hen an unprecedented heat wave swept across the country in early spring, the cathedral city where I live in south-west France made international headlines. The town of Albi recorded temperatures of 33C – which is 17C warmer than the typical monthly average.
It was to get even worse in June.
The department or administrative region where I live has been put on alert for extreme heat.
As the mercury climbed above 40C, local government intelligence services, whose communications are normally delivered in a tone of equal patronage, took on a tone of shrill disquiet.
For the first time ever, the local mairie – mayor – ordered the closure of public schools. Students should stay home and try to keep their cool. Sporting events have been cancelled.
I’ve spent most of the last decade spending at least part of the spring and summer in this part of France.
And in that time, the change in temperature was unmistakable. Year after year, the extremely hot weather comes earlier and harder.
But this year it is clear that a new threshold has been crossed.
The effects of climate change are already a very obvious reality.
The changes are already threatening the very foundations of French life.
The Tarn region, where I live, is known for its fertile soil and agricultural wealth; the foundations of a ‘terroir’ that locals are rightly proud of.
But this year, the unusually dry and hot spring has spelled disaster for many specialized producers. Local growers of Lautrec’s famous pink garlic – a crop iconic to the region – have reported a disastrous harvest.
Growers of strawberries that ripened too quickly in the early heat watched in dismay as their fruit rotted on the plants.
Forest fires are raging across the country in Portugal.
In Italy, a glacier collapsed in the Dolomites, killing 11 people.
Here in the Tarn there are other noticeable changes that have health consequences. In recent years, we’ve seen an explosion in the numbers of the Asian tiger mosquito, an invasive species that carries diseases like denge, zika, and chikungunya.
It is also believed that the steady increase in the incidence of Lyme disease in France is related to climate change, due to changes in the distribution of Lyme-carrying ticks.
And then there’s the problem of surviving the grueling heat.
August is the most brutal month. I wasn’t prepared for midsummer in southern France.
I had a childish rosy anticipation based mostly on mental images ripped from past summer vacations; ice-cold drinks and filtered golden sunlight, wild water running over suntanned toes.
The reality came as quite a shock. Most houses in this part of Europe do not have air conditioning.
I quickly learned the local practice of tempering Heat by treating it as an outside intruder.
The cool indoor air is a valuable asset that needs to be protected and preserved. From about 10am all the shutters and even all the windows are tightly closed to protect against the sunlight so cruel it feels like a siege.
Daylight hours pass in dusky languor. In the semi-darkness of the house we measure her passing in a state of heat-numbed, homeostatic disorientation. We move as little as possible and wait for the dawn when it feels safe to breathe again.
Then we open the windows and doors to let in the cooler night air, hoping to catch enough air to get us through the next day.
As Ireland braces for record-breaking temperatures, the extreme heat plaguing continental Europe is reaching its peak.
Or we venture out into the city, where the children, freed from crippling captivity, play in the public fountains until midnight.
We will definitely get air conditioning next year.
Air conditioning has become a booming business in these parts. Local fitters are fully booked for most of the year. Meanwhile, those who aren’t equipped are finding other ways to stay cool. In recent years, affordable above ground pools in small suburban gardens have become widespread.
As Ireland braces for record-breaking temperatures of up to 30C tomorrow, the extreme heat currently plaguing continental Europe is also reaching its peak.
Warm air from North Africa and the Sahara will push temperatures up to 40 to 45 degrees.
After that it goes down a bit. Hopefully every morning I scan the weather forecast app on my phone for promises of rain.
For the time being, it only guarantees persistently high temperatures and dangerously polluted air.
Adapting to extreme heat will be the main occupation of the near future. We now know with certainty that temperatures will continue to rise. Thirty degrees Celsius and more will probably become common in Ireland.
“Due to climate change, we expect heat waves to be longer, more frequent and more intense than in the past,” Keith Lambkin, Met Éireann’s climatologist, said recently. “This increase in heat increases the likelihood of temperature records being broken.”
Here in France it feels like we’re reaching the limits of what is bearable.
Ireland, which was previously spared the worst effects of warming, is on the same path.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/every-day-i-pray-for-the-relief-the-rain-will-bring-from-the-punishing-sun-as-the-thermometer-climbs-above-40c-41845344.html Every day I pray for the relief the rain will bring from the punishing sun as the thermometer rises above 40C