Droughts without borders


I landed in France in the second week of August for a house swap working vacation.  I escaped, or so I thought, to the rolling fields of the Occitaine and the Aquitane in the southwest, where I stayed in a 400 year old house in the medieval town of Turenne. And while many things are very different–notably the language (which I recall bumpily from having lived in Paris thirty+ years ago), the absence of Donald Trump, the six hundred year old chateau perched at the top of the hill, and the abundance of duck–le canard–in every conceivable form,  there is also the familiar, as I learned recently driving through the neighboring province of Haut-Vienne. Namely, the drought that has devastated crops across California has  its corollary here in France. We drove past fields full of sunflowers, lilting, lamely, in the heat. Here is the photo that says it all in a recent edition of the local newspaper, Centre-Presse, and the headline (my translation): “One of the driest ever months of August.” Inside the paper we learn its been the driest August in at least one hundred years. And July? The driest since at least 1947. The results have been devastating for sunflower farmers, who face plunging yields as their plants wither in the dry heat. Same for hay farmers, which means there are “insufficient” supplies of hay for those who raise cows and goats. Which most likely will mean declining supplies and rising costs for two of the region’s specialties–saucisse and fromage du chevre (sausage/goat cheese). The drought, reports the newspaper, is creating great disquiet and unease–“inquieter“–among farmers about the future. Which is basically the story in California and elsewhere as what is, in essence, a manmade drought, the duration and severity of which has been heightened by human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases, spreads to food-growing regions across the world.