UK FLOODING: THE NEW NORMAL IN A CHANGED CLIMATE

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By Natasha Senior

Storms have mercilessly battered Britain, one after the other over this festive period, bringing with them severe and unrelenting floods. The scale of damage and devastation was unprecedented, but it was not unpredictable. We’ve seen these storms growing with intensity every year. And, whilst a few might naively blame El Niño 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’s 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 can’t undo what damage we’ve already done. The carbon we’ve pumped into the atmosphere will remain there for generations to come and so too will the weather it brings with it. The climate has changed, it continues to change and there’s no going back. These violent winter storms, and the floods they bring with them, are here to stay.

Yet policy decisions do not reflect this at all and 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, and each time the government has promised, and failed, to be more prepared next time. Nearly two years ago, after severe flooding in southwest England, David Cameron declared that “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.

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Even now, in the wake of these winter storms, as the devastated communities try to recover, the reality of climate change still proves to be a difficult pill to swallow. Cameron issued yet another tepid response on how to prevent these problems in the future: “clearly 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 permanently 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. And 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. This will result in further and more drastic increases in global temperatures. We need to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

the government’s grand rhetoric on halting
climate change needs to translate into real action.

The level of global change we’re experiencing now presents many interconnected, multi-faceted challenges that have affected and will affect different countries in different ways. It is hard to tell as a layperson what this means, but the experts have long since warned that the most severe effects in the UK would be powerful storms and increased flooding. There has been very little to suggest that the government has taken these warnings seriously, as they still seem to operate on the principle that it’s better to be sorry than safe. But they can’t keep living in denial, we are living in a different world. The Earth has warmed by one degree and it’s time we started acting like it.

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