And suddenly, with the Met Office leading the way, there was a mention of climate change!! Now, from the onset, I will be totally honest and admit that I am personally persuaded by the various arguments in favour of climate change and global warming. Others are not, and whilst I respect their opinions, I believe they are wrong.
Doubtless there are effects within our weather systems, which are unique in themselves, or even repetitive events with a long incidence horizon. On top of this though, the extreme weather events emerging over the past few years, coupled with wide ranging research evidence, is sufficient to convince me that major changes are occurring and that we can envisage these arising time and again in the future. Even whilst TV reports from the Somerset Levels were forthcoming this morning, an announcement emerged that torrential rain and flooding in Bolivia had claimed 38 lives and caused 40,000 to be homeless!!
Sadly there are those amongst our politicians who are serious sceptics when it comes to climate change, foremost amongst which appears to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Paterson. But is it convenient public scepticism being offered up aimed at hiding a serious private political realisation ? The latter would undoubtedly contain a pragmatic assessment of the infrastructure and environmental costs involved in addressing the implications of climate change, and the challenges involved, if such future regular adverse weather occurrences continue. All in the run up to an election in 2015 too! Better to hope the research is wrong, that the problem will go away in terms of frequency and that the short term resolution of problems is sufficient to maintain popularity. WRONG, I'm afraid! The situation will be a headache for who ever is in power and better to commence addressing the problem now than being forced into permanent knee jerk reactions in the future that will do little to alleviate the misery being experienced.
Already we see the preferred political actions emerging as far as approaches are concerned. Pick holes in the additional funding being offered, (UKIP ), distance yourself from what has happened ( several ), use the opportunity to hopefully see the departure of the Chairman of the Environment Agency, ( a former Labour MP ) transparently fronted up by Eric Pickles, use it as an opportunity also to challenge overseas aid (UKIP) and so it goes on. Keeping more focussed on the theme, the Prime Minister has promised £130 million to combat the problem, but this is a drop in the ocean contrasted against what one imagines is actually required to combat both the current problems and extreme weather events in coming years. But , folks, remember,we are currently in a situation of retaining or creating votes given the approach of 2015!!
Regrettably criticism of the sincere efforts made by various agencies in the past to support the unique wildlife interest and farming activities of the Somerset Levels have been dismissively referred to by some, particularly UKIP. In parallel their leader also advised we should ignore climate change as long as China and India were constructing coal powered power stations. Surely such policies demand to be confronted, rather than ignored, given the global consequences.
So not much joined up thinking in evidence, although the call for an "action plan" within six weeks by the Secretary of State on the occasion of his visit to the Somerset Levels area at least signalled a serious intention. Sadly continuing circumstances have offered little respite. Amidst all this has actually been an example of first class joined up thinking at play. Early February saw the publication of a report,
2030 vision for the Somerset Levels. Use this link to read a blog entry by Mark Avery on 7th February that deals with the contents and background. The amazing thing is that the vision is one agreed by farmers, conservationists, local authorities and Government agencies based on an initiative set up by Richard Benyon (MP) whilst he was a Minister at DeFRA. Given the widespread consensus aimed at the area supporting a thriving local economy in the future, in which farming will play a major role, it will be interesting to see what is reflected in the eventual actions put in place by DeFRA based on the report commissioned above.
BUT, all this is not just about the Somerset Levels! Events have occurred at many places across Southern England, all of which require equitable consideration. There is a need for a National Policy Plan to emerge, evaluating the needs for the future, the costs involved, the actions required and the accompanying policies to be put in place. It's not just about dredging or flood defences, emergency services or insurance provisions, transport services or upland catchment management being seen in isolation, but the single and simple need of bringing all of these together This is not the ground for petty party politics, nor internecine battles between agencies, but for an increasing self evident problem to be addressed by equally self evident national solutions. If events during the 2014/15 winter have any resemblance to this current one, then we might even see the subject become a major election issue. We might even see George Osborne suggest some Keynesian based economic solution by announcing major infrastructure initiatives !!