Several thousand years ago tribes of people we now call Greeks settled in Attica, which was a rich and fertile plain. People always try to settle in rich and fertile land; sometimes if the land is used by others new comings try to possess it by fair means or foul, but four thousand years ago there were fewer people in the world and more rich and fertile plains than there are now. The ancient Greeks were ignorant of many things. They knew how to grow wheat, olives and grapes and also could husband goats and sheep. What they did not know was how to grow wheat in ways that prevent the soil from washing away.
As Attica became richer and the population of Athens grew, so the woods and forests of the Attic Plain were cut down, more wheat was planted and the soil, without the woods and trees to hold it in place, eroded. The seeds of wheat were sown by the hands of those that ate the wheat, but in the sowing they failed to find ways of retaining the soil, which the wheat needed to grow.
That was the diagnosis of Plato. Ignorance prevailed. In fairness, ignorance was not the only reason for the denudation of the Attic Plain and similar places in Ancient Greece; the characteristics of the soil, the subsoil and the climate all played their parts, but if the Ancients knew then what we know now much of the productivity of the land could have been maintained.
Today we know much more, and our green and fertile British isles are better husbanded than the Attic Plain. However, we are suffering from more and more extreme weather events, which are a symptom of climate change. In the past twelve months the British Isles have celebrated three months of drought followed by nine months of unprecedented rainfall. These extremities have not only affected the old walls of Ludlow but have seen old rivers fallen to their lowest levels followed rapidly by rising to their highest flows, all within a space of four months. This makes it hard for us to manage, with all our knowledge, our water supplies, which is simply a question of getting the right amount of water in the right places and avoiding flooding and drought, if we can.,
Our water management problems arise as a result of our prosperity and the success of the British Isles in attracting people who want to live here and have families here. It is a result of hundreds of years of prosperity.
It is not possible to predict how climate change will affect weather events. It is likely that there will be more and more extreme weather events, but whether that means more rainfall or less rainfall or some periods of exceptional heavy rainfall followed by other periods of drought, I cannot say and nor can anyone else.
As with any disease, we must alleviate the symptoms while trying to cure the disease. The symptoms which must alleviate show themselves in extreme weather events, like drought and flooding, not just in these islands but all over the world. The disease which we must try to cure is rapid climate change. At the moment we are as a people arguing over whether rapid climate change is caused by human activity; the debate has all the hall marks of religious fervour, but no nation, in truth, is doing anything to test the hypothesis by making any significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Today we have much knowledge but we find many excuses not to use our knowledge. Our interaction with our environment will inevitably change our environment and the more success that humans enjoy as a species the more that we will sow the seeds of our own destruction.