Thursday, February 13, 2014

Response to flooding shows the system isn't working

The current weather crisis has shown up the illegitimacy of politicians in charge of a system that is unable and unwilling to act for the common good. They greatly fear this exposure – it's the reason for the tide of government rhetoric about "money no object" and promises of future help.

In 2010, government chief scientist Sir David King warned of the need to plan for increased floods resulting from climate change. He proposed pulling flood defences inland, sacrificing some areas to the sea, establishing flood plains at the heads of rivers, modernising weirs, widening bridges and replacing sewers to separate sewage and floodwater.

This is the current policy of the Environment Agency and it has a backlog of hundreds of measures based on this approach. It can't complete them because of cuts and a Treasury rule that they can't invest more than £400,000 in any one project. The government's fantasy was that business and the insurance industry would step up as co-funders. As a result, of course, nothing happened.

The Met Office explains that the storms have their source in south-east Asia, where warming seas are evaporating huge quantities of water into the atmosphere. This caused a weather "chain reaction" which disrupted the Pacific jet stream, diverting it over north America and causing the extremely cold conditions there. This in turn affected the Atlantic jet stream, which moved more and more rapidly, bringing storm after storm to Britain and Ireland.

But Lord Lawson, former Tory Chancellor, knows better. He berated the Met Office for suggesting climate change could be involved. Instead, the floods should spur the government to stop spending untold millions littering the countryside with pylons and solar panels. This at a time when 80,000 homes are without power and probably the only  people with electricity are those with their own solar panels or turbines!

But it isn't just the Tory fringe who deny climate change as energy and climate change Secretary Ed Davey suggests in a speech today. Cabinet member and environment secretary Owen Paterson thinks climate change has been happening for centuries and is great because farmers will get longer growing seasons! Transport secretary Philip Hammond yesterday blamed "natural solar rhythms” for the weather. Help, we’ve been transported back to the Middle Ages!

David Cameron only “very much suspects” that the flooding is linked to climate change. He is running scared of the lunatics in his own party and Ukip (remember the Ukip councillor who said the floods were God’s retribution after the passing of the gay marriage law?) His chancellor is not a denier, he's a couldn't-care-lesser, a fossil-fuel profit freak, whose response to soaring energy costs was to let the Big Six drop spending on energy saving or renewables.

The ConDems want the UK fracked to bits and Somerset – which is largely under water - is one of the areas earmarked. You don't have to imagine the effect on water quality of flooded wells and waste water ponds. It happened in Colorado last year – as the headline here says: "Flooding and Fracking - a double disaster".

When King published his report he thought the floods would come in the 2030s at the earliest, and yet here's the wild weather, two decades early, and not only in Britain but across the world. Capitalist states thought they could treat climate change like they do the electorate – blandish, fool and bully people, whilst permitting corporate business as usual. 

The only issue now is whether we are prepared to permit them to go on down this road. There is nothing in it for us to maintain the status quo. Politicians of any political stripe wading about flooded towns won't help us.

We are on our own here, and so we should put all the resources at our disposal under democratic local control and start acting co-operatively to prepare for what is ahead, including halting any plans to increase fossil fuel burning.

Penny Cole

Environment editor

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