Behind the issues about flood defences and dredging, the current floods point to a bigger and global question.
Unless we plan a big shift away from fossil fuels, global warming will make events like these floods, and on a much bigger scale, more and more common.
They are likely to escalate to levels which will make human life on earth difficult or even impossible in its present mode — and which, before they do that, will create great pressures for wars, crises, and mass population movements.
Many islands and coastal regions will disappear under the sea. Water supplies and agriculture will be disrupted.
Yet the big shift in energy production now is towards increasing extraction of fossil fuels through carbon-spewing techniques like fracking.
Wind, solar, and tidal power, and “carbon capture and storage”, are getting relatively little research and development. Even less is being done to reorganise buildings, cities, transport, and work patterns so as to reduce carbon emissions.
Corporations can make more profit, quicker, by expanding fracking, by selling more gas-guzzler cars, and by promoting carbon-spewing industries.
Since 2009, when the Copenhagen summit failed, governments have retreated on “green” policies. Each government says that global capitalist competition makes it uneconomic to be more “green”.
The profit priority blocks the development of nuclear power too. Despite the real problems with nuclear power, we in Workers’ Liberty have concluded that the urgency of reducing carbon emissions makes it wrong to rule out nuclear power as a technology for “base load” power (power when the wind isn’t blowing, the sun isn’t shining, etc).
Nuclear power requires large investments and long-term planning. Those are necessary, but being blocked by capitalist preferences for techniques which bring bigger profits quicker.
A system driven by competitive struggle between capitalist owners for who can make most profit, quickest, cannot sustain a plan to save the planet.
A plan which enables humanity to live in balance with the globe and other species, and with proper regard for the future, can be achieved only by democratic control of economic life — only by the working class organising to take production out of the hands of the profiteers.
The recent extensive flooding, with worse still predicted, has brought into question the policies of the Environment Agency and dragged questions such as those around climate change and agricultural land management into the public eye.
Flooding has caused extensive damage and personal loss in large sections of the south of England. However, despite this being the main coverage on the news, this is not just restricted to the Somerset Levels. Unusual weather patterns have caused extensive damange to coastal areas all along the south coast, and over the past few years flooding has become an increasing problem in areas of Wales, Hebden Bridge (2012 and 2013), and along the river Severn in Herefordshire and Worcestershire to name but a few.
Ironic then that the minister whose department holds the remit for preparing the UK for the effects of climate change, such as increased flooding, is a known climate change skeptic.
Owen Paterson has come under fire in the media for his lack of action on dredging, and his lack of visits to areas effected by flooding, but very little seems to be aimed his way to criticise him for his skepticism over climate change. The government has also rightly come under attack for the cuts to funding in the environment agency, with a 12% cut to budgets for flood defences in the coming year it is difficult to see how increased flood defences could be put in place.
Conscious government policy over the past 30 years on agriculture and land use has drastically changed the British countryside and affected its ability to cope with heavy rain. The trend has been to large scale, industrial, farming where trees and shrub land are cleared for larger and larger farming fields. With large subsidies from the government for this land clearance and to large farming businesses, this process has been driven forward quickly. This reduces the ability of land to soak up excess water, causing water to run through the landscape to where it causes problems. Large subsidies have also been available for clearing hillside land for farming, which allows water to run straight off hillsides into valleys, causing increased flooding.That is not to say that a return to multiple, small scale, farms is necessarily a desirable thing. Neither is it to say that human intervention to shape the landscape around us is neccesarily a bad thing. It largely depends whose interests are driving it.
Added to the change of agricultural land use, is the increasing trend for building on flood plains. Figures obtained by The Independent on Sunday show that last year local councils allowed at least 87 planning developments involving 560 homes to proceed in England and Wales in areas with a high risk of flooding. Over the past decade many building regulations have been relaxed or simply not been stringent enough in the first place, allowing the construction industry to make more profit by building on flood plains.
Flood prevention and defence is going to be an increasing issue not only with changing weather patterns but with predicted sea level rises. This requires integrated and collective thinking. Currently many flood barriers protect economically important areas or simply areas where richer people live, to the detriment of poorer areas downstream.
It requires planned programmes to plant trees and convert certain areas of land into natural flood barriers, therefore investing money to the benefit of the majority, despite and against the priorities of capitalism.