James May

James May

Gone with the wind

As I write, Britain is locked in storm chaos. The rain lasheth, the wind howleth, and it's all very Shakespearean round here.

We were warned about this. This is exactly the sort of climatic upheaval that would accompany global warming, and quite literally the whirlwind we would reap for our profligacy. The culprit is, of course, the internal combustion engine, or so we are led to believe. But let's not be too hasty about this, because I have another, more convincing explanation.

It's all to do with flatulence.

First, let us go back to the beginning of the last century. A hundred years ago normal people didn't really go anywhere. Countless millions would have been born and buried in the same village, without straying far from it in between.

Even if people did go somewhere, they didn't do it very quickly. Huge expansion of the railways did mean that someone from Cornwall could conceivably visit Scotland, but it took a long time. Certainly very few people left Britain, because Ryanair hadn't been invented yet and anyway, why would you want to?

Today, I can set off from my house and be in New York in seven hours. That's the first bit of the problem.

The other is this. A century ago, most people would have eaten food from within a radius of a few miles. Nobody had refrigeration, and although tinned food had been invented in the 19th century, it wasn't the phenomenon it was to become. Outside of the aristocracy, people had very simple and monotonous diets of what could be eaten before it went off.

These days, with vacuum packaging and rapid air freighting, I can be eating something that, just a few days ago, was growing or walking around on the other side of the globe.

The point is this. If someone guffed in 1909, it was most likely a local matter. The process of production, consumption and emission would all have taken place within a few miles, and certainly within the same country. That is probably how nature, hamstrung by its painfully slow reliance on evolution, would want it. It provided a sort of closed loop of digestive events that couldn't corrupt itself.

So for starters, let's not blame global warming on chuffing cattle. Most cows live their entire lives in one field, munching the grass and pumping the gassy by-product into the same environment. But humans have buggered up the system.

“A recent guff I did was a product of at least two countries and was delivered in a third, which must be causing an imbalance of some sort”

A few weeks ago, for example, I flew to Romania with TopGear TV. At Heathrow I ate a fry up, but just four and a half hours later I was in Bucharest, where I may have dropped one. Not only that, but I think the bacon in the breakfast may have come from Denmark.

Now I can't prove anything yet, but this sounds highly dodgy. That guff was a product of at least two countries and was delivered in a third, which must be causing an imbalance of some sort. Nature was not prepared for this sudden distortion of its delicate management of the food-to-fluff cycle, and will take a very long time to adapt. In the meantime: storm chaos.

Think how much of this sort of thing is going on. It started gradually with the beginnings of sea-faring and spice trading, but in the last 50 years has been massively accelerated with the rise of ultra-rapid human migration and global commerce. I drank a beer from Japan last night. A part of Japan was in it, but is going to be released in Hammersmith, where it doesn't belong.

Here we are then, in 2009, with millions of people every day bottom-burping hundreds or thousands of miles away from where they should, and wondering why the weather is so unpredictable. The world is full of refugee pumps trying to find their way back to the point of their conception to restore order, and dragging other nations' weather systems with them. We are talking here of a truly enormous volume of gas being randomly released without a moment's thought for the consequences.

Think about this. A plant grows, withers, dies, and returns to the very earth whence it had sprung in the first place. Do you really think even the tiniest sprout grown in Gloucestershire should ever make its way to southern Italy? Obviously not, but it does, and I can't believe that's inconsequential. Yet, as far as I can make out, no one has considered this for a moment, and I can find no serious research being undertaken into the issue of displaced flatulence.

We just carry on, blithely blaming the car and its engine for all the world's woes when, as Queen Elizabeth I said, "We had quite forgot the fart".


James May, Column

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