In the last few years, I perfected a travelling schedule to make the most out of the weather and minimise flying. Maybe some of the fabled German efficiency has finally rubbed off onto me. Maybe it is just in my southern nature to constantly seek light and warmth, like the trees and herbs I keep engraving on my skin.
In the height of summer, I like to stay in the North, when the sun often shines and the nights are short, people queue outside of ice cream shops, and no one seems to be working full time. The coldest, darkest months are reserved for exploring new places. And my favourite time travel back home is at the beginning or the end of the summer, when the beaches are less crowded and the heat is gentle. It always makes me feel like I am getting sunshine-bonus to recharge right before and after the long northern winters, I can catch my grandmother’s birthday and family and friends are in town. This year I followed my schedule, going south at the end of May and August, but the weather did not. This year I didn’t escape gloomy skies for southern bliss but unusual northern sunshine for sweltering Mediterranean heat.
In 2022 Germany registered its sunniest summer, Hamburg its highest temperature (40.1° C on the 20th of July) ever recorded. While Hamburg has not been affected by drought, the low water levels have been uncovering “Hunger Stones” along the Elbe, as well as slowing down the shipping routes on the Rhine and creating supply change issues, ironically, for the coal industry. Italy and France have been significantly warmer: high summer temperatures arose as early as May and kept increasing, leading to drought, wildfires, limited crop yields and hydropower production. Towards late August and early September, when I was there, the temperatures had gone back to bearable (though still warmer than average) with hot days and mild nights, but the effects of months relentless heath were in plain sight and feel. Everyone I met was exhausted, especially the elderly, and told me about many torrid, sleepless nights. The fields were dry, the seawater uncomfortably warm, and the wineries struggling to produce in the same volume and quantity as usual, despite their attempts to introduce heath-resistant vines. Upon my return to the North, summer still didn’t let go. According to several sources Germany has seen its warmest October ever recorded and might be on track for an exceptionally warm winter. The plants on my balcony are still blooming: I am still harvesting chamomile, calendula and lavender and I have just started bringing inside the ones that won’t survive the winter outdoors.
I don’t believe that anyone needs to directly experience or witness something to understand that it’s real, and I think we are collectively past the need to prove that the climate crisis has been happening. I have been on this journey of climate activism and advocacy for over a decade now and I have spent far too much of this time thinking I was alone against the world. That was my great failure of imagination. Not thinking that millions and millions of people are feeling the exact same way: motivated but disconnected from one another, often even disconnected from the part of themselves that knows that we are one with our environment and that is the ultimate bond, our true nature. We tend forget that borders and divisions and identity politics are fictions created so a few could accumulate and maintain wealth and power. The system is not broken, it’s working as designed and we need to think beyond what we have known if we want different outcomes. It’s not a coincidence that authoritarianism and discrimination have started flaring up again as soon as acceptance and social progress started allowing people to not only exist, but thrive, outside of the framework. I am hopeful, because as I have recognised my failure, many others have. One of the strange (or maybe inevitable) side effects of our shared pandemic trauma is that more and more people have been turning inwards and outwards at the same time. Many of us, in our forced isolation, have been looking inside ourselves to seek sanctuary outside of the man-made structures that we trusted our whole lives and could no longer keep us safe and happy - if they ever did. And many of us found out that this might be all we need to accept and trust each other.
But I am also worried about another failure. I can’t think of change without brutality. We have tried the peaceful route and we have been ignored and silenced. How we can replace a system of violence and oppression without destroying it? And once we have eaten the rich with their fine silverware, will we better than them or be infected with the same shortsightedness and greed?
I don’t know yet. It’s one of these riddles that no one single brain can solve. But I do know, I will probably have to update my travel schedule soon.