So, the floodwaters in the south of England and the west coast of Wales are beginning to recede. The shocking media images of submerged homes, acre upon acre of drowned farmland and the skeletal remains of a railway line suspended on a rack of fresh air are being supplanted by the drama of unfolding political events in the Ukraine – and it’s easy to appreciate, how quickly people, unaffected by the flooding, can be distracted with seemingly more significant news.
Somebody once told me, that the shelf-life of a news item in our memory is, typically, about four months. I believe it’s probably far less than that. People, busy surviving their own day-to-day dilemmas, quickly get on with their lives and leave responsibility for ‘sorting things out’ to councils and government agencies. After all, as the saying goes, “That’s what they’re paid for …”
And, maybe, there was a time when I might have said exactly the same. But these days, I hope my views have come of age. As a grandmother, my observations, not only of myself – but of the world around me are more finely tuned. Now, when I hear scientists make projections about the future, I listen.
In September 2013 the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published a report, in which it stated that ‘human activity’ was the ‘dominant cause’ of the climate change we are now beginning to experience. Thomas Stocker’s speech made BBC headlines for a day and I paid attention. I’m sure many others did too. I imagined that political leaders, and ordinary people alike, would sit up and take note. After all, approximately 95% of the scientific community now agreed that man-made carbon emissions had contributed to the extreme weather events we’ve been experiencing. Yet, this eureka moment, quickly became just another news story – and there’s nothing as old as yesterday’s news, is there?
But for me, alarm bells were ringing. Projected rising sea levels of around 1 metre and rising global temperatures of between 4-6 degrees by the end of the century are not something to be ignored. In the UK, since the year 2000, we’ve already suffered four of the five wettest years on record. We’ve seen thousands of homes flooded both in the North and the South. Across the world, from America to Australia, from Typhoon Haiyan in Philippine’s to Nepal, countries have struggled to cope with a range of extreme weather conditions. So how much evidence do we still need? Just what are we waiting for?
In this world of instant communication, we’re all susceptible to news fatigue, at risk of becoming immune to news reports that don’t directly affect us – from a safe distance these news stories are in danger of being treated as just that – stories: fictions that burst onto our screens with all the high drama of a ‘disaster’ movie. But unlike, The Perfect Storm or The Day After Tomorrow, events in reality continue to unfold beyond our screens: Real events require real solutions. They need wise direction and prudent decisions to create a safe and sensible conclusion for all involved. In real life, there are no stuntmen to take the ‘fall.’
But the government’s script is shaky to say the least. David Cameron’s statement that ‘money is no object’ is at odds with the consistent reduction in funding to the Environment Agency. After flying over the Somerset Levels, he described the scene as ‘biblical.’ Yet, unlike Noah, it took our Prime Minister more than six weeks to arrive! And in this particular tale of devastation, it is not a God of Wrath who is punishing us for our misdemeanours, it is Mother Nature who is venting her fury at being increasingly abused, plundered and misunderstood.
It seems obvious to me that if we remain wedded to our dependence on fossil fuels then we are storing up heartache and misery for the future. Even by 2050 the world will be a very different place because of the impact of climate change. And 2050 isn’t some inconsequential never-never land. There will be no impish Tinkerbell to shake her fairy dust and make everything just so. No, 2050 is a time when my children will be retired, and my grandchildren will in their forties, and having to face the consequences of political decisions that are being made now.
No amount of flood defences or re-routed rail track will protect my grandchildren from a world where conflict is rife as oil becomes increasingly elusive; crops fail through extreme weather conditions; and whole swathes of the human population risk displacement. Even our relatively small island will undergo a transformation – a re-shaping – a shrinking. It’s not a make-over for the faint-hearted: flat lands and flood plains such as the Somerset Levels will be swallowed up, many cliffs along the coast will collapse into the sea’s relentless embrace and some small Scottish islands will just sink beneath the waves like Atlantis.
Traditionally, the British are great at standing politely in queues (unless it’s the Next sale, of course); or demonstrating ‘a stiff upper lip’ in adversity. BUT, if we want to avoid these cultural idiosyncrasies becoming an absolute necessity – the blitz spirit writ large in the 21st Century – then we have to take action. We cannot look the other way. We need to persuade those whom we’ve elected to go out into the wider world community and state with absolute certainty, “It is happening. Climate change is happening. We must work together to reduce its impact.”
In short, we need to change our ways. Instead of living for today – we need to think about tomorrow .