Deborah Orr: Arggh! My garden is being ruined...

I'm stupidly and profoundly upset by it. I've joined the ranks of those who utter: 'Not in my backyard'
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The Independent Online

The happiest year Britain has ever experienced - insomuch as these things can be measured in surveys - was apparently 1976. That's the long, hot summer people remember so fondly, and I find that I concur. It's the childhood summer which stands out as sublime, even though there are some bizarre memories involved - like all the kids in Lanarkshire who got such sunburn that they peeled each other's skin off their backs in strips like tissue paper, and let them blow away in the breeze; or really, really wanting to share a bath with my dog, like I'd seen in a stunt for the tabloids involving an Afghan hound and a woman with a similar hairdo.

I'm pretty sure that this long, hot summer is going to be cherished rather less though, because it's actually beginning to feel a bit scary. I'm dimly aware that the political situation back in the 1970s was not what one might call "lacking in farcical elements". But now! Tony Blair, co-author of one huge ongoing war in the Middle East taking time off from his surely somewhat compromised attempts to stop another one, in order to goof off with Arnold Schwarzenegger (and save the planet at the same time!). That's got to be the maddest act of messiah-delusion perpetrated since he rallied us all to liberate the women of Afghanistan by spreading democracy in the Bora-Bora mountains.

And then, more importantly, there's my garden. It has gone completely mental. All summer long I've been trudging up and down with the watering-can, pausing only to chat briefly with my neighbours about the excellence of our citizenry in resisting the lure of the illegal hose. Then, last week, I embarked on a glamorous holiday in the Midlands, and came back to find that during four days without virtually intravenous aquatic attention it had simply decided to become autumnal.

Ripe orange crab apples are dropping off the trees like hailstones. The daturas - used to the more clement conditions of South America - have shed their leaves in a plucky but unalluring attempt to push out some blooms. And the anemones are simply not going to survive the week, let alone provide "a fine display into October". I'm stupidly, pettily, selfishly and profoundly upset about it. I've finally joined the ranks of those who utter: "Not in my backyard!"

Realistically, a backyard is what my garden is going to have to become. The British are going to have to rethink that whole "nation of gardeners" vibe. Either that, or we're all going to have to manage something rather more en pointe than standing around applauding while Tony and Arnie promise to set up some desperate, vote-grabbing guidelines on carbon trading.

I've long been a subscriber to the holier-than-thou view on environmentalism. I don't have a car, or even a tumble drier. I fly only once a year (although this year I did have to fit in an extra flight to Cork for family reasons, and last year, again for family reasons, had to take that one flight to, ahem, Australia.) I recycle, I compost, I switch everything off when it's not in use. I get my juice from Good Energy and I wait patiently for solar panels to come down in price.

But giving up my lush, beautiful garden, 10 glorious years in the making? I cannot bear the thought of it. Suddenly reality has bitten. Just like the city fools in their four-wheel drives, the oil men with their wars on terror, the ostriches with their weekend breaks in Barcelona for £4.50, and the politicians with their blind faith in economic expansion, I can't face scaling down this project that gives me such validation and pleasure.

Of course I could go on about the invidious mismanagement of Thames Water, the German-owned behemoth that makes so much money from its regional monopoly, while providing a service so inefficient that it makes the construction of Wembley look like a wonder of the world. But really, what's the point? We all know we're stuck with it, because when you've privatised rain distribution then it's quite hard to organise a way back. And as my neighbours often agree, it'll be the wild fowl and the marsh-inhabiting flora that end up suffering if we start with the civil disobedience.

One makes an effort to be amelioristic when discussing the accelerating effect of global warming. But really, when one considers that it took more than 20 years just to get the phenomenon into the political mainstream in the first place - and even then only when the evidence was so devastatingly obvious that only a lunatic could remain in denial - the outlook does not look pleasing.

Much hope, within the environmental movement, is placed in the idea of contraction and convergence - whereby the developed nations take a lead in bringing down carbon emissions while allowing the developing economies to have more, yet gradually declining, leeway. There is some acknowledgement that after the extreme weather in California, Schwarzenegger has at least made a faltering step in that direction.

Each week, though, that passes without international agreement on contraction and convergence is a week lost to the viability of the concept, a week that will one day have to be made up in hard curbing of carbon emissions. But there remains a sense that people still just do not understand the urgency of the situation. Buzzing cheaply around a globalised world for business or for pleasure is the very first thing that has to change. Yet even the most sweetly reasonable of capitalists - Gordon Brown amongst them - is entirely unwilling to commit such a crime against profit.

Even in the environmental movement there is a lack of realism, seen most clearly in the widespread inability to grasp that within an extremely limited timeframe, nuclear energy is probably the lesser of two great evils. As for the argument that nuclear power stations may be a terrorist target - well, aren't planes a proven target that we could start taxing out of existence right this minute?

There is no doubt that we are in quite a major bind here, one that no single political figure in the world appears to have a truly comprehensive grasp on. Blair's comment during his starry photocall with the Terminator, that he didn't want the next generation to look back and ask why nothing was done, is - I'm afraid - simply yet another piece of evidence that he is far more concerned about his personal legacy than about any other single matter on the planet.

Doesn't he understand that my garden is the issue here? And that he and his pals are absolutely ruining it? The summer of 2006 may well be the stuff of future childhood memories. But among adults this long, hot summer is a paradise for fools.

d.orr@independent.co.uk

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