I have been asked to debate the flooding problems with George Monbiot on Sky tv (10.20am). I thought I would look up some of his views.
In 2006 he wrote a book called “Heat: How to stop the planet burning”. This stated that “our rivers are starting to run dry.” He forecast global warming, which in turn would lead to more “drought events”.
His book of course was about the world as a whole. It was not confined to the UK. It was about a longer time horizon than a few years. Clearly it has little relevance to today’s big issue in the UK of the floods. Our rivers are bursting their banks. We are told that it was the middle of the eighteenth century when we last had this much rain. The Environment Agency reminds us that in 1919 more of the Somerset levels were drowned than today. We must assume that the eighteenth century was not a time of man made global warming and 1919 was well before the big global build up of CO2. I understand that recent cold snow filled winters in the UK or this year in the USA do not disprove the global warming theory, but nor do they help give people confidence in its shorter term predictive abiliites.
More recently, in November, the Met Office told us there might be “drier than normal conditions across the country” December to February. “The weakening of the prevailing westerly flow means that the normally wetter western or north western parts of the country may see a significant reduction in precipitation compared to average…” They did preface this by telling us they had low confidence in their forecast, as it is very difficult to do. It serves to remind us all how difficult it is to forecast weather for a month of two’s time, let alone over a period of decades, even with very powerful computers and plenty of instruments to read conditions.
I hope tomorrow that Mr Monbiot will grasp that many members of the public do not wish people to be ideological about all this. Every sensible person accepts two things. Firstly the climate is often changing. Secondly it is extremely difficult for man to predict and control how it will change, as it is subject to many differing forces. Man has no power over the sun, volcanic activity, the jet stream or the pattern of water vapour in the atmosphere. It is equally difficult for people in rich countries to tell poorer countries with much larger populations to avoid burning the larger amounts of energy we did to grow richer.
What people do expect in an advanced country like the UK is that their governments and Environment Agency should do all they can to handle surplus water when it does rain too much, and to store enough water for use when it does not rain enough. As our population keeps growing we need to do more on flood defence, as more people and homes can cause more water problems. We also need to put in more clean water capacity. We have to adjust to the climate as it changes, and to the extra requirements imposed by a rising population.
If Mr Monbiot is right with his theory, he has to persuade China to use less energy and tell Germany to stop burning all that lignite, amongst the larger problems. I somehow do not see him succeeding with that difficult task. Meanwhile, there are more practical things we in the UK can do to protect homes and farms from flooding.