10 right-wing myths about climate change and the floods

Left Foot Forward editor James Bloodworth debunks 10 of the most common right-wing myths about flooding and climate change.

Since Ed Miliband’s comments linking the flooding in Somerset and the Home Counties with man-made climate change, the denialist myth machine has been running on overdrive.

Climate change is either not happening at all, isn’t man-made, or is occurring but should be ignored all the same.

Left Foot Forward editor James Bloodworth has debunked 10 of the most common right-wing myths about flooding and climate change that have resurfaced in recent weeks in light of the flooding.

1) Government cuts have not hampered the response to the flooding

According to the Guardian, flood-stricken communities have been left without planned defences following government funding cuts. Flood defences planned for Somerset under the previous government would have moved 536 homes out of “the very significant or significant flood probability category to the moderate or low category”, according to EA documents. However the scheme has received no funding under the coalition and is projected to receive just £792,000 in 2016-17.

2) Climate change means warmer weather, not flooding

Actually, man-made climate change will almost certainly result in more extreme weather, including flooding, droughts, snow and storms. The idea that climate change will result in Britain basking permanently in Mediterranean temperatures is wishful thinking. There have always been extreme weather events; what’s changed is that they are now occurring with ever-greater frequency.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), about half of the extreme weather events in 2012 “reveal compelling evidence that human-caused change was a [contributing] factor”.

3) Green levies are too costly

Most so-called green taxes on energy bills are made up of measures to help low-income households conserve energy. These green policies, introduced by the previous government, add up to a total of £112 a year. However the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says that measures such as boiler replacement, insulation measures and efficient appliances will be worth around £145 per household by 2020, with more savings potentially available in the 2020s.

4) Flood defences are too expensive

Sometimes spending an initial sum of money can lead to bigger savings further down the road. However many on the right seem unable to grasp this concept and demand savings now. In the case of flood defences this is yet another false economy. As highlighted in point one, many flood schemes were mothballed after 2010 because of spending cuts. However, according to Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole, for every £1 invested in flood defence £8 is saved in damages.

5) There’s still a debate among scientists about man made climate change

There is a debate among scientists as to the possible consequences of man-made climate change, but not as to whether it is happening, despite the myths propagated by the right-wing press. It is “extremely likely” that humans have been the principal cause of warming since the 1950s, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). An analysis of abstracts of 11,944 peer-reviewed scientific papers, published between 1991 and 2011 and written by 29,083 authors, found that 98.4 per cent of authors who took a position endorsed man-made climate change, with just 1.2 per cent rejecting it and 0.4 per cent uncertain.

There is an overwhelming consensus in support of the theory of anthropogenic global warming, in other words.

6) Economic growth is more important than acting on climate change

Economic growth is certainly important, but if you accept the idea that the planet is warming with potentially catastrophic consequences, then the corollary is to take action to try to prevent or slow that warming. Even if you remain sceptical, we don’t have another planet to run the experiment on, so surely it is a better bet to err on the side of caution considering what is at stake. Going for economic growth is fine, but what good is growth to you if your house is under water?

7) The flooding is a freak occurrence

Extreme weather is increasing and there is mounting evidence linking the increase to man-made climate change. 2013 was the seventh-warmest year since modern temperature records began in 1850. The 2000 to 2010 period was the warmest decade on record so far. Last year the most powerful typhoon ever recorded to hit land crashed into the Philippines. January 2013 was the hottest month ever measured in Australia and in June of last year the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth for that month was registered in Death Valley, California, where the mercury hit 129.2F (54.0C).

It wasn’t all heatwaves, though. In Austria 150 to 200mm of rain (5.9 to 7.9 inches) fell in a single day and Europe experienced some of the heaviest rains for 100 years.

8) The problem of flooding would go away if only we dredged the rivers more often

According to Hydrology experts, dredging the local rivers would not have done a great deal to prevent the recent flooding. As Prof Roger Falconer of Cardiff University put it:

“I have lectured in hydraulic engineering (in civil engineering) at three universities for over 35 years and have been involved in many environmental impact assessment studies worldwide..To reduce significantly the peak water levels one needs to increase the hydraulic gradient, i.e. the water surface slope, and thereby increase the flow from the marshes to the sea. This will not be significantly achieved by dredging. What dredging will do is to increase the area of flow, which will marginally increase the flow over the short term.  Furthermore, the dredged bed will rapidly readjust itself with time to the natural hydraulic conditions – over a relatively short time – and one is then back to square one, i.e. more flooding and more dredging.”

9) Climate change is in the distant future, rather than the present

The climatic impacts we are already experiencing are the result of a temperature increase of 0.7 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times. The global temperature has already risen and is likely to increase further. Climate change is about the present as well as the future, and burying your head in a denialist fog will not change that.

10) The floods are caused by gay marriage

Perhaps, if you really believe this, you ought to be on the street hollering and selling pencils from a paper cup.

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