mark. Those levels haven't occurred for 4.5 million years, and happened in a world geographically very, very different to ours—not to mention that there weren't any humans.
Someone has just woken up to the fact that the Thames Barrier will need heightening if London is not to be flooded . . . where have these people been all these years? And do they really think that they can get through the political process to raise it before the floods come? Don't they realise that with this much CO2 in the atmosphere that they can't build a barrier high enough to keep London from flooding? Not to mention New York City and dozens of other megalopolises. Haven't they been reading about whole villages in other countries that have had to be moved, or islands evacuated, because of rising seas? [www.guardian.co.uk/environment/interactive/2013/may/15/newtok-safer-ground-villagers-nervous] About vanishing Arctic sea-ice? About India of all countries, gaining observer status at the circumpolar council?
And here I worry about a few tomato plants. But I did grow them from seed, so they were lives I felt responsible for; and their loss is perhaps a harbinger that not too many years hence we won't be able to grow tomatoes outside at all [Harbinger is one of the varieties I lost]. French viticulturists are looking to the UK to grow wine grapes because some of France's premier wine terroirs will soon be too hot to grow premium varieties. But no grape can survive the soggy, frigid, gale-battered summers we have had recently. Last year's harvest was a write-off for many UK vineyards.
This is only the beginning, and the effects are beginning to cascade. If we think the weather has been weird in the last few years—snow today in parts of the UK, a midwest-style tornado in northern Italy a few days ago—just wait until the chaos really takes hold.
It is already too late to avoid some of the devastating consequences of famine and displacement. What is it going to require to wake people up?