Sunday 2 February 2014

Flooding in the West Country... and climate change


In the English-speaking world, the subject of climate change is still an 'issue'...
Public opinion on climate change - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In the UK:
Owen Paterson faces choice between ideology and evidence - 04 Sep 2012 - James' Blog: a blog from BusinessGreen.
Owen Paterson, his sceptic brother-in-law, and how Defra went cold on climate change - UK Politics - UK - The Independent
Owen Paterson's climate change scepticism 'has blinded him to future flooding risks', claims Labour as winter storm continues to batter Britain - UK Politics - UK - The Independent
Number of climate sceptics rising in the UK, survey finds | Environment | theguardian.com
What climate change? Fewer people than EVER believe the world is really warming up | UK | News | Daily Express

In the US:
Most climate change sceptics in US, UK and Japan - Telegraph
Why Are Americans So Ill-Informed about Climate Change? - Scientific American
Newspapers in UK and US give climate sceptics most column inches | Environment | theguardian.com

In Australia:
The No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics Party
Sceptics put heat on climate change | The Australian
Big Australian media reject climate science
Wasting energy on climate change sceptics - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Know any climate change sceptics? Turn off their air conditioning | Kevin Hawkins | Comment is free | theguardian.com

An interesting comment has been widely reported in this weekend's press from Prince Charles, who was handing out prizes to Young Sustainability Entrepreneurs:

"It is baffling, I must say, that in our modern world we have such blind trust in science and technology that we all accept what science tells us about everything – until, that is, it comes to climate science. All of a sudden, and with a barrage of sheer intimidation, we are told by powerful groups of deniers that the scientists are wrong and we must abandon all our faith in so much overwhelming scientific evidence. So, thank goodness for our young entrepreneurs here this evening, who have the far-sightedness and confidence in what they know is happening to ignore the headless chicken brigade and do something practical to help."

"Perhaps it has been too uncomfortable for those with vested interests to acknowledge, but we have spent the best part of the past century enthusiastically testing the world to utter destruction; not looking closely enough at the long-term impact our actions will have."

Prince Charles: climate change deniers are 'headless chickens' - Telegraph

But whilst the Telegraph was too polite to criticise the Prince, the Mail and Express were not:
Prince of Wales hits out at climate change deniers... labelling them the 'headless chicken brigade' | Mail Online
Climate change deniers are 'headless chickens' says Prince Charles | UK | News | Daily Express


It seems, then, that an understanding of the current flooding will be framed within the climate change debate - although, it is a little more nuanced when you look at the details...

David Cameron has linked the widespread floods and bad weather affecting the UK to climate change, saying he “strongly suspects” the phenomenon is causing more “abnormal weather events”. In comments that are likely to anger some Conservatives who are sceptical of climate change, the Prime Minister told MPs: “We are seeing more abnormal weather events. Colleagues across the house can argue about whether that is linked to climate change or not. I very much suspect that it is." Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, has been accused by Labour of being "blinded" to the risks of flooding by his climate change scepticism.
The Prime Minister was responding to a question from Tim Farron MP, the Lib Dem President, who said: "The science is clear that the extreme weather conditions affecting our communities are a destructive and inevitable consequence at least in part of climate change."
Mr Cameron said: “The point is whatever one’s view [on climate change] it makes sense to invest in flood defences, it makes sense to invest in mitigation, it makes sense to get the information out better. We should do all of those things.”
David Cameron 'very much suspects' climate change causing abnormal weather such as floods - Telegraph
Exeter-based Met Office expert backs PM's claim that the increase in 'abnormal' weather is linked to climate change | Exeter Express and Echo

The debate about climate change is distracting us from the true causes of flooding, a group of eminent scientists warned yesterday. Concreting over flood plains, cutting down trees and expanding cities is making flooding much worse – and we need to act on that knowledge, they said. The exact link between global warming and flooding is much less certain, and those who keep pursuing the topic are taking attention away from the true problem of over-development, they said in a research paper.
The paper, published in the Hydrological Sciences Journal yesterday, says: ‘There is such a furore of concern about the linkage between greenhouse forcing [the process by which man-made greenhouse gases are said to force climate change] and floods that it causes society to lose focus on the things we already know for certain about floods and how to mitigate and adapt to them. ‘The linkages between enhanced greenhouse forcing and flood phenomena are highly complex and it has not been possible to describe the connections well, either by empirical analysis or by the use of models,’
Bob Ward, policy director at the London School of Economics Grantham Institute, disagreed, warning that talking about climate change is vital to the debate. ‘Four of the five wettest years on record in the UK have all occurred since 2000, with 2012 being the second wettest, and this winter shaping up to be the wettest ever,’ he said.
Climate change is NOT main cause of floods, say experts | Mail Online
Climate change not main cause of floods, scientists suggest - Telegraph
Taylor & Francis Online :: Flood risk and climate change: global and regional perspectives - Hydrological Sciences Journal -

A freedom of information request has revealed that the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) is cutting spending for "climate change initiatives" to only £17.2m this financial year. This is 41% less than the year before. It is feared slashing the funds will mean a greater risk of issues related to flooding and other global warming consequences in the UK. Bob Ward, policy director at the London School of Economics' Grantham Research Institute, commented: "These shocking figures should worry everyone in the UK. Defra is the lead government department for climate change adaptation and is primarily responsible for making the UK resilient to the impacts of global warming, such as increased flood risk."
Paterson slashes UK climate change budget - News in Brief - The Ecologist
Exclusive: Climate scepticism blamed as Owen Paterson slashes spending on global warming - UK Politics - UK - The Independent

Questions about the link between flooding in the UK and climate change could be answered within two years, according to a leading scientist.
Prof Myles Allen from Oxford University said the only thing holding back the work was the lack of investment. Around £10m a year would provide a real-time attribution system on the role of humans in extreme weather. He said it was a "scandal" that the public should be denied clarity on this issue. Scientists are notoriously cautious about linking single weather events, such as the recent storms and flooding in the UK, to rising global temperatures. Researchers can discern a human fingerprint in extreme weather, but it has required huge amounts of computing power to calculate all the possible outcomes.
BBC News - Lack of research linking climate change and floods is a 'scandal'

As more heavy rain, high tides and gale force winds were forecast to bring further flooding to parts of Britain this weekend, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its final report breaking down the impact of global warming for individual areas. It is the first time it has brought climate models together to make seasonal and regional projections. Britain will also see greater rainfall in the next two decades, with a maximum of 12 per cent more rainfall and an average rise of 4 per cent.

Dr Peter Stott, the head of climate monitoring and attribution at the Met Office Hadley Centre, agreed that Britain is likely to see wetter and warmer temperatures in future. “We are seeing more extreme temperatures and more intense rainfall events around the world. The expectation in a warming world is for an increased frequency of heatwaves and greater moisture in a warmer atmosphere is expected to lead extreme precipitation events, more intense and more frequent.”

Winter deluges may become the norm for Britain - Telegraph

The deluge that has engulfed southern and central England in recent weeks is the worst winter downpour in almost 250 years, according to figures from the world's longest-running weather station. The rainfall measured at the historic Radcliffe Meteorological Station at Oxford University in January was greater than for any winter month since daily recording began there in 1767, and three times the average amount. The latest Met Office data shows that the region from Devon to Kent and up into the Midlands suffered its wettest January since its records began in 1910. But Ian Ashpole, the Radcliffe Meteorological Observer, said: "The Radcliffe measurements more than double the length of the Met Office record and give us a better grip on how things are changing."
Flooding has been identified as the most dangerous impact of climate change for the UK and is hitting harder and faster than expected, according to scientists. Thousands of homes have been flooded since December, and much of the low-lying Somerset Levels remains under water.
January was England's wettest winter month in almost 250 years | UK news | The Observer


The particular focus currently is on the Somerset Levels:
Flooding experts have warned that the increasing frequency and severity of flooding that will likely be caused by climate change may mean the Levels will eventually have to be abandoned to the sea.
“You are looking at retreat”, Prof Colin Thorne of the University of Nottingham told the Guardian“It is the only sensible policy – it makes no sense to defend the indefensible. Can the Somerset Levels be defended between now and the end of the century? No.”
Hannah Cloke, associate professor in hydrology at the University of Reading, agreed, saying “We could make the choice to protect the Levels forever, but that is going to take a lot of resources. My gut feeling is that you are going to have to let that be a marshland in the end.”
UK weather: more flooding expected in south and west - Blue and Green Tomorrow

Government-funded landscape experiments in Somerset and Yorkshire are demonstrating that blocking upland drainage channels, replanting trees next to rivers and deliberately flooding fields can protect downstream homes by slowing the flow of water, which stops waters rising fast and reduces the silting up of channels.

Flooding experts say Britain will have to adapt to climate change – and fast | Environment | theguardian.com

The current floods are causing enormous distress to people living and working in communities such as Muchelney and Moorland, and have resulted in appalling damage to some homes and businesses. And being part of the Levels community ourselves, we share and understand their worries, their frustrations. It's really tough at the moment.

Living in a major floodplain, generations of Somerset people have learned to adapt to the floods, but the scale of flooding over the last two years tells us we need to look urgently at how we manage water, and how we make ourselves resilient to climate change. These floods warn us that we must face up to what's coming – significant long-term changes in rainfall patterns, including wetter winters and more frequent spring and summer downpours as well.

We must work together to overcome floods | Western Daily Press

The impact of climate change - especially milder, wetter winters - on the South West has been considered quite seriously by the local media:

Future climate change in the South West

It is predicted that the South West will experience hotter, drier summers and warmer wetter winters.
By 2050, according to the UKCP09 projections, the South West will experience hotter summers with an increase in average summer temperature of between 1.3 - 4.6 °C on the current average summer temperature. The hottest summer days could rise by as much as 7°C although it is more likely to be around 4°C. Average winter temperatures are also set to rise with an expected increase of between 1.1 - 3.6 °C on that which is currently experienced today.
In terms of precipitation, the total annual rainfall is unlikely to change, however, the patterns of rainfall could shift with total summer rainfall likely to decrease by around 20% and winter rainfall predicted to rise by a similar amount.
The key findings from the UKCP09 medium emissions scenario for the South West region for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s are shown in the South West Region Emissions Scenarios (pdf, 20kb)(opens in a new window)  table.
Future climate change in the South West - dorsetforyou.com
How the South West is preparing to weather storms of climate change | Western Daily Press

Utility companies and government agencies are also taking it very seriously:
Climate change - the wider picture - South West Water
South West | English Heritage
Natural England - Climate change project

There is a considerable amount of research available on how to understand, as well as to prepare for, climate change in the South West:
Climate SouthWest's old site archive - main site now at climatesouthwest.org
SWCouncils - South West Climate Change Action Plan
Adapting to Climate Change – developing local preparedness in the South West | Sustainable Health South West
Vulnerability to heatwaves and drought: adaptation to climate change | Joseph Rowntree Foundation

For a rather naughty alternative take on flooding and climate change: 
from an Exeter University student...


The Vision Group will be hosting an event on these issues next month:

What do we know now about the changing world climate? How does it impact us? Do the recent extreme events indicate that our climate is changing? What can we do to minimise our consumption of resources and impact on our climate?

Vision Group for Sidmouth - Climate change, Energy, Extreme Events

See also:
Futures Forum: "Limits to adaptation to climate change: a risk approach:" event 16th December
Futures Forum: The Center for Climatic Research in Madison, Wisconsin... and climate change
Futures Forum: The national press and the IPCC report... and Climate Change
Futures Forum: Climate Change: the film

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