Horizontal rain driven by vicious west winds were quite normal in the town where I grew up.
Probably the only thing that stopped it being the wettest place in England was that the hills of the Lake District, across the bay to the west, managed to squeeze most of the water out of the clouds before they hit our promenade.
So it’s a bit of a change to be living in one of the driest parts of the country. Nicer, on the whole, especially in the winter.
But here in Canterbury, of course, we’re currently contending with a fairly extensive drought along with more extremes of weather which are attributed to climate change. My lawn, like most others, is suffering badly and my wife is finding out the hard way which plants can survive in the bone dry soil and which can’t.
All this is by way of thinking about how much our expectations of weather are conditioned by our own experience. Would I notice, and comment on, this year’s lack of rain quite so much if the Kentish climate was all I’d ever known?
That idea of personal perspective is important. Perhaps people who don’t accept the idea of climate change can accept that the weather’s a bit drier or colder or hotter this year, but don’t see those events in a context which is either global or longer term.
I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of this if I hadn’t just been reminded of a book I read some time ago.
Collapse by American anthropologist Jared Diamond is subtitled “why societies choose to fail or survive”. The book’s central idea is that over a relatively short time – perhaps just two or three generations – human populations come to accept the weather conditions and way their society works as the long term norm, even when there is no evidence to support that idea.
If they persist with that belief and the associated behaviour even when climate conditions revert to much longer term norms which are hostile, or persist with damaging behaviours, then their societies collapse.
Populations which recognise the change in their environment and climate and adapt to those changes have a much better chance of survival.
Diamond provides multiple examples, which I won’t summarise here – it’s better you go and read this fascinating book for yourself.
What reminded me of the book was a stunning series of aerial photos in the Guardian this week. They are of Australian cattle farms which are suffering from extreme long term drought – or what is arguably a reversion to the normal low rainfall after a century or so when it has been unusually wet.
Now it may be a long way from New South Wales to Kent, but the question of what constitutes normal rainfall is the same wherever you are.
There is strong evidence that the UK suffered a long period of very cold weather over a period of centuries until the mid-19th century. It seems that our world is warming up and, in many places, getting drier.
You don’t have to agree that human activity has caused that climate change to recognise that we need to adapt to it if we are to survive, especially given continuing global population growth.
Even though I think the evidence is clear that we have contributed massively to the causes of climate change, that isn’t my point here.
What is needed are concerted efforts to adapt what we do and how we do it both to minimise anything which might make it worse, and to protect ourselves from the impacts.
That’s why the initiatives to reduce plastic waste, curb car and truck journeys, improve water supply and reduce use, insulate homes better and so on are important. It’s not just about the tiny effect that each of us has individually.
The perspective we need is of 7 billion other people all doing what we do and aspiring to the quality of life we have. That collective effect is huge, yet it’s a perspective that we all find difficult to grasp simply because of its scale.
If we don’t all get our heads around this and don’t change what we do, then there will be worse results than just having a brown lawn and a disgruntled wife.