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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9 Responses to “10 right-wing myths about climate change and the floods”

  1. Mike Stallard

    Yesterday I visited Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire at the mouth of the River Nene. It is surrounded by rich farmland, whereas before it was drained, it was salt marsh (wash) right down to Wisbech.
    Cornelius Vermuyden drained the Fens with dead straight cuts from Earith right up to the Wash. When one cut was not enough, he put in another. And another. All this was in the 17th century.
    In the 19th century, inefficient windmills were replaced by efficient steam pumps and the Fens quickly became excellent, dry farmland right up to the coast.
    Fenland lies much below sea level. On the River Ouse there is a Sluice to keep the sea out. But on the Nene, it is tidal.
    I really do hope that this excellent and productive source of food will not be lost in a return to salt flats, winding rivers which often change course, and perpetual flooding.
    I live myself on the borders of a Sea – Waldersee. It would be a shame if we, too, started going under for the first time in 150 years.

  2. Gareth Millward

    I grew up not far down the road from Sutton Bridge. Field trips to pumping stations were part of our history/geography syllabus.

    The problem down that way is that silt fens will be good farmland for a long time to come, topped up with good fertilisers. It’s the peat fens further south (Cambridgeshire) that are screwed. They need constant pumping, since flood defences alone aren’t good enough, but the farmland will soon be clay and practically unfarmable. You can bet your bottom dollar some right-leaning think tank will recommend turning off the pumps, leaving thousands homeless.

  3. Tony Fitzpatrick

    If not dredging then what is the optimum short/medium term strategy?

  4. mc

    According to the ipcc…. you don’t realise how unscientific that is then, do you?

  5. mc

    According to the ipcc…. you don’t realise how unscientific that is then, do you?

  6. Mike Stallard

    Tony, there is a school of thought (Newsnight yesterday) which says that we ought to get used to the idea of Climate Change and spend our money on renewables. Things like dredging, pumping and so on are just a waste of time and ought to be abandoned. The world is getting warmer and floods are coming so get used to it!

    There is another school of thought (George Monbiot) which says that tidal rivers actually bring salt water into the low lying areas. They ought to be blocked up with oxbow lakes and silt. Trees ought to be planted to absorb the water.
    Both sides are backed by impressive university credentials.
    Gareth’s comment is fair, actually.

  7. JC

    Interesting how you position climate change as a political and not a scientific thing. I agree that there is too much “Left – Right” politics involved, but it would be better to try to focus on the science.

    Perhaps you find science challenging, or simply not worth addressing. Remember that science doesn’t prove anything, nor is a scientific consensus necessarily correct. Also that science is about predicting behaviour and not retrospectively gathering (selective) supportive evidence.

    Thus the predictions of George Monbiot that there would be no more snow in Southern England, or that we should be preparing for permanent drought conditions do not support our current experiences of this climate change.

    Basically what I am saying is that it may be convenient to use political arguments, but don’t forget the science.

  8. Rubber Moulders

    I should say, this must be a great list… Good stuff..

  9. honukokua

    You missed out the impact of fracking fossil fuels such as shale gas and oil on climate change. Strange that. Could that be because ALL of the main parties are in favour of fracking, despite its global warming and CO2 impact – and limited, if any, national economic benefit. Labour’s “sitting on the fence – but we would have more regulation” approach is a disgrace.

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