Blog Archives

Crazy Weather… just who’s the crazy one around here?

They say you never know yourself if you’re going crazy… perhaps it seems those around you are tho ones who are really crazy.

We call this weather crazy, but aren’t we really the crazy ones for not recognising it for what it is, and indeed really basically fucking batshit crazy for letting it happen without doing anything useful to stop or slow it, and in fact being the cause of it all…. and all the time knowing that it’s going to come back and not just bite us on the arse, but beat the shit out of us, till any sense we have left will be knocked out of us.

Flowers share the branch with not-yet-fallen leaves on a tree in November in a Pamplona park….

            The Reaping of Disdain 

Pink blossoms add extra beauty

To an autumnal almond tree:

Orange and auburn leaves left

Before falling with the frost

At least formally expected 

If it arrives as it did normally in

November. 

Sun and clear sky

Seem apt background to marvel

At young walnuts dotted on a

Bare-leaved tree, wondering if we

Will get a second harvest this year.

Like the oilmen grinning as the

Ice melts for their machines to

Begin drilling without awaiting 

Spring, 

  

We reap the short-term 

Gains until the true harvest of

Our disdain, ignorance, apathy

Ripens in silent screaming of 

Ecosystems stretched to snapping.

The walnuts. They were still growing last week, even after a snow squall in between…

Enjoy the Silence before the coming Squall

 

I wrote this a few weeks ago, when the weather was colder – now it looks like we’re far from having a white Christmas.

But we can still enjoy the simple things, even if it is only by ignoring the difficulties awaiting us in the new year and beyond.

The snow starting in the pines – if you zoom in you can see the haze is all flakes of snow. The camera never does justice to the scene, of course.

           Silence before the Squall

Snow falls past pine trunks 

Like solidified silence: almost

An extension of dawn’s tranquillity

Before squalls scream across canopy

Sending flakes flurrying down

To pale box and holly’s leaves.

As hours slowly pass, and white quietly

Deepens, the wind weakens and settles 

Like drifts. Then, as evening stretches,

A strip of cloud opens to allow sunlight

Illuminate the scene before twilight,

Suffusing with diffuse golden radiance

The shifting mists along the ridges, red

Shrouding windmills. Imbuing soft sunset

With orange fire across the ice instead

Of another storm sending us scarpering 

Inside to hide, it seems such gentle 

Splendour shows us the scenes 

Awaiting us after all our playing, and

For all our attempting to prepare 

For her vagaries, in the end, we will

Flit like flakes upon her wind, for

We are but Nature’s playthings.

The scene before sunset (lower down were less snow fell) – the sun was beginning to get down to that break in the clouds to light up that mist that hung all along the mountains to the left, while my kids were playing just out of shot and distracted me from taking a photo of the later colours.

Happy Christmas everyone!

For those looking for a quiet read, or a nice E-reader gift, check out my books….

Some of them are on sale with Smashwords from today!

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/djmobrien

Suddenly Spring

Suddenly Spring

 

How quickly it comes, now, this thing called spring:

Crocuses suddenly splatter bank in violet and blue

Blackbirds burst out with twilight tunes as

Bats trawl back and forth for rising flies proving

This apparent death of winter weather is true.

 

Considering I was sledding in a village near where this photo was taken yesterday on this very day last year, I only hope a blast of snow doesn’t kill the flowers unfolding, nor catch the bats too early out of hibernation.

 

 

 

Things you learn from reading books

It’s amazing what you can learn from books.

Sounds silly, that sentence…

I love when I’m deep in a book and something stops me halfway through a paragraph and makes me say “Holy shit!” out loud – I never knew that! Or, “Wow. Who knew?”

And sometimes it’ll send me off to investigate further.

There are some writers, editors etc., and I suppose readers, who don’t like this. They don’t anything that makes you interrupt the story, that keeps your nose in the leaves.

But for me, a really rich book is one that makes you pause every now and then and think about what you’re reading, ponder the meaning of what you’ve read, assimilate the knowledge this piece of writing has given you over and above an entertaining read.

This is why people read fiction. This is why science indicates that people who read fiction are more empathetic.

Here are three examples:

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I started reading Homo Deus, a recent non-fiction book, the sequel to Sapiens, which you might have heard of.

But before I go deep into it, I wanted to read a similarly titled novel – Men Like Gods, by HG Wells.

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An interesting book. We are clearly still in Wells’ Age of Confusion, with our population soaring way, way past what Wells worried was too many (2000m), and our world yet being pillaged by the rich.

But what really amazed me, in a book about a crossing dimensions into new universes (where the telecommunications department knows where every human is at all times but the knowledge can only be used for the good of the individual!) was the fact that the main character commented on the fact that there were thrushes singing in July – that he knew these birds stopped singing by June.

This is a character who writes for a liberal paper in the centre of London.

I’m a zoologist – sorry, I have a doctorate in zoology (there are picky fuckers out there in twitterlandia who like to point out that there’s a difference if I no longer gain employment from zoology except by teaching biology, who I hope die when they’re on a plane and a retired doctor tells them he’s no longer qualified to give them first aid while they suffer cardiac arrest, but I digress) – though not an ornithologist, but I had no idea.

He also commented on the fact that nightingales could be found in Pangbourne and Caversham, both in Reading just outside London were great places for nightingales (I wonder if there are any there now) which was amazing knowledge for an average Joe, too.

Why don’t we all know such things now? Where is our general knowledge of the life of other species around us gone? I was only familiar with the Blackbird and Robin – aside from the magpies and seagulls – back home in my hedgerow.

 

How much we have lost, even from such busy, hedonistic, polluted and poverty-stricken times as 1920’s London.

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Another book I recently read, and commented on in my facebook feed, is Point Counter Point, by the contemporaneous Aldous Huxley, who only predicted the future in this particular novel by talking about the fact that the world would run out of phosphorous, and other important raw materials and minerals due to unhinged addiction to progress, while politicians fucked around with petty, inconsequential nonsense that they hoped with get them elected over someone equally competent – or in competent, as the case usually is – while the problems that really affect us only snowball.

 

The third novel was Meridian, the second novel by Alice Walker, the author of The Colour Purple.

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At the end of the book, Walker describes the main character in the following paragraph:

“On those occasions such was her rage that that she actually felt as if the rich and racist of the world should stand in fear of her, because she – though apparently weak and penniless, a little crazy and without power – was as yet of a resolute and relatively fearless character, which, sufficient in its calm acceptance of its own purpose, could bring the mightiest country to its knees.

And I couldn’t help but think of Greta Thunberg – a beam of light in our own dark times, who seemingly powerless, is nonetheless, so resolute in her purpose that she has an immense effect upon countries.”

It is so often the person who seems weakest who can stand the strongest.

I only hope that in contrast to how people treated people like Meridian in the era of civil rights, that we will appreciate Greta for the positive influence she is on global justice and the survival of our society, and protect her from the evils we know some amongst us would wish her.

 

 

 

From further away

I wrote a blog post – a poem, really – about watching the planet from a distance. We sometimes think that what we have around us is of utmost importance, but it’s probably not, it’s just a jot in time.

Well, as I read the book, Against the Grain, and I see that civilisations fall almost as often as they spring up from the sweat of their subjects. I am feeling less attached to this one we are currently living in.

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Read this book. It basically says what you’ve probably been thinking. Farming wasn’t a great leap forward, it was forced upon us.

The history of our planet is basically people doing bad things to other people and species to keep themselves in the lap of luxury if at all possible.

The last century is an anomaly in giving any power (superficial though of course it is) to the common man (or woman, if she’s really lucky.)

If we see all the stuff written about past civilisations, all dug up from the ruins, often when those now living in those places have no idea about them, no memory, no stories, just some stones they might have found and used as foundations for their own houses, we see how fragile, how faint is the mark of these societies, really. They disappeared most of the time.

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These ruins were only found in 2016, but now it’s thought they’re from a civilisation that once controlled a region of India near Myanmar (see link above). Did anyone miss them? Not at all.

So what if we disappear too?

In the past, the people subjugated by these states didn’t all die – many or most escaped back to a former type of life, and were probably happier for it, definitely better off in terms of diet and health. So why lament the demise of the rulers?

I don’t.

I live in this world, of course. I am dependent upon it. If it were all to disappear tomorrow – as I said back on New Years Eve 1999, when we wondered if the Year 2000 bug would stop the world – then I’d be dead in a matter of months. I can’t just walk away from the status quo, go and grow beans and catch animals. I am attached to the technology for life, and though I teach my children about wildlife which might help them when the cities are destroyed, my daughter is equally diabetic and unless I learn how to distil insulin from dead deer and rabbits, we’ll be as dead as anyone else when the disaster hits.

But people will survive.

Some will walk away, south or north where the weather is better. Humanity will continue, just as it did after the collapse of other societies. Some people will remember how to live outside the shelter of our cities and society. Apart from the plastic everywhere, this small snapshot of history will become as forgotten as the rest.

Our descendants, if we have them, will build their cities on top of ours, like we have on others, so our buildings will be discovered accidentally some day like we find the remains of the Roman walls and medieval castles when we dig out subterranean car parks.

The beech trees will survive, shifting north and south, possibly all the way to Antarctica, where they once grew before during a time when the world had a similar atmospheric CO2level to today. Most of the other plants will probably struggle on, too, though much of the fauna will die out, to be replaced eventually in time by other species.

It’s a real fucking pity, a goddam waste, that we allow this to happen. It’s stupid, stupid, stupid, to quote some fuckwit from the annals of insurance fraud. The age of stupid, like the documentary.

We could keep the world looking the way we want it if we move our asses.

To allow it to change from how it suits us is like letting the house burn down because you’re too lazy to pick up a fire extinguisher.

I remember visiting Niagara Falls years ago, and being told that the quantity of water allowed to flow is much reduced not just to produce electricity, but to ensure that erosion doesn’t move the falls upstream – which would mean having to move the viewing platforms from where they are now. And that would be silly.

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this is from 1969, when the American side of the Falls were stopped flowing completely to purposefully fix faults to prevent erosion.

If that kind of sense was applied to our current problems, we would see a lot more action on the climate change front.

Our society might have a sea-change in our economic activities, but it will be unnoticeable on a grand scale, just like the difference between agriculture in England growing turnips in the 18thcentury is indistinguishable from growing grain in Egypt two thousand years ago.

But moving London, Alexandria, Miami and all those other seaside towns kilometres inland will be a major change that will be seen clearly in the archaeological record of our planet.

 

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the blue bits, as you might imagine, are those under sea level… hopefully we won’t get to this. But it’s reckoned that once we get to 4˚C, then it will go up to 6 or 9 by itself.

And because we won’t be around to explain it, they’ll be confused as fuck as to how stupid we were. Stupider than Easter Islanders.

  Don’t give Greta Thunberg a Nobel Prize

Last Friday, as hundreds of thousands of kids stayed away from school to protest the inaction of the world’s politicians on tackling the imminent crisis of global climate breakdown, there were headlines that Greta Thunberg, the girl who inspired all those students, and a heap of adults into the bargain, was nominated to receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

I believe, however, that the Nobel committee should not award her the prize.

Not now.

I am not saying she does not deserve a Nobel Prize

She does.

But she should not get it now.

And I think she’d agree. Because Greta Thunberg doesn’t want a Nobel Peace Prize.

I will say straight off that I’ve never spoken to Greta Thunberg. I have no inside knowledge of her thoughts, hopes dreams or opinions.

But I think that if she ever reads this she’ll agree, at least with most of what I’m about to say.

She doesn’t want the Nobel Prize.

She wants climate action.

She is not sitting in the cold and rain of Stockholm every Friday dreaming of an accolade.

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She didn’t decide to make her life harder and studies more difficult by staying out of school on Fridays but keeping up with her work by knuckling down on Saturdays instead because she thought it might get her some international fame and everyone would hail her as the salvation of, if not mankind, and the rest of the extant species on this planet, then at least our civilisation, as far as it’s worth saving.

She is doing all this to ensure she has a future.

That we all have a future.

A million dollars might be a nice thing to have to in your back pocket. It could help her go to Harvard or some other stupidly expensive college in countries where there is no free education – though I suspect very college on the planet will he happy to have Greta enrol, free of charge.

But even were she to keep it in her back pocket – and I’ve serious doubts about that – a million bucks is fuck all use in a world that has been shat upon by climate breakdown.

It’s hard to imagine what million dollars might buy to ensure survival in a world devastated by climate breakdown because we don’t know how that’s going to turn out. Perhaps she could buy farms in her native country and grow grapes, if anyone could afford wine, or perhaps melt water from Greenland will block the Gulf stream and Scandinavia will be as bad as Labrador is now for viniculture.

Nobody knows what’s in store.

We only know it would be different to how things are now.

But I digress.

Greta, and everyone following her example is hoping we have the same world we have now, complete with school exams, universities, functioning farms and forests to visit on the weekend.

None of this is certain, however, for the simple reason that our politicians are too busy sucking up to those so rich that they’ve already bought farmland in several northern countries, have already secured a clean water supply for their children and grandkids, and are ready to reap more money from our collective destruction that they’ve not done what they signed up to do – work for our collective good.

And until it is certain, this future we dream of nowadays where we get to live just like our parents did, living to retirement age, enjoying a few years of sitting in the garden, watching the flowers grow and the bees visit them, then Greta isn’t going to be satisfied with any accolade you could award her.

When she has done what she has sent out to do: ensured that her government and other governments do what they need to do, have promised to do – secure our collective survival – then I’m sure she will gladly accept the Prize.

Until then, it’s just a distraction, and, to be honest, it feels like a ploy, a bribe, a pat on the head and a “go along with you now and play, Greta, but well done for the effort, and sure we’ll look after things from here.”

 

Or am I wrong?

 

school strikes this Friday morning

 

 

You know when you have that day that you just don’t want to work?

Okay, who the hell ever wants to work, right?

But really, when you just can’t motivate yourself to tackle the pile of stuff you have waiting to be attended to. Even though you’re sitting right there in the office, staring at it, with no other option than to sit there staring at it for the next few hours.

 

I’ve been feeling like that the last few days.

I can’t concentrate. Work (English and science classes, and the piles of paperwork that go with being a teacher in Spain) is just a sword of Damocles hanging over my head that I am wilfully ignoring.

Oh, I got to classes, talk to the kids, but I turn up and ask them what we were doing in the last class, or I rely on my colleagues to tell me what we are doing in our shared conversation classes, and get some kid to do the photocopies while I fill time.

Though the filling time I do is not just filling time.

I have been talking to my students about the Global Student Climate Strikes that are planned for tomorrow. I ask them if they’ve heard about #FridaysforFuture, about Greta Thunberg, about the student protests that have been happening across Europe in the last few months.

Most of them hadn’t heard of it.

I try to get them interested in it, get them to understand the stakes, the reasons they should join in.

Because I really think they should.

Because I can’t.

And that last sentence is a kind of lie.

But for years I’ve been following the climate change problem grow, like so many others, with a sense of foreboding, of frustration and helplessness/hopelessness that threatens to overwhelm.

And at the back of my mind here has been for a long time the suggestion that I should do something about it. Me. Get out and shout and scream and smash some faces in.

I was going to say smash windows, but I know that would be stupid. That kind of protest has the wrong effect. And I am not a smashing windows kind of guy.

But there are some faces that deserve to be punched.

We know who they are.

Those people who deserve to have their lives impacted by our anger, because our lives and the future of our children’s lives are impacted by their greed, their avarice, or their incompetence.

We all know that our world is being fucked over by a tiny number of individuals who could be overthrown if only we could find the collective gumption to do so.

I’m not a face-smashing kind of guy either.

I don’t know if it’s that I don’t like hurting people, even if they deserve it, or I’m worried that I’ll get my own face smashed back in return. But something prevents me from taking the extreme action that increasingly seems necessary to get any movement on this issue.

 

I’ve spent years teaching students about climate change, from back when it was called global warming. It’s just one of the things a biology teacher explains.

When I teach volcanoes there aren’t many examples to use. Mount Saint Helens, Hawaii. We still talk about Krakatoa.

Not with climate change.

Every time it comes up in the curriculum I have a new example to use to drive it home to students. Heat wave after hurricane, forest fires after floods after ice sheet breaking off….

Every year, I have to tell my students that nothing is getting done. That we aren’t doing what we did with the Ozone Hole and CFCs.

And I still tell them that.

But now, at least I can tell them to do something. That what I can’t do because of my stupid fears and worries about what people will think if I do stand outside a parliament and hold a sign, or stand up in a parliament and shout at the stupid politicians for their having their noses up the arse of multinationals and vulture funds and fears of being arrested and having my bosses decide I’m not trustworthy enough to be in charge of minors, is right now being done by a young girl in Sweden, who doesn’t give a monkeys what the politicians, or hardly anyone else for that matter, might think about her, and the thousands of other children following her example across Europe.

Standing up and shouting bullshit. Like other kids in other countries for other reasons before them.

And I got some kids to listen. I got one to petition the school to get permission to strike tomorrow. I helped him a little – but just a little, because I can’t pretend this is my fight: I already failed to fight, to put my fists up, to roll up my sleeves, dammit – and he got the school behind him.

But the principal says he, nor any student, can have permission to strike because the strike is nothing to do with Education. Apparently in Spain you can strike if the government wants to change the law to take your PE class away, but not if the government wants to piss away your entire future.

I hope some of our kids do strike.

I hope the teachers and the administration of the school see the news tomorrow.

I hope to hell the news shows the strikes – the media aren’t too much into this, apart from doing their bit to get some face time with Greta.

And I hope next Friday more just walk out.

Because they don’t need permission from anyone to fight for their future.

They deserve our support.

But they’re not looking for it.

We already failed them.

We can now only make amends.

The End of the World is Nigh

The End of the World is Nigh

 

When the end of the world is nigh

They will tell us nothing, but let us

Go on, for what is the point of panic?

 

Hence we hear only a faintest whisper,

From those who have little time left

And no fear of living the chaos

 

Impending, no impact by outside rock;

But we have passed the point of no return:

Internal combustion causing climate

Change equal to our own destruction,

Plastic pollution disintegrating

Micro-particles integrating until

Clogging molecular mechanisms

As much as albatross digestive tracts,

With equal effect on our own baby.

 

Making the same silence met when

They found out and failed to raise

A finger, much less act, resound now,

For what worth screaming as we fall?

 

 

 

I know it’s been pretty depressing reading that.

But think about it.

The most recent IPCC report basically says we’re fucked if we don’t move like yesterday.

It is clear that action is the only option. It’s so much cheaper to stop the train than pick up the pieces after it crashes, unless you’re selling sandwiches on board…

The Vineyards of Spain are already seeing that climate change threatens the future of their brands.

Yet ecologists are still bickering about how to convince governments to do something – some think we need to show how much money the natural world gives to us for free or they won’t listen. Which is depressing – It won’t matter much if the environment breaks down. They’ll be convinced of it’s worth when it’s gone, like so many songs say.

Of course, we can have robot bees… (fuckwit idea right there just shows what we’re up against.)

Since the 70s, we’ve been warned, worried and have yet to act to do anything about Global Climate change.

Well, I say yet to act in any meaningful necessary way. I certainly try to use less energy than I could. I do all the right things in terms of waste and buying less, – I’ve even taken fewer flights and cut down on meat. But the big boys, they’ve done fuck all. The ones who could make a difference. The decision makers, as W used to call himself.

I remember the line in The War of the Worlds, where the parson’s wife says, “No, Nathanial no. There must be more to life. There has to be a way that we can restore to life, the love that we have known. And if one man can stand tall, there must be some hope for us all, somewhere in the spirit of man…”

Is there hope?

The world is being fucked by the 0.0001 % of the population. 700 out of more than 7000.0000,000 have the vast majority of the wealth. More money than they can ever use, even in their extravagance. And yet they don’t use it for good. A few do a couple of nice things, but really, what do they do except hide their money from us and the slim taxes they might have to pay?

As a meme asked the other day. “What happened when we all found out they were scamming us in the panama papers?

Nothing.

A much higher percentage of their money is spent paying lobbyists than on philanthropy. And if one of them decided to spend money getting the governments to go the other way (yes, I am assuming that they’re corrupt and influenced by these lobbyists. Let’s be real here.) perhaps it would save us.

Yet, even the good ones piss around playing with rockets.

Are they afraid to go directly up against the rich ones around them? Is there some code, some club or what?

Just countering the oil and coal men might do a great deal. Of course, perhaps that’s just a waste of money – the oilmen would counter with more of their own money.

So is there a solution?

I don’t know.

Part of me is convinced there isn’t. The time to act was back in the 70s and 80, or even the 90s, when there was something approaching a global vision of our planet. Now, we seem to be going backwards, to nationalism, xenophobia, intolerance and zero-sum game one-upmanship, even as the climate crisis forces millions to migrate – just a fraction of the number who will be dispossessed in a few decades if we don’t stop the train.

If there is a solution to the emergency, to me it is beginning to look a lot like revolution. It’s hard to boycott hedge funds and Wal-Mart. They have their fingers in so many holes.

 

I remember once when I was a kid, watching an interview with John Lennon, talking about his song and revolution.

He said we’d need the institutions that are usually broken in revolutions. People break infrastructure and burn down post offices and all that. Which were useful things people would need after the revolution, so it was stupid to destroy them.

And yet, the premise is becoming less and less robust as we progress. If we were to destroy the whole of New York City, wipe out the stock exchanges, the banks and government buildings of the major cities of the planet, it would still be better than allowing business as usual, given the scale of the damage these intuitions are doing to us.

It’s gotten that bad.

Which is why I’m writing this.

Of course, they won’t tell us that.

They don’t want us to panic.

God knows what we’d do if we were to panic…

We’d certainly clog up the roads and perhaps over run their golf courses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planting for the next Century

 

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Where Should I Plant this Sapling?

 

They say a man plants

A tree, not for himself, but

For his descendants. Well,

I agree, and have seen

The benefits of a mulberry

Planted by a man I never met,

More than a century past.

 

As the sentinel starts to sag

I’ve saved a sapling from

Between its roots and would

Take the next step for my

Generation before it falls.

 

But where would it prosper?

I fear the weather

Will not favour the same spot

As its forefather for much longer

Than half its lifetime,

And ere it gives fullest fruits

Will stand in different clime.

 

So, where should I plant this sapling

In a changing world?

 

Where its roots can anchor the eroding soil

As farmers harvest down to the last?

 

On a slope so the children of this village

Can reach the lower limbs

To stain fingers and lips on

Summer afternoons, should

Any remain after rains have

Deserted the landscape?

 

In a ditch to take some advantage

Of rich dampness as the rest

Of fields blister in the sun?

 

Or on a high knoll to stay dry

While surrounding ground soaks

Under incessant thunderstorms,

Turning this aridness instead wet?

 

It seems a bet to hedge;

I should plant a score

From hill to shore.

Climate Breakdown: explaining it is easy when the examples abound

I’m teaching Climate Change in my first-year classes at the moment.

No matter what the topic, I always like to use examples to make things clearer to the kids – references to things in their own lives. I often refer to TV programs, movies, songs.

However, some of my references are dated – movies made before they were born, which, while classics, haven’t always been seen. In my English SL class last week, when describing the meaning of “a the height of one’s career,” I used a TV presenter, who first shot to prominence on the Spanish equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The show was called 50 for 15, referring to 50Million Pesetas – a currency that disappeared when the kids were toddlers.

But teaching Climate Change, I was struck by the fact that I don’t have to reach back very far to come up with an example of what I mean when I talk about the changes that are happening/ could happen in the future.

For example, California – it was burning a few weeks ago; latest news out of there is a terrible mudslide. Opposite types of natural disasters in a short timeframe.

 

Even here in this very city, though, the oscillations are becoming ever more obvious. And rapid.

I described how Spain was experiencing a drought late last year. Reservoirs were down to 10 or 20%. On the 3rd of January, I was in a jeans and a sweater, enjoying the sunshine. I was sent a video of a snake the same week.

This poor frog was squashed by a car just outside the village that night – what the hell was a frog doing out on Jan 3?

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On the 5th, it started raining, then snowing.

I posted this photo on my facebook page, joking how I’d always wanted a garden with a little river flowing through it.

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It was gushing out of the gully under the rocks you can see behind the fence in this photo.

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And some of it was filling the groundwater so much that I’d springs popping up in the grass.

This looks like a cowpat, but it’s actually mud pushed out of the ground by the water flow.

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Pamplona was covered in snow.

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The aqueduct of Noain outside Pamplona.

The reservoirs refilled past 50% in a few days.

And now it’s mild again.

So the kids get it. They understand Climate Breakdown. They can hardly not when it is staring us in the face like the barrel of a shotgun.

Question is, what can they do about it?

Because the previous generation who knew about it haven’t been able to do very much, yet.