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Climate change and ‘The Fate of Rome’, today

April 26, 2018

Silvio laments the winds, the constant winds which have whipped our house and deposited extraordinary amounts of North African sand on us. Just one shower last night – one of dozens recently – has transformed my car. But this long winter, coming after a drought last summer, also included days of severe frost. Mortared stones have slipped off in the aftermath. Worse still, the olives have taken a beating. Silvio grasps an olive branch and shows me the split bark. The leaves have withered and died. Dozens of trees are struggling or dying, as are our lemons and oranges. By contrast, the apples, cherries and plums are blooming radiantly.

 

Desert sand on my car windscreen

 

Kyle Harper’s controversial new book, The Fate of Rome (Princeton 2017) directs attention to evidence for climatic change – the Late Antique Little Ice Age - in the 6th century coupled with a pandemic. Together, he thinks, this toxic mix set in motion the end of Rome. It may be an over-simplification (and it certainly the opposite to a warming planet), but it is well worth a moment’s reflection. Agricultural production is not something that can be taken for granted. Climatic factors – significantly colder or hotter -  palpably play a role. Seen through the lens of Silvio’s decades cultivating our Umbrian hillslope, the weather is changing and with it the iconic personality of the Italian countryside.

 

Cropping the olives struggling after frost

 

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