As I write this, the bells of Big Ben are chiming across London Town as part of the Remembrance Day commemoration, which is particularly poignant this year as it was precisely 100 years ago that the World War One hostilities ended. What a grim war that was. They all are. The “War to end all wars” was hardly that. Human beings are surely the most warlike of species; always forming groups and identities that are opposed to each other, de-humanising others because they don’t share the same belief system, or skin colour or whatever. Individuals from different groups often get along just fine but somehow the groups end up fighting; they find themselves given a binary choice – our way or theirs, rather than being tolerant of a multitude of differing views. I don’t think the media’s love of broadcasting dramatic stories at the expense of the good yet mundane can help, but ultimately I find myself suspecting that humans are just broken; brilliant in some ways yet hopeless in others. Still, it is what it is.
Natural disasters are always reminding us of how puny we are. Wildfires have ravaged swathes of California this year, and right now there are two big ones, causing death and devastation; one in Butte County to the North and another near Los Angeles further South. The so-called Camp Fire in Butte County is now the most destructive in California’s history; it has levelled nearly the entire city of Paradise. There’s some American irony for you. So far the death toll from this one is 23 and who knows what it will cost in dollars and time and sweat to rebuild what has burned away. I would not want to live in a place where such events are so common. I was actually in Butte County last month, I stayed in Chico which is on the edge of the disaster and drove through beautiful pine forests on my way to Grass Valley. Of course, pine forests combined with long periods of hot, dry weather, followed by high winds make a perfect tinderbox. I am so grateful to have had such a wonderful time there and to have come home to boring old Britain before the fires took hold.
The Woolsey fire to the South has turned Malibu into a “war zone” and is nowhere near contained. The satellite photograph below shows the sites of the fires and the huge plumes of smoke, which cause terrible air pollution for miles. Caitlyn Jenner, Kim Kardashian West, Alyssa Milano and Lady Gaga were among the celebrities forced to evacuate their homes. The Woolsey Fire also destroyed important set locations including the Paramount Ranch Western Town set home to HBO’s “Westworld.” It also partially destroyed the mansion used in filming ABC’s reality series “The Bachelor,” Entertainment Tonight reported. Updates here
California is a beautiful place, but I wouldn’t live there. They are also right on the edge of a fault line in the earth’s crust, part of the so-called “Ring of Fire” seismic fault system, which also encompasses another beautiful place that I visited this year, New Zealand. I loved New Zealand; the people were friendly, crime was low, weather lovely and what a stunningly beautiful place it is, but again, I wouldn’t want to live there. When I was in Christchurch, they were still busy rebuilding parts of the city which were levelled by the last big quake. I’m happy to live in a country where we have only one poisonous snake, no bears or wolves, no deadly spiders, virtually no earthquakes and plenty of damp weather to keep the countryside lush and green. We do get fires occasionally, but nothing like California or parts of Southern Europe or Australia. Most things here in the UK are quite boring. We get excited by 2 inches (51mm) of snow in the Winter and temperatures of 25 Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) in the Summer. We get lots of grey skies and rain; we moan about it, then we have a cup of tea and get on with our lives. I love it!
As for the bees, they have seen it all. They have been around for something like 130 million years at a time when our ancestors were small ratlike creatures. Honeybees are doing quite well despite erroneous reports to the contrary, but the threats to their health keep mounting up so we must not become complacent. Other bees, such as some bumbles, are having a much harder time, as are many other pollinators. The spread of monoculture farming and loss of hedgerows and wild meadows puts pressure on much of the natural world. I have a feeling though that their chances of surviving long after homo sapiens have become extinct are high. Let’s hope that we can sort ourselves out and live together in a tolerant and sustainable way for many centuries to come.