10 December 2003

A taste of things to come

The heatwave was record-breaking in its extremity, with temperatures exceeding 100F (37.78C) across a vast area of Europe, and the prolonged period of drought made it worse. Parts of eastern France had been without rain since February, the longest spell in a century. There was no feed for livestock; nothing was green any more.

In Feurs, in the Loire d�partement, a 34-year-old man was arrested for killing his horse in public, cutting it in four pieces and putting in his freezer. He said the drought had shrivelled all the grazing and he had no more grass or feed to keep the animal alive.

In France's south, the tinder-dry brush went up in flames at the hint of a spark and by the third week of July, 40,000 acres were burning between Toulon and Saint Tropez; the Massif des Maures, the chain of hills that form a noble backdrop the Riviera, was burnt to a cinder.

Two Britons, Margaret Timson, 63, and her granddaughter,15-year-old Kirsty Egerton, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, were killed when they tried to escape from the fires, close to La Garde-Freinet, near Frejus, by car. Other tourists from the Netherlands and Poland also lost their lives.

Rivers dried across the continent; in Spain and in Italy there were electricity shortages as hydroelectric power stations ceased to function when the flow dropped.

The Po, Italy's greatest river, was reduced to a trickle. As the rivers began to vanish, so did the Alpine glaciers. Many Swiss glaciers showed dramatic retreats, melting at a rate 10 times that of a normal summer. Italians scientists estimate that their own country's glaciers are now 20 per cent smaller than they were in 1987.

And the old and the infirm, at the heatwave's height in early August, simply keeled over. The French estimate an extra 15,000 deaths during the summer period across the country, but with the largest numbers in Paris.

And here in OZ we learn that one greenhouse impact will be a significant increase in bushfires. Joy. That will certainly fire up the Kyoto-free economy. Federal Environment Minister Kemp has just released an Australian global warming scenario. More when I've read it.

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