Britain as Bangladesh

Climate change is now an excuse for lack of basic flood control.

Large swathes of southern England are underwater, the result of the heaviest rains since that favorite British year of 1776. The weekend brought a respite from the deluge, but the waters may still rise in some areas as flood crests make their way down the rivers. Then there’s the political reckoning, which has only begun.

The British public is critical of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron for failing to mobilize government resources quickly for relief efforts. It’s striking that both he and Labour leader Ed Miliband seem to agree that the real culprit behind the floods is global warming. Mr. Cameron may hope that fingering carbon emissions for a wayward jet stream will absolve him of blame, while Mr. Miliband has accused the Prime Minister of bowing to climate skeptics within his party.

So while Britons scramble for higher ground, their leaders indulge in a jesuitical debate over who bears moral responsibility for the weather. Together the two parties have failed to uphold government’s most basic responsibility, which is to keep its citizens secure from catastrophe. Instead both suggest that Britain will simply have to live with more flooding.

But before British homeowners start rebuilding their houses on stilts or mounds of earth as Bangladeshis do, someone should ask their environmentalist leaders why this government and the previous Labour government scaled back flood defenses. That critical mistake made this year’s rains more damaging than they should have been.

Police officers walk down a street in Egham after the River Thames burst its banks in southeast England February 14, 2014. Reuters

Flood control is the responsibility of the U.K. Environment Agency, a large bureaucracy organized into eight directorates covering everything from fishing licenses to asbestos removal. While the agency’s primary mission is “to protect and enhance the environment,” its forte is coming up with new rules to protect biodiversity. Since biodiversity benefits from flooding, the Agency gave the hardest hit area, the flood-prone Somerset Levels, the lowest priority for flood defenses. The county’s current inadequate water-control measures, it said, are “essential to the environmental interests.”

Another reason for the severity of this year’s floods is the failure of the national and local authorities to dredge rivers regularly. That is down to the Environment Agency again; Communities Secretary Eric Pickles admitted the government “made a mistake” by not dredging on the advice of the Environment Agency. The European Union should share the blame, since its rules on disposal of silt raised the cost of maintaining waterways.

Things could be worse. Much of downtown London would be flooded right now were it not for the closure of the Thames Barrier 28 times since the beginning of December. Built in the 1970s, the barrier has succeeded in preventing a repeat of 1928, when the House of Commons, Westminster Hall and the London Underground were flooded.

The ingenuity and investment that made the Thames Barrier possible could save much of southern England from future inundation. Then again, it’s doubtful the Thames Barrier could be built under current environmental dogma. Instead Tories and Labourites go on telling Britons to keep a stiff upper lip and suffer for their carbon-emitting sins.

Source: The Wall Street Journal


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