From Mount Everest to Hull, the evidence of climate change is before our very eyes, as well as in the homes of thousands of people in the north of England. Yet the British government sees nothing and hears nothing, with its response to the floods little better than the White House’s inaction when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005. It took New Labour ministers nine days to reach some of the north’s flood-hit cities – and then all they could offer were words and more words. As for compensation and financial support, people like Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, were their mealy-mouthed selves. Although she was pressed during her visit to Sheffield about compensation, Blears provided no clear indication of government intentions. The government can find endless sums of money for the occupation of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the renewal of Trident nuclear missiles and tax breaks for their asset-stripper friends who run private equity funds. Ask them about compensation and financial support for flood victims and all you get is double-talk.
Many of the households flooded out in Sheffield, Doncaster and Hull are too poor to afford insurance so will have lost everything in the floods, which resulted from extreme weather patterns that are a feature of climate change. Infrastructure is severely damaged and Hull’s council leader Carl Minns was right when said: “Quite frankly, if this was Chelsea or Fulham, this would have been plastered over the front pages for weeks. The government needs to help this city with a large injection of capital, otherwise this city will not recover." He called Hull the disaster’s forgotten city, where 17,000 properties have been affected and nearly 11,000 homes evacuated. Damage to schools alone tops £100m. But don’t worry, the very British response of a “disaster relief fund” is on the way. They have been set up in South Yorkshire and the city council in Hull has launched the Hull Flood Fund. In other words, the local authorities have to go cap in hand to ordinary members of the public for hand-outs and donations so that they can put their towns back together again while the government thinks the matter over.
Extreme weather will become more frequent as climate change intensifies. Evidence of the changes well under way have come from Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing, the sons of the first men to scale Everest in 1953. They say the mountain is now so ravaged by climate change that their fathers would no longer recognise it. The glacier on which it stands, and those around it, are melting at such a rate that scientists believe the mountain could be barren rock by 2050. Hillary, who has himself twice reached Everest's summit, said: "Climate change is happening. This is a fact. Base camp used to sit at 5,320 metres. This year it was at 5,280 metres because the ice is melting from the top and side. Base camp is sinking each year. For Sherpas living on Mount Everest this is something they can see every day but they can't do anything about it on their own." Up to 40,000 Sherpas who live at the base of the Himalayas face devastation if vast new lakes formed by the melted ice burst and send a torrent of millions of tons of water down the slopes. Hillary said: "I've seen the result of glacial lakes bursting their banks and it's just catastrophic. It's like an atomic bomb has gone off. Everywhere is rubble. The floods of the past are unfortunately nothing compared with the size of what we are currently threatened with." But fear not, our great new leader in Downing Street is working out new market-led “solutions” to global warming, which, as the Stern report said, represents the greatest market failure of all time! So just be patient, even if your TV just floated past the window. Gordon Brown is on the case.
Paul Feldman, communications editor