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Human influence

14 February 2014

THE inundation of, first, the south-west, and now the Thames Valley has prompted its share of silliness. Comparisons with the biblical flood have been thankfully few, apart from those from the Prime Minister and the odd UKIP councillor, now ex-UKIP. But the notion that "something ought to have been done" has persisted, with the result that various politicians have been pressed into promising various solutions. Now is not the time to point out that some things ought not to have been done, such as building houses on reclaimed flood plains, allowing agricultural land to silt up natural drainage, or concreting over land that used to absorb rainwater. These have all been short-sighted actions, but the extent of the rainfall over the past month means flooding would have occurred in any case. It is arguable that any country is wealthy enough to afford to prepare for every climactic emergency. It is now laughable to think of the measures taken to insure against future drought. A winter or two ago, councils were severely criticised for not stockpiling enough grit to tackle icy roads. This year, those increased stocks of grit sit largely unused (although, we trust, protected from the rain for future use). The Environment Agency has been criticised for inaction, but townspeople around the country have reason to be grateful for action taken since the floods of summer 2007. And the Thames Barrier, expensive though it was in 1984, has proved extremely cost-effective. It was announced this week that it had been operated 28 times since 6 December in order to prevent more serious flooding as excess riverwater meets the high tide. Thus things have, indeed, been done to prevent, or at least alleviate, the harmful effects of severe weather.

At the risk of sounding predictable, however, there are things that should be undone, as far as it is in our power to do so. The degradation of the world's forests and the irresponsible use of fossil fuels are clear causes of the chaotic weather that, having brought mayhem to the more vulnerable regions of the world, now brings hardship to the affluent West. (Incidentally, anyone who believes that those who suffer in the developing world deserve, at the very least, our 0.7-per-cent-of-GDP assistance might wish to stop taking the Daily Mail - see illustration) Those who deny the link between human profligacy and unnatural weather bring to mind those who challenged the link between tobacco and lung disease. The long years spent proving causality, thus opening the way for anti-smoking measures, meant that thousands of smokers died in ignorance. The death toll from inaction to combat climate change cannot yet be calculated, but it is likely to be far higher.

The Church Times readership survey suggests that six per cent of our readership is engaged in action to protect the environment. Such a wide-ranging survey could not probe details, but this is an encouraging figure, none the less. When the floods recede, our hope is that churchpeople will campaign with increased vigour for action on the real cause.

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