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Until last Friday morning
'It all happened in two short hours'
The big C change is here. In the middle of Europe. In one of the safest, greenest country.
Even though environmentalism has been my life, I underestimated the size of the changes coming at us. After all, we are in the middle of Europe, I live on 800m altitude, with a semi moderate climate, of course it will happen, but somewhere else and not here.
This was really in the back of my head, right up till last week, when on Friday morning we lived through our own climate hell.
Slovenia is one of the most wanted destinations for green tourism, outdoor sport and recreation, with its high safety levels and moderate weather. Well, this year in May, June and July already, we had some small flooding, strong winds and low and very high temperatures. All of this very much outside anything statistics would predict from the past decades. Also last year we had extreme temperatures in the same months and then zero rain. We waved our hand at each other when remarking on it. Until last Friday morning.
We were still part of a larger way of living, working, taking resources like there is no tomorrow, aiming for short term fixes with short term policies written in offices based on data out of context, all of us still saying that there is hope …and let’s be very honest, the kind of hope we were hoping for was that we don’t need to change anything because it won’t happen to us. Until last Friday morning.
We live on 800m on my parents farm. And we bought a small farm for us just across the hill, our main buying condition was water and shade on the land. We thought this is high enough for moderate temperatures, and with water on the land it’s a safe investment for the future for growing food and animals, having people over and experimenting with different models of being able to live off the land. We too, thought about ‘our solution’ from many angles, but still in fact in quite simple ways that didn’t really include extreme weather events. Only high temperatures. Until last Friday morning.
On that Friday morning, my mom woke us up at 3AM. Our house was cozy, warm and full; my 7 year old niece Lusi was with us on her summer holiday, and Merle, a Workawayer from the Netherlands. Four French students, also Workawayers that had stayed with us had just left the day before. The water my mother said.
Robert and I went out to start diverting streams of water coming down the hill the size of a waterfall. After more then an hour and not much success, we took our niece to my mom’s house and woke up Merle. By the time she came to the door the water had changed into a landslide that swamped into the house. All lights went off. We ran away to the other side of the farm and waited in the dark at my mom’s house. Our dog Dula seemed out of her mind, she kept going to the back of the house barking. Our sheep were loud too. Without electricity in the dark house with strong rain, the tension was high, we were quickly making plans and arguing which one is the most effective. Then a second landslide came down next to my mom’s house and we saw that it wouldn’t be safe to use the cars anymore.
We quickly decided that Merle, Lusi and I will walk over the hill to my uncle’s house. My parents and Robert stayed behind watching us go. I looked back after a while to catch my breath, and saw wires from an electrical fence flying into the air. I couldn’t really put together why. And then… half of the hill, an area the size of a football field just thirty meters below where we stood, simply disappeared, it slid in two seconds down to the nearest and only road.
We ran up and up and then crossed over to the other side of that hill. My parents showed up they had followed us. But I had lost where Robert was, his phone was the first victim of the first landslide. I went back looking for him shouting his name. After a while I saw him at the house. We hugged and ran up the hill again.
This was our first couple of hours last Friday morning. Five landslides in total almost completely destroyed my parents property. It all happened in two short hours. We lived in chaos for the next days. My parents and Lusi were evacuated by fire brigade to the valley. The next day we climbed into our house by a ladder, because the door was under water and mud, to take out basic things. We moved to the top of the hill above the landslide the three of us and our dog, waiting in a small hut for what is next. Helicopters flew over like in the middle of a war, but this time with urgent help for people in even more affected areas. All roads were closed, flooded, blocked by mud. Our cars were and still are blocked by a huge pile of rubble from the landslide. I wished we had a bulldozer instead of a car, this thought would come back over the next days. We hardly slept taking 2 hours shifts in the night to walk around the hut and check if there were any cracks in the land.
Today, finally, the geologist came to estimate the safety. He said he had never thought of the possibility that some of those landslides could happen.
More then 70% of my region was severely affected if not destroyed that same morning. Extreme high waters bringing down streams of stones and earth that blocked most of the roads, flooded people’s houses, trees falling. And landslides are still moving. If you would be making another Inconvenient Truth, this would be the morning to film all of it in one go.
We are all alive and relatively safe now. Our new land has a big gully in the middle from the creek that broke out, but most of the things we built in the past months remained. So after all, we are one of the lucky ones.
Slovenians are survivors. We are two million, we have our own language, our green country is our pride. We will rebuild. Recover roads. Dry the houses. Restore campsites. Clean the shops. Fill the shopping malls. Renew our gardens.
We will also make more roads into the forests to bring out more logs. We will continue to burn more coal because we will need more energy. We will pay for the damage to the big monoculture and continue to subsidise industrial farming to grow more corn and wheat and leave the fields completely unable to cope with events like this one. We will continue sending kids to schools with curriculums from times before, to keep them in the pre climate change bubble. Our media will continue promoting irrelevant stories that distract us from thinking and preparing for what is coming. And our policy makers are now in the most affected areas with floods, we see great photos online from their visits, they are promising great help and then they will go back to the office. To continue with the same policies from before last Friday morning. Because they cannot change that — how many times did you hear the same story?
None of this will help get ready for the next time when Friday morning happen.
My writing is not about so much celebrated ‘hope’. Not today. Except that after 5 days of coping with real reality, the only optimism I have is how we come together in crisis as neighbours, friends, humans.
Maybe it’s a bit easier for me because even before Friday, I never counted on any institution to have a plan that goes beyond saving themselves.
In crises that are on the way, we — people on the ground — need to have a plan. A plan to not disturb nature anymore for our comfort sake, a plan to deal with crises when they come, a plan to help each other within and after the crisis. That’s all what is left and the only thing that will get us through the next decades.
We will be fine. You will be too. But the big C change is here. It’s not just in the global South. It’s not just in melting glaciers. It’s not only there in sinking islands.
It’s here in Europe. And it’s showing it’s force.
I want to thank you all who reached out and offered help. We are asking for help step by step as we are figuring out our plan. One thing is for sure — we remain committed to the land we bought however destroyed it is, and to the people there who suffered the most in Slovenia.
August 10th, 2023
Mihela and Robert
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