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Floods show planning and investment needed
Kate Jones, Socialist Party Wales
Britain has just had its wettest winter ever recorded. A couple of years ago it had one of its coldest.
The weather is ever more unpredictable, and extreme weather seems to come more often and to last longer.
A year ago, farmers were digging their livestock out of the snow. Now many of their fields are under water.
Floods are nothing new - remember Cumbria 2005 and 2009, Hull 2007 and 2013, York 2000 and 2010, North Wales 2012, the Severn Valley year after year? But this year's floods in the Thames Valley have really hit the headlines, and seeing Tory heartlands under water has kicked the government into promising action. But what action?
Flooding in Gloucester, photo Chris Moore
Tory clown Eric Pickles tried to blame the Environment Agency (EA) for the floods, but in reality the EA has seen its flood prevention strategies abandoned, and £100 million a year cut from flood defence budgets since the last election.
At the same time millions are spent every year on agricultural subsidies that actually make flooding worse, encouraging upland farmers to replace trees with grazing for livestock.
Planting of trees in the uplands could actually reduce downstream flooding by nearly 30%.
But we are unlikely to see any such sensible policies from Environment Minister Owen Paterson - a climate change 'sceptic' who refuses to accept that man-made global warming is the root cause of Britain's increasingly extreme weather patterns. But as this is the man who famously said badgers "have moved the goalposts" when his cull failed to kill enough of them, it's hardly a surprise!
"Money is no object" according to the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Not only is this a sick joke to people suffering the effects of public spending cuts while reeling from a recession which has seen their living standards in freefall; it is a meaningless soundbite unless it leads to real action being taken to mitigate the effects of extreme weather, including an end to cuts in the Environment Agency and investment in real flood prevention.
It isn't even true. On a visit to West Wales last week, Cameron made it clear that there would be no extra money to help areas hit by the heavy rains and storm surges which have devastated Welsh coastal towns and infrastructure.
What's the betting that resources and help in England will be focussed on the Home Counties - yet again forgetting the North and the South West, where people have learned that support will come from local appeals quicker than from government funds?
A letter in the Daily Telegraph from 17 heads of institutes of environmental management, forestry, landscape architecture, agriculture, hydrology and others, called on the government to take real action on floods, as emergency measures are not enough.
They argue for long term management of water. This means planning forestry and land management schemes to hold back water in the upper reaches of rivers, and enforcing sustainable drainage systems for both old and new buildings, especially those on flood plains.
They call for cooperation between the water companies, local authorities, the EA and Natural Resources Wales, landowners and communities.
Far from blaming the Environment Agency for the floods, these experts call for more resources - a demand we would support.
The Environment Agency (and its Welsh equivalent Natural Resources Wales) need the staffing and the physical resources to address the real causes of the flooding, as well as to deal with its immediate effects.
This call for coordinated planning and more resources is what socialists have long argued for. But to secure this planned investment over the longer term, the blockage of the profit system needs removing through the socialist transformation of society - the only way to provide for the needs of the majority and of the wider environment.
Flooding in Gloucester, photo Chris Moore
What is the jet stream?
The jet stream is a fast moving current of air which flows from west to east around the northern hemisphere at a height of 5-7 miles, and is driven by the temperature difference between the cold of the Arctic and warmer temperatures further south.
In recent years the Arctic has warmed more than areas further south, reducing the temperature difference and slowing the jet stream, resulting in 'wave' patterns which keep it 'stuck' in one place for prolonged periods of time.
This causes weather systems to remain static for long periods. This does not mean that every year will bring the same weather, but that any particular weather is likely to last for weeks or months.
The same jet stream pattern that caused floods in Britain this year has brought unusually mild weather in Alaska while bringing extreme cold to eastern parts of Canada and the USA.
Owen Paterson - Secretary of State for the Environment
Ex-public schoolboy Paterson is a climate change sceptic, refusing to accept the advice and expertise of over 95% of climate scientists that the oceans and atmosphere are warming and that the major cause is increased CO2 resulting from the burning of fossil fuels.
On becoming minister he refused the offer of a briefing on climate change science from Professor David McKay, the government's own Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
He even said, when interviewed on Any Questions? (June 2013), that the temperature has not changed in the last 17 years.
Paterson has voted and spoken strongly in favour of fox-hunting, comparing opponents to Nazis while saying in Parliament that only "honest and decent people" went hunting.
He supports the aviation industry and backs the expansion of Heathrow Airport. He was behind the recent trial badger cull in SW England, and when asked in a BBC interview about its failure, famously replied that "the badgers have moved the goalposts."
Paterson is also a strong supporter of genetically modified (GM) food technology, dismissing consumer opposition to GM as "complete nonsense" and "humbug" (Telegraph 9/12/2012).
To cap it all, he thinks Britain's shale gas reserves are an "unexpected and potentially huge windfall" (Telegraph 4/9/2012), while he thinks windfarms are a "massive waste of consumer money".
Oh yes, and he voted against the legalisation of gay marriage. Might he not qualify as a 'swivel-eyed loon'?
This is a longer version of the article carried in the print edition of The Socialist.
In The Socialist 26 February 2014:
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