In southern England, January 2014 was the wettest since records began (the 1760s in the case of the Oxford Radcliffe Observatory). Thousands of homes have been flooded, and large parts of the Somerset Levels have sat under water for weeks. In a week of storms (‘stormageddon’, announced the Daily Mirror), a stretch of the sea wall at Dawlish in Devon was destroyed, cutting the only rail route to Plymouth and Cornwall. The Environment Agency was accused of ‘putting birds before humans‘. In the Daily Mail, the Environment Agency was likewise accused of favouring conservation by failing to dredge Somerset rivers ‘and then spending £20m on bird sanctuaries’.
These headlines are perhaps no worse than we have come to expect from public debate about the environment in the UK, driven, as they are, by a combination of ignorance and outrage. Indeed, by some standards they are quite sensible. A councillor for Henley–on-Thames (from the UK Independence Party), blamed the storms and floods on an act of God because of legislation to legalise gay marriage. Meanwhile, The destruction caused by floods and storms have triggered that favourite British sport of pass-the-blame: victims blame the government for not doing more, the Local Government Minister blames the Environment Agency, whose Chairman replies by accusing politicians of ‘playing politics’ with the crisis, and for cutting his organisation’s staff. Continue reading