Regular columnist and Labour MP for Nottingham East Nadia Whittome discusses the recent storms and flooding...
This year has started out rather tempestuous. As I’m writing this in late January, storm Jocelyn - the tenth named storm in five months - has just hit Britain, causing school closures and travel chaos. It comes just days after the even more severe storm Isha, and three weeks after storm Henk, which resulted in the river Trent bursting its banks. Large parts of Nottinghamshire were affected by flooding, and Colwick Country Park at times looked more like Colwick Country Lake. Hundreds of people across the county had to be evacuated from flooded homes.
Politicians can’t control the weather. But they can affect how well or badly we deal with it. As recently as November, the National Audit Office warned that plans to better protect homes from flooding have been cut by forty percent since 2020. Nearly six million homes remain at risk, and new properties are being built without checks being carried out to ensure that suitable flood defences are in place. Plans to improve rivers through natural flood defences also had to be scaled back due to underfunding, putting communities at risk.
This story is just one example of the short-sighted logic of austerity. Over and over again, we see how government cuts create trouble and often additional costs further down the line. Last year's Raac crisis - crumbling concrete forcing schools to shut during term time - can in part be traced back to the Tories cutting funding for rebuilding schools in 2010. Had the government not cut support for insulating homes in 2013, the cost of living crisis would have been less severe and millions more people would be spending the winter in a warm, energy-efficient home. The underfunding of the NHS leads to people getting more unwell and record numbers being out of work due to long-term illness. The list goes on.
The floods also remind us of another kind of short-termism that many politicians are guilty of: failure to act on the climate crisis. Scientists are raising the alarm that extreme weather events will become more common in the coming decades. Unless we act fast, bigger and more dangerous floods, storms and heatwaves could become the new normal, and there’s only so much that can be done to minimise damage. The Environment Agency has warned that, if temperature continues to rise, entire communities will have to be relocated from British coasts and rivers.
But rather than doing all it can to avert it, the government is prioritising profit. As cities and towns across the UK were being hit by dangerous storms, the government was pushing on with its bill to license more offshore oil and gas drilling. While the plan was originally announced as a response to skyrocketing bills, even the Energy Secretary had to admit that it won’t save households any money. The energy generated will be owned by private companies and sold on the global markets, for internationally set prices. The main people seeing the benefits will be fossil fuel execs.
The simple, inescapable truth is that the climate crisis will change our society. The question is how, and who will bear the costs
Opponents of climate action, including those on government front benches, often claim that there is a trade-off between supporting the economy and protecting the planet. But there can be no stable economy on a planet that’s (figuratively or literally) on fire. A recent study has estimated that climate change is costing the world sixteen million dollars (thirteen million pounds) every hour - a figure that will only grow.
The simple, inescapable truth is that the climate crisis will change our society. The question is how, and who will bear the costs. We could properly tax the very rich and big polluters, and use that money to support a green transition today - or we could ignore the problem and face the consequences tomorrow. As usual, those worst affected would be working class people.
There is no contradiction between preventing further warming and adapting to a changing climate, for example with proper flood defences. The two must go hand-in-hand. Currently, the government is prioritising neither, and communities are paying the price.
I hope you’re staying warm and safe from the storms. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a mild and sunny spring, and for some much-needed political change.
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