By Anders Lorenzen
Most of us, of course, sympathise with communities who have been hit by extreme flooding and the serious impact it has on the local economy. But the sad reality is that such events will not go away. They will become worse and more frequent, and we had better start realising and preparing for it. As the climate warms floods become wilder and more extreme. We can, of course, do our bit by limiting how extreme it will be by aggressively cutting emissions and investing in adaptation.
It was painful to watch the BBC news feed this month, covering the recent extreme flooding in several villages in Yorkshire, UK. What was most painful was the lack of connection with climate change. Angry and frustrated citizens commented, that this must never happen again and that the Environment Agency (EA) must listen to the local people. This is dangerous as it suggests it is just a mismanagement problem. There is, of course, a debate to be had about what policies need to be implemented to deal with the impacts of climate change such as flooding, and there is no doubt that current policies are not adequate.
But the narrative, that a change of policies will just make the problem go away is nothing but misleading. We can’t run away from climate change no matter what we do. It will continue to bite us harder and harder. There are no simple solutions. Dredging rivers, as many locals have demanded, will not work and will only move the problem elsewhere while damaging the ecological balance.
The way the land has been farmed has a crucial role to play. Intense sheep farming in hilly upland areas has left the land vulnerable when heavy rain arrives causing flooding. Hills that used to be covered with trees which could help soak up heavy rain are now completely barren with close-cropped grass and are a disaster waiting to happen.
The real solution long term to protect against climate change is to fill these hills again with trees and bushes which keep the soil absorbent and help prevent erosion and then also protect them from grazing sheep. Cutting back on sheep farming would not be a bad idea anyway, as we know that lamb has the highest carbon footprint except for beef.
But we cannot escape the BBC’s role in this. Unlike their competitor, Channel 4 News, they’re petrified of linking extreme weather to climate change. This contrasts, in stark opposition, with how Channel 4 frequently makes it their headline story and also makes the link. The BBC really has a duty to make these links and challenge local people when they say the solution is to dredge rivers. This is what good journalism does, but it seems the BBC is too nervous to make those links and thus fails its duty to conduct critical journalism. Viewers have a right to know the link to climate change and extreme weather, as well as to hear that the UK farming system exacerbates flooding.
There is a reason why the UK parliament earlier in the year declared a climate emergency. Short term solutions are no good. Long-term thinking is required and a key to those long term solutions is to change the farming system and start reforesting those hills urgently as the bare minimum starting point.