With half of the Somerset Levels currently underwater and thousands of lives and livelihoods put on hold, a huge argument has erupted around the Enviornment Agency and what it should have done to prevent the situation. Mike Assenti writes for Hynd’s blog on climate change, flooding and his growing frustration with the political establishment.
Why weren’t the rivers dredged? Should the rivers even be dredged? Did the Environment Agency give the government bad advice, as Eric Pickles has claimed? Is the Environment Agency’s policy the direct result of the Treasury’s rules, as the EA’s Chairman Chris Smith has countered?
Frankly I don’t know.
Unlike Mr Pickles, I’m more than happy to admit that I’m really not well versed on the evidence on the effects of dredging, and I’m most certainly not an expert in flood defences. But, if you’re interested, George Monbiot wrote a fascinating article on the subject last month for the Guardian.
The media is understandably mostly concerned with the striking images of the effects of this weather, and with the terrible personal stories of those affected. (Now that it is the Home Counties which are facing some serious flooding, the tension seems to have ratcheted even higher…but this is a subject for another, more cynical post.)
Much of the focus has been given to the short term effects of the flooding, and even to the medium term causes and preventative measures. Of course, the fact that there is now a political row attached to this aspect will undoubtedly drive further superficial analysis.
What has had far less attention though are the long term causes of this extreme weather. Whether or not this current batch of weather is definitively linked to climate change is almost impossible to say for certain, but the MET Office Chief Scientist, Dame Julie Slingo has stated that, “All the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change“.
Regardless of the provenance of this current batch of storms, climate scientists broadly agree that one effect of climate change is likely to be the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather.
We have spent years hearing the horror stories of climate change, and even seeing what are supposedly some of the early effects. Agreements have been made as to how best to tackle it, carbon targets set, carbon targets postponed, reduced, and missed. Subsidies have been introduced to encourage the development and installation of renewable power sources, said subsidies then reduced or removed. The leader of a government which came to power claiming to be ‘the greenest ever’, has since been quoted demanding the removal of ‘all the green crap’ from utilities bills.
As an Engineer, I am reluctant to point out a problem without also suggesting a solution. However, in this case my frustration with the attitudes of those in power (both politically and commercially), as well as with a large part of the general public has spilled over from indignant rage into resigned apathy. I don’t know how more clearly the scale of the problem and nature of the solutions to climate change need to be stated before we start to take it seriously. Dozens of solutions to this problem have been mooted, but all of them require a fundamental shift in thinking by those in charge.
Instead of paying lip service to those campaigning for solutions to climate change, we need to start seeing some real action. We need to see real investment in renewables and local storage, rather than incentivising fracking. Countering the assertion of the energy companies that green subsidies are to blame for increasing bills not with (the totally accurate) explanation of how little these subsidies are, but with an explanation of why it is fair that they are paid. Taking more control of public transport, to make it economical to travel by train or bus rather than driving. Appointing an Environment Secretary who isn’t a climate change skeptic would be a good start, not to mention ditching a chancellor who wants the UK to be behind Europe on tackling climate change.
For years now the images of the effects of climate change have been of floods in Bangladesh, typhoons in the Far East and rising sea levels in the Maldives. Now that affluent villages in the South West of England are under water, will we start to see a shift in attitude?
Sadly, I suspect that we will continue treating the symptoms rather than the root cause.
I recently heard an excellent description of climate change skeptics who cite the cold weather in the US as evidence against climate change as standing on the Titanic, claiming, “The ship can’t be sinking – my end is 500 feet in the air”.
Here in the UK, we are ignoring the oncoming icebergs while we argue about drying the bed linen.