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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?


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.


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


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.


Pamplona was covered in snow.


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.


The Drought Breaks


The Rains Return


The sky weeps;

Bent low,

Hills soak to refill rills.

Upon the porch, we sit still.


The rain – snow in the high ground – has finally returned to much of Spain, bringing some relief to the drought we’ve been experiencing this year.

The spring that supplies our village in the Valdorba is still flowing at a trickle, though. It will take much more rain to raise the water table and refill the reservoirs.


the spring last week above, the same spring in September below…








But everyone has been happy to see the rain, despite the need for umbrellas instead of sunglasses.

This is a photo of one of the beaches in San Sebastian, aka Donostia, taken when I was there last week.


I sat on the beach and wrote this poem.


Donostia, December 2017


On the breakwater, as tide rises,

Shielding eyes to see gleaming mountain

Snowmelt trickle by.



We shouldn’t be able to see the mountain from the beach at this time of year, for the blanket of cloud that normally shrouds the city.

But what is normal anymore?


Anyway, I wrote a few poems that afternoon. It reminded me of another poem I wrote a few weeks ago, which describes a little of why I’ve written so little recently, and posted less.

But maybe we’ll get back to normal sometime soon…


Words Come Forth


They say our words won’t be kept down;

They bubble up, under pressure, like lava

Pushing through a fissure,

Bursting forth if they can’t flow.


But instead, they are drawn

Under empty sky,

Sucked out by silence,

Pulled forth by the vacuum

Of open space,

Giving them a place to emerge

Timidly into tranquilly

Like deer from the thicket at twilight.



This is what drought looks like

This is what drought looks like.20171118_122735

Spain is currently going through a water crisis, with reservoirs drying up all over the country. It’s been on the news a lot this autumn.

Sometimes you see stuff on the news and you just go back to your business and you try not to think too much about it. Like you do with wars and the other stuff that our politicians mess up – the Dakota oil spill being a prime example.

But if you look around you can see local examples of things going very wrong.

Last weekend we went to Ezcaray, a small town in La Rioja that lives off tourism – especially skiing in winter. The skiing hasn’t opened yet. It might not open for very much this year, nor for very long in the future.

There is a little snow on the hills, but with the warm weather that we are still having in November, it is probably melting. Not that you can notice it downhill.


This is the river. It’s more like a dry canyon from somewhere down in the south, like Almeria, than a mountain river in the north.


When you search Ezcaray in google maps, this is the photo that pops up.

It’s kind of different to the one up the top of this page. Or the following one.



We were told that this is usually a waterfall. It has a fish ladder, which you can see under the cage on the left, for all the use that can be made of it this year. There are no fish in evidence in that pool, the only drop of water visible in a hundred metres. Directly upstream it’s completely dry. Just a few drops seep through the rocks. A few hundred metres upstream we saw a few small rivulets coming through the stones. But there can be little life there – not even mayfly or caddis fly – to sustain a river ecosystem.


The local council wants to put a dam upstream, we heard. The locals are fighting to save their river. A sign hung in a village said, “Water is life, save the river Oca.” I wonder if keeping the construction at bay will be enough to save it.


Saving Salamanders etc.

Among the things I’ve done this summer, is take part in the village festivals. It’s a very small village, but very village has its festival, even if it’s just a dinner for the one family left there. During ours, one of my jobs is to help with the kids game where they’ve to break a flowerpot with a bat, to get at some sweets inside.



It’s called a botijo. It’s like a piñata, but more heavy duty – hence the bike helmet. The older kids are blindfolded to make it interesting. And to spice things up, in one of the pots, instead of candy, lies a creature of some kind – usually a frog or a toad.

It’s been my job to catch said amphibian for the last few years.

This year, instead of a frog, we’d many. And salamanders and newts into the bargain. About twenty or so animals all told (very small, on the whole – there was plenty of room in the flowerpot!).

I’ve no photo of that pot or its contents, because I’m too busy running the event to take photos, and the one above was sent to me since it’s my own daughter knocking the pot to pieces. However, when the pot was cracked open, there was pandemonium.

As you’d expect.

But not for the reason you’d expect.

There were kids everywhere, trying to catch the fleeing animals. And catch them they did, much more eagerly than they’d gathered the sweets that had been scattered for them earlier (in the pot piñata, they know that the sweets are for the kids who breaks the pot, so they hold back).

Once they’d caught them, some of the older kids wanted to keep them. We didn’t allow them, of course, but it shows how starved these kids are for such experiences, and how enthusiastic they are to have them. Another example of the urge to rewild ourselves that George Monbiot describes.

And yet, some of the adults (parents of these delighted kids handling the amphibians) were critical of me and my fellow amphibian catchers for capturing the creatures

It is good that they were concerned for the animals, but at the same times it’s easy to criticise from a position of ignorance. These were mostly people who would scream if they touched one, and who wouldn’t know where to go to see one if it hadn’t landed on the lawn in front of them.

I find that those who can catch such animals are usually the same people who love them, and would not harm them.

The simple reason we’d so many amphibians this year was because we’ve not had rain for over a month and there were scores trapped in a disused swimming pool that had dried up. Only a layer of pine needles in the bottom provided any moisture to keep alive those that were still alive – most of the big frogs and toads had died. Only a week before forty salamanders were rescued from their certain death, and a couple of fat snakes which had had easy pickings. We had collected the remaining animals we could find.

So, while we’d some fun giving the kids a new experience with the animals, we’d not gone and collected scores of salamanders from their pools, but saved them from certain (and unknown, unremarked) deaths, and as soon as they’d been collected, set them free in a 2-metre-deep pool fed from the village spring and never let dry up – and filled to the brim so any which wanted to leave could seek pastures new.

Which was what I saw happening later, when, ironically, I went to that pool to capture a frog again – a much more difficult exercise, I can tell you!

The salamanders, and some frogs, were on their way out of the already busy pond, no doubt to find less congested environs where competition for insects is less.

I’d been asked to get a frog by a Montessori teacher trainer, who’d a course two days later on how to teach the five classes of vertebrates to kids. She’d never used a frog for the course, despite the fact that the course material uses a frog as an example, and had always had to rely on a fish provided by a colleague who’d a pet goldfish in a tank at home.

She’d never know known how to go about getting a frog before….

I showed her. It required patience. And man, was it hot in the sun that afternoon.

But these are the things animal lovers do to spread the word about the creatures we care about.