Busy doing nothing

dont_believeA few days back Tim Montgomerie (Opinion Editor and a columnist for The Times Newspaper) hit back at claims that recent extreme UK flooding meant we should act on climate change. He called such calls “alarmist” and assured his readership that we should keep listening to the likes of “Rational Optimists” Matt Ridley, Lord Lawson and Bjorn Lomborg. Their advice? Do nothing because Climate Change won’t be a big deal, it won’t damage us anytime soon and besides, we will be so much richer in the future that we will be able to afford this luxury then.

I was watching the BBC News last night and one man’s story really moved me. This young chap had just moved into his dream home near the Thames in Datchet. When the BBC caught up with him he was bailing out his house with a single bucket. Half way through his brief, on-camera, interview the man just stopped talking. Words had failed him. He mumbled his apologies to the journalist and turned away from the camera – clearly in distress. His father walked up to him to comfort him. Yes, a grown man crying. It was so desperately sad. My heart went out to him.

Climate change was always meant to happen somewhere else to somebody else in some future time. In the “2010 Floods and Water Act” the operating assumption by Defra, the Environment Agency and the local authorities was that climate change would not really kick in until the 2030s. Of course there is no evidence that the 2013/2014 winter’s extreme weather is directly caused by climate change but our experiement with inadvertent geo-engineering loads the dice. The British Met Office now confirm that what would have been a 1 in 125 year rainfall event in the 1960s is now more likely to be a 1 in 85 year event. The Met Office’s Chief scientist Julia Slingo has stated that “all the available evidence suggests there is a link to climate change”.

So what of the rational optimism of The Times newspaper’s comments editor? His way of thinking clearly represents the trap of unintended consequences. The point is this: 30 years ago we already knew that climate change was happening and humans were to blame. 30 years ago we assumed that doing something would be too expensive. We assumed that 30 years from then we would be so much richer and wiser that we would be able to afford higher sea walls and the new wonder-technologies to combat climate change.

So what happened? We hoped for the best and we got some wonderful new technologies – none of which was particularly useful. We cannot stop flooding with the latest iPhone. In the meantime we failed to notice that we already had all the technology we needed. We knew had to build wind turbines and solar panels. We knew how to do carbon capture and storage. We knew how to prevent floods using upstream land management techniques. We knew where the flood plains were and we knew not to build in them. Yet we did nothing. We did nothing because doing nothing is our default status. It is so much easier than doing something. Our politicians think in five year electoral cycles. They will always put action off until it is on somebody-else’s watch, somebody-else’s problem.

…but what happens when you put it off until tomorrow and then tomorrow happens? What is amazing in the default position of The Times is that it seems to have learnt nothing. It probably argued 30 years ago that we should do nothing for thirty years. Now thirty years later it is still arguing that we should do nothing for another thirty years. And where does this end? Where does the buck stop? When do we pay the bill? When do we grow up and accept that the reckoning will happen on our watch? OURS. Not our children’s and their children’s. It is now our responsibility – it is now time to act. In my lifetime I have lived to see British Climate change refugees. I MY lifetime – not just that of my daughter, or her daughter. My lifetime.

For every Bjorn Lomborg out there; there is also a Nicholas Stern or a James Hansen. If The Times wishes to continually cherrypick its experts then it will continue to offer unbalanced advice to its readers. Out in the world of serious debate about climate and economics they will find that the voices of Ridley, Lawson et al occupy a particular lunatic fringe. They are viewed as cranks. Why do cranks get so much attention? Because they offer credibility to our preferred option of doing nothing. Likewise what credibility would we have if we only listened to Greenpeace, the Green Party or James Lovelock? If you wish to confirm your own personal biases then the internet echoes to the sounds of a billion voices offering every shade of sage wisdom. You need only pick the one that suits your preference. But it probably won’t be good science let alone very wise economics.

One thing is certain. We will only be truly wise in hindsight. The rear-view-mirror gives the greatest clarity. There is nowt as blind as those who do not wish to see. I was involved in a Council planning exercise a few years ago. I kept an eagle-eye out for any signs that climate change adaptation was being worked on. The only sign I saw was a brief mention about road-planning. I don’t recall the precise details but there was a specific mention about how climate change would impact road surfaces. The logic went like this: climate change is global warming, it will get hotter. the roads will get hot and this might damage them.

That was it.

This narrow dialogue about the true impacts of climate change is currently where we are at. We think it might get a bit warmer. We are utterly unprepared for climate chaos. If there is any consolation to the people who have lost everything to the floods this winter it is this: we needed a shock to the system. We needed this focus. Water-logged fields don’t produce food. As sure as eggs-are-eggs we can guess that a drought will follow the flood. This will impact food prices. Insurance premiums will rise. As we retreat from the sea the price of land and new homes will escalate. This all has an economic effect. We will all be poorer because of climate change.

As soon as we accept that – and move beyond the current lethargy – the better. We have to stop the self delusion that we can put this on the never-never because tomorrow never comes. Tomorrow will come. It is already here.

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.


Busy doing nothing — 1 Comment

  1. Before going into detail on Slingo’s comment it is worth pointing out her previous statements on “global warming”.

    Keeping in mind that the Met Office predicted that, two weeks before the storms hit the UK, this winter was “‘likely to lead to drier-than-normal conditions across the country’” (using the same computer models they use for “climate change” predictions), last year Slingo told us that ““climate change was loading the dice towards freezing, drier weather.”

    So there’s a bit of confusion there, isn’t there. When the winter is cold and freezing, she says it’s climate change “loading the dice”. Then, when it’s wet (despite their predictions of the complete opposite), it’s also climate change “loading the dice”. And you wonder why the majority of people are scpetics?

    You are obviously quite taken with her “dice loading” analogy since you use it verbatim. However, I’m afraid Julia Slingo’s most recent comment is simply not supported by the science, was contradicted by Mat Collins (a professor in climate systems) who said “There is no evidence that global warming can cause the jet stream to get stuck in the way it has this winter. If this is due to climate change, it is outside our knowledge.” and was even left well alone by the Met Office’s follow-up statement which was supposed to clear the air. She was clearly talking out of her hat and no-one is willing to defend her unsupportable statement.

    Beyond that glaring inaccuracy, you have also ignored the fact that increasing the flooding of the Somerset Levels was explicitly stated as the preferred policy of the EA [1]

    “The vision and preferred policy
    Policy Option 6 – we will take action with others to store water or manage runoff in locations that provide overall flood risk reduction or environmental benefits. By adopting this policy and redistributing water some areas will be subject to increased flooding while others will benefit from reduced flooding. The aim is to achieve a net overall benefit. The distribution of floodwater between moors can be determined to some extent by the use of sluices and other structures on the rivers. The distribution of floodwater has developed to some extent by historical ‘accident’ rather than design. When considering the distribution of assets across the sub-area it makes sense to direct water to areas which have limited assets at risk. By redistributing floodwater, primarily from upstream of Langport to the King’s Sedgemoor Drain, the overall damage and disruption from flooding would be reduced. Other redistribution options may also be possible, although modeling has shown that technically not all options are feasible.”

    Or that Baroness Young who wants to “see a limpet mine put on every pumping station” in the Somerset Levels also oversaw the removal of sea defenses (at a cost of £30,000,000) to provide a wetland for birds and similarly ceased river dredging in the Thames Valley since they took over in 1996 [2].

    This is not to say that river dredging would have totally prevented any flooding. As you correctly observed, our insane land-management policies of building on every flood plain and reducing natural run-off wherever we can for the past several decades has not helped. Plus the fact that the rainfall this winter has been high, yes.

    The hyperbolic language of “wettest ever on record ever”, as the media has never ceased parroting, is not supported by the historical data [3]. The winter from 1929-1930 was wetter, for example. This years flooding was caused by a perfect combination of our obsession with building on flood plains, bad land-management, very poor forecasting from the Met Office and, most importantly, incompetent, environmental activists masquerading as public servants within the EA.

    [1] http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/static/documents/Leisure/_CFMP_Parrett_2012.pdf

    [2] http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9137131/instant-wildlife-just-add-water/

    [3] http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/summaries/datasets