River deltas and the power of the sea.

Last night Tony Robinson struggled through a feature-length version of Time Team, with enough material for a 30-minute programme. His central point was that the southern North Sea and the eastern English Channel used to be part of the European land mass, linking what is now England to France, Holland and Germany. He introduced us to a handful of finds of early human bones, with remains of a sabre-toothed tiger, large elephant and other tropical creatures, dredged up from beneath the sea. One marine archaeologist found a piece of wood that could have been part of a human structure when it was on land. It implied that it used to be a lot warmer here than it is this Spring, and suggested there was much more land a few thousand years ago.

I sometimes watch Time Team in its shorter format. They do dig some interesting new sites, and bring to our attention some finds from important historic remains in the landscape. You have to put up with the irritating and formulaic TV conventions. The dig always has to take place to a tight timetable, to create an artificial impression of urgency and worry lest it is not finished in time. There always has to be a row between Tony and one of the experts, and some disagreement over interpretation at the early stages which can be resolved by the end. Despite that, it can be a worthwhile and pleasant way of absorbing some history and archaeology.

Last night plumbed new depths. The producer allowed Tony Robinson to turn it into a thinly researched piece about climate change. Having made the interesting point that climate change was nothing new, and having established or asserted that the Channel was once a huge river delta with the Thames a tributary of the Rhine, Mr Robinson then proceeded to claim we could now be about to experience something similar for very different reasons based on modern climate change theory and the role of man. He suggested we are now in a warm period, without pausing to ask why he had just revealed animal bones which implied much hotter weather in ancient Europe. He produced no evidence for any of the assertions about what might happen next. Perhaps C4 will now offer a Conservative historian a reply programme.

It is an interesting idea that Western Europeans lost a large area of river delta to the sea, in the way that the sea now seems to be threatening the low lying deltas of the Ganges in Bangladesh and the Irrawaddy in Burma. Today we are all saddened by the tragic loss of life in Burma and keen that the international community should be allowed to help bring relief to those who survived.

The Dutch have shown that it is possible to take on the sea and to prevent it from making further inroads, by building dykes and sea walls, and raising polders from the floods. They also demonstrate that sea inundation is not a recent phenomenon. We need to consider which low lying parts of the world can and should be defended, and use best technology to protect the large cities that have been built all too close to the ocean rush. We could start here in Britain by planning the next London Thames barrier, because the present one will not serve the needs for that much longer. We may also have to accept that some low lying areas will be overwhelmed, as many have been throughout recorded geological time. These should be uninhabited areas, or areas where the authorities take action for re settlement in good time.

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15 Comments

  1. Stuart Fairney
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Well said indeed, these TV global warming pieces rather put me in mind of some of Leni Riefenstahl’s offerings, and I regard them as equally invalid.

  2. Rose
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    And now that the Cold War is over, they always have to jam their own programmes with electronic noise.

  3. Derek
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Apart from being an incorrigible old lefty, my main dislike for Tony Robinson and his Time Team programme is that it completely disabuses you of the idea that archaeology is anything like Indiana Jones. All the better if it was as Tony would be left with insufficient time and energy to pontificate on climate change mumbo jumbo. Mainstream television presents climate change as fact when the science is equivocal at best.

    It amuses me the lengths television goes to in obscuring brand names, of products during programmes, lest credibility be lent to the brand. Alas, no such censorship extends to climate change.

  4. Freeborn John
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    There should indeed be much more action on practical measures to prevent flooding and less empty talk about tweaks to the tax system. The Thames flood relief channel has, in my opinion, been an unqualified (if little heralded) success. Prior to its opening in 2001 there was flooding in many years along the non-tidal stretches of the Thames between Oxford and Windsor, but since its opening the situation has dramatically improved. I am quite sure that the heavy rains last summer that led to the floods in Gloucestershire and Yorkshire would also have caused flooding in the South East had the Thames channel not been in place. Similar flood relief channels should be built to protect communities living along the Severn and other rivers.

    Reply: I am going hoarse pressing the government to do just this.

  5. David morris
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Whenever I come across MMGW evangelists on various forums I ask them the same very simple question. So what caused the climate to be much warmer in past history? To date, like the good arch Leftie Robinson is, they simply ignore the question and point to "scientific concensus".

    Perhaps you might yet convince your party leader, and hopefully next PM, to start asking similar questions before spouting on about more and more "Green" taxation.

  6. Tony Lamb
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    My heart always sinks when watching these documentaries – 'here comes the global warming sermon'. In this case, there was so much padding I turned over after 15 minutes so missed it.

  7. John
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Last night I watched the ITV 'disaster drama' Flood. Shock horror, violent storm, starts off up in Scotland and ends up causing tidal surge up the Thames. Thames Barrier fails to halt surge, London is flooded.Obviously filmed pre-Boris but what amused me was no Prime Minister to be seen. Deputy Prime Minister (played by David Suchet) takes control.
    Given Gordon Brown's reputation as a ditherer, perhaps the writer had this in mind.
    Thank God it was only a tv drama.

  8. adam
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    i saw five minutes of that flood disaster show and decided it was rubbish.
    It had that short guy in it who pops up everywhere, despite being a terrible actor. He was doing his 'grave concern' facial expression, which is his only one.
    Like in acting, there are a lot of average television execs who produce poor television.
    'Long way down' was ruined by these types and their artificial formulaic.
    A GW ref. is just another tick in their formula box.

  9. APL
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    David Morris: "Perhaps you might yet convince your party leader, and hopefully next PM, to start asking similar questions before spouting on about more and more “Green” taxation."

    Unfortunately, not only is Cameron a greenie. He is in thrall to Zak Goldsmith who is, also a bit of an anthropomorphic global warming fanatic.

    Adam: "i saw five minutes of that flood disaster show and decided it was rubbish."

    Yes, I agree, it was utter tosh. It is all part of the 'scared to death' zietgeist, which the government is not above exploiting to push through their nasty little ID cards and population surveillance programme. Just to make us safe, you understand.

    What they omit to tell us is, if there are terrorists cells operating in our cities, it was the government that let them in with their lax border controls. This is after all an island, it isn't rocket science to protect the borders.

    But of course that function is now a European 'competence'. A misnomer if ever there were one.

  10. mikestallard
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    In "Flood" there were certain very typical BBC conventions:
    1. The Police Commissioner was, of course, a woman.
    2. The Army chappies were idiots who obstructed her on sexist grounds.
    3. The good Cop who collected the hero and heroine at the end was black.
    4. The person who killed himself because he couldn't take the heat (meteorologist) was, of course, a white, middle aged man.
    5. Marriage was quaintly seen as sort of having an affair. This meant that the family input was sketchy and, although the plot seemed to turn on it, it was very hard to follow.

    But what super animation and what excellent, convincing acting!

  11. archduke
    Posted May 7, 2008 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    regarding time team – anyone else notice the fact that they were digging up bones of animals from much warmer climes – such as lions, elephants, hippos… and that these animals existed in forested areas that are now at the bottom of the north sea.

    hang on – dont the global warmists remind us of "rising sea levels" – but how come the sea levels were LOWER back then , and yet the climate was warmer…

  12. Hullabaloo
    Posted May 7, 2008 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Just as most people tired of `charidee`concerts,singles and benefit gigs in the nineties and contracted `charity fatigue`.
    It seems as if everyone is now thoroughly sick of being beaten with the green stick!
    If we don`t tell `em they`ll keep doing it!

  13. John
    Posted May 11, 2008 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Err … sea levels were much lower at that time because it was —colder— then, so much water being locked in ice sheets at northern (and not all that northern) lattitudes. Perhaps Mr Redwood has not heard about the ice age(s). The last one ended not all that many millenia ago. Britain's vertical position is still adjusting to the loss of that weight of ice, rising on one side in particular (and it's not the side next to the Channel).

    And the last ice age was preceded by others.

    So sure, the warming in the last 10,000 years is nothing to do with what humans do; but to pooh-pooh anything that happens now as "Wasn't me, guv', honest!" is highly irresponsible.

  14. mike stallard
    Posted May 11, 2008 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Please will someone explain this phemonenon?
    If you freeze, say, water in the fridge, the ice expands and blows the top off the bottle.
    If the ice mnelts in the ice caps, however, the sea level RISES.
    Why?

  15. JR Woodman
    Posted May 21, 2008 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    John (11th May) is correct. Those sabre toothed tigers and 'elephants' (which we call 'mammoths') referred to by John Redwood, lived when it was much colder and the ice sheets extended over the land in the northern hemisphere. That's why the sea level dropped, mike stallard (11th May): the ice builds up on the land. And when it melts off the land it runs into the sea, raising the sea level. On the other hand ice which is floating on water as it forms or melts neither raises or lowers the sea level. These are facts which are well known even to primary school children.

    In answer to the question about why there have been warmer climates in the past. There have always been fluctuations in climate, no one denies that. However it is a fact that the CO2 level in the atmosphere has risen dramatically since 1800. Before that time, whether the climate was warm or cold, CO2 levels were very stable. That increase in greenhouse gasses, which has been produced by man's activities since the advent of the industrial revolution, is what is creating MMGW.

    How dare people who obviously know nothing about the science — and based on absolutely no evidence — rubbish the work of the scientists who spend their lives researching the impact of climate change?

    More unbiased information can be found if you Google, 'Met Office Climate change'. Or do you think the Met Office is a left-wing conspiracy? Please get real.

    By the way; I pay higher-rate tax, run a business and vote Conservative; so don't think I'm a lefty!

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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