Climate change is now unstoppable. Humans face extinction. The evidence of failing to manage our consumption of energy is all around us. Even in the cool hills of the Haute Alpes around Moustiere in Provence, France, too little is being done.
The heat from the pavement in Provence was warmer than the 18C of the underfloor heating in an eco-house in Yorkshire in winter. It has been like it for weeks now in these parts of the low Alps. This year, under 50% of normal rainfall has been recorded. In July, Alexia, our delightful Provence hotel owner confirmed it was merely 400mm, rather than the 850 mm rainfall in most years. She shared this crucial news with a sense of inability of being able to do anything about it.
Even in her cool garden of trees and climbers, it is still over 35C in the shade. The ground is bone dry and hot, dehydrated and parched. There is dust everywhere, covering a withered, brown landscape broken only by the pines and range of oak trees covering the limestone gorges of Verdun, the woodlands and fields. The oak trees, fading in colour as they retrieve their green chlorophyll to their root circulation systems for safe keeping and wetter times.
Oats, other cereals and lavender were all harvested some three weeks early, leaving dried stalks, leaves and grasses, seeds, and cones all prone to ignite from a stray single spark from a cigarette, bonfire or barbecue.
The rivers are the source of the water for life for everything, yet here have dried up except for one part of the Gorge du Verdon where a trickle oozes into the huge Sainte Croix Lac of this UNESCO geopark.
Out in the midday sun
A canyon, fields and woods and wildlife without water should give us pause for thought. But ‘homo sapiens’ seem to believe humans can thrive in this heat. In Provence, it’s 37–39C at noon and many people of all ages can be found cycling the long tortuous hilly routes around this incredible limestone canyon. Just one nine-year-old sits at the roadside, distressed and exhausted by her five-kilometre uphill ride in 35C.
The same heat in the UK, topping over 39C led to cuts in or the complete shutdown of public services.
But in Provence, people used to July daytime temperatures usually no higher than 30C and 17c by night, seem totally unprepared for climate change. Holidays are in full throw and the quiet small villages are heaving with hundreds of people, cars, motorhomes, and endless kit.
Everything continues as normal. Businesses open from 8.30am–1pm and 4–7pm regardless of temperatures rising from 31C at 9am to 37C by 4pm. So peak activity in the markets and shops is in the heat of the day. They are not used to this heat and unlike Spain still insist on a hot, evening meal before 9pm, unlike 10pm and later.
Worse still, there’s little by way of aircon anywhere. ‘Salle climat’ – the term used for cool area – turns out to be a ‘fan’ on a table. We saw three such fans, and three ceiling fans in our two-week exploration of the region. After 30 years of extensive travel in India, South East Asia and Spain, fans and aircon abound everywhere from train carriages, to cars, train stations, hotel rooms, shop to government buildings.
It’s true that some sports clothes shops and the odd ‘supermarche’ had the super chilling air conditioning that makes you run to the car for the jumper. But all we wanted was a fan to cool a room cheaply and effectively, especially at night. Eventually, we found some, ten precisely at a CarreFour supermarket, and spent 25 Euros on a hideous-but-functioning Chinese-made fan that transformed the hot still air in our bedroom into a cool heaven.
Tinder-dry scorched earth
Outside it was all so different. So dry, dry, hot. Evidence of old fires across the Verdon region highlighted the risks of forest fire. Oak trees can cope with scorching, but not pines. But even with the huge risks of fire, there weren’t any warning signs in the Geopark. Instead, there were local rules unknown to tourists about only using gas barbecues, and banning the burning of stubble and crops.
Fortunately, we were re-assured by stumbling upon the fire and rescue service at key dry points in the Geoparc, staffed to remind visitors and be ready to act within minutes: only three vehicles allowed per site, and five or so fire fighters at each point. Acres can burn in minutes.
Blasé or unaware?
It’s hard to decide whether people are just blasé or unaware about the enormous fire of wildfires. Tourists pour into the region from across Europe, all adding CO2 to the environment and increasing desertification. Greta Thunberg at Glastonbury 2022 shared that we are within “an inch” of tipping. Our reality confirmed this: we are descending into extinction unless we halve our consumption of everything pretty much now.
Either this reality is ignored or dismissed as a future problem. Returning to England via the highspeed TGV station at Aix-en-Provence, we note that it lacked any aircon. Its vast roof could have solar panels to generate electricity to switch on low wattage cooling ceiling fans. It didn’t.
Smoking kills, so does climate change
Would a campaign like the one on smoking help? So many died far too early, despite knowing smoking was likely to kill them. Maybe we are really willing to let climate change eradicate most of the planet’s population.
But there we were, in France, where the opportunities for clean energy generation filled our minds. Where was solar photo voltaic? Is it frowned on by EDF as competition? Solar thermal seemed non-existent, and all we saw were just a few windmills near Arles, Provence. As for eco-cities, we saw few electric car charging points, but many electric bikes, and the odd electric bus.
We left our fan with Alexia, who replied “thank you for the ventilateur … it is heavenly”. At least, she knows how to stay even cooler in her well-shaded gardens. But in the burnt-out hillsides and woods, there is little by way of replanting. May be such heat makes that pointless. And maybe that is the pointer to our own future. We could try just a little harder to be consume less and change … for the next three generations, or are we really not that willing?