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We are but a part of nature.

Saturday the 22nd of July 2023.

My lemon tree is trying to tell me something: „look at me, I’m thirsty, my roots are no longer finding any water.“ My fig tree is showing a similar reaction. Its leaves are taking on an ever lighter colour before falling to the ground: for lack of water. Everything is drying up. The large umbrella pine is laying on a kind of red carpet. Yet it’s not showing the way to the Cannes film festival. Temperatures are rising and rising, and it’s throwing half of its needles at my feet. Too much weight, too little water, survival is hanging in the balance. We need to be slimming, trimming down. This is my summer experience in times of climate change, and it makes me remember my childhood and youth. Back in the day when 32 degrees Celsius was the top limit and we were given the rest of the school day off because of the heat. Today, we are living with 37 and 38 degrees touching the fever limit, not to mention the days when the thermometer breaks through the 40-degree barrier. I feel we’re moving on dangerously „thin ice“.

Together with many other cars I am standing in line at the red light. Every other car – alongside, behind and in front of me – is powered by motors running on diesel or petrol. The idea of attaching exhausts on the outside and at the back of cars is fatal. Why don’t they finish inside the driver’s cabin? They are heating up and polluting the atmosphere with exhaust fumes; during these days of boiling heat this is unspeakable. When there’s a forest fire, nobody would think of ringing the fire brigade only to hear that they can only make it in the year 2035. A car is parked outside an ice-cream parlour, motor running. The driver has gone to buy chocolate-chip ice cream for herself and her children.

There is enough to eat and drink still, though we are dancing on a knife’s edge, every day. If I didn’t have running water provided by the council I’d have to apologise to my lemon tree „Sorry, my friend. Your life is nearing its end.“ I’m living in a state of resilience. What happens if tomorrow the town council suddenly says that our water supply is nearly finished? The spring feeding my plot has dried up. In the Botanical Gardens we’ve already planted 212 robust small trees that are fed with water from a capped spring. The spring is still working because we are the owners of a forest above that spring that hasn’t burnt down yet. We only plant a new tree once we can ensure that we can keep it alive through the summer. Lime trees, oaks and walnut trees are creatures with roots that store water and are very frugal. Carob trees and casuarinas, almond trees and mulberry trees too are an integral part of this native botanical scene. Unfortunately, these days, frugality is no longer considered a virtue.

Why has the climate not been taken seriously up to now? Because the irony in all of this is that the more we are trying to dominate nature, the more unruly it has become. Were people back in the day also unable to understand the consequences of the way they treat the world? Or has ignorance increased since humans have been living mainly in cities? All civilizations have been conscious that our survival is in danger if nature is not respected. Over the past 30 years, humanity has burned 50 per cent of all available fossil fuels. It’s high time to stop burning diesel, petrol, gas and coal. It’s high time to start using renewable clean sources of energy.

We find ourselves at several dramatic crossroads, signalling that everything that was normal over the past 10,000 years may be history. The globe is as warm as it hasn’t been in 25,000 years, CO2 levels are higher than at any time over the past two million years. How have we moved from the Garden of Eden to a world that our ancestors would be unable to recognise? What I would wish for is a more dynamic attitude, more honesty and a higher level of efficiency in climate politics. Fewer excuses. At the point when the council turns off my tap I’ll have to drill a borehole into the soil like a petrol company hunting for crude. Or I myself will become a climate refugee. We all should become a lot more consistent in implementing climate goals and learn to understand that we are a part of the nature that is drying out as we speak. The CO2 that’s already in the atmosphere will remain there for a few hundred years. So, being a part of nature, what does this mean for every single one of us right now?

 

Uwe Heitkamp (62)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123. Translations: Dina Adão, John Elliot, Ruth Correia, Patrícia Lara, Kathleen Becker
Photos:Rafael Mariano

 

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