Britain: Climate-driven floods the new normal, but gov't fails to act

Storms have mercilessly battered Britain, one after the other over the festive period, bringing with them severe and unrelenting floods. The scale of damage and devastation was unprecedented, but it was not unpredictable. We have seen these storms growing with intensity every year.

And, while a few might naively blame El Nino for this recent bout, we know that climate change is the driving factor. The government and general public appear to have accepted this. But even so, whenever a frank discussion about the consequences of climate change is put forward, it seems to be met with some underlying scepticism.

This systematic dismissal of the difficult questions leaves us wholly unprepared for what is to come and the recent floods have served as a sobering reminder of this.

The harsh truth is that even if we cut all emissions today, we cannot undo what damage we have already done. The carbon we have pumped into the atmosphere will remain there for generations to come — and so too will the weather it brings with it. These violent winter storms, and the floods they bring with them, are here to stay.

Yet policy decisions do not reflect this. The increasingly regular pattern of severe flooding is still being treated as a string of isolated once-in-a-blue-moon freak weather events. Year after year, the storms have bought widespread flooding and misery. Each time the government has promised — and failed — to be more prepared next time.

Nearly two years ago, after severe flooding in south-west England, Prime Minister David Cameron declared: “Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for, it will be spent.” But time and time again, money has been put before the protection of communities, with austerity measures being favoured over huge flood defence initiatives.

This is the reason we were inadequately prepared for this period of flooding, not because we spend money on foreign aid — as some have unhelpfully suggested.

Even now, in the wake of these winter storms, as the devastated communities try to recover, the reality of climate change still proves a difficult pill to swallow. Cameron issued yet another tepid response: “We should look again at whether there's more we can do.”

This is an understatement at the very least. There needs to be a huge overhaul in the way we behave towards this changing climate. Investment needs to be poured into innovations that make homes more resilient. Flood barriers should be developed that can withstand severe, multiple, seasonal floods. Natural drainage systems and flood barriers, such as wetlands and forests, need to be reintroduced and protected.

Finally, the government's grand rhetoric on halting climate change needs to translate into real action. We cannot burn through all the fossil fuel reserves we have now, let alone those we plan to drill for. We need to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

The level of global change we are experiencing now presents many interconnected, multi-faceted challenges. Experts have long warned that the most severe effects in Britain would be powerful storms and increased flooding. There has been very little to suggest the government has taken these warnings seriously.

But they cannot keep living in denial. The Earth has warmed by one degree and it's time we started acting like it.

[Abridged from The Norwich Radical.]

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