It wasn’t the Revenge of the Creature. But at the minimum it seemed like the Revenge of Creation. The Spectator describes the scene where Prince Charles steps gingerly off a rigid rubber boat to inspect an area in Britain recently devastated by floods and a reporter aks him “whether he blamed the Environment Agency. Judiciously, he replied, ‘You may well think that — I couldn’t possibly comment.’ Later, having spoken to several of those intimately involved in this crisis, he hinted rather more plainly at his own view by saying, ‘The tragedy is that nothing happened for so long.’” The Spectator continues:
With the third flood disaster to hit the Somerset Levels in three years, the Environment Agency has been horribly caught out by a catastrophe largely of its own making. As local experts have been trying to point out since last year’s flood (and as some hammered home to the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, when he recently made an emergency visit to Somerset), the unprecedented scale of this mess is not just due to nature. It is a disaster that has resulted from a deliberate policy followed by the Environment Agency since, 18 years ago, it was given overall responsibility for river management and flood defences throughout England….
The key to the Somerset Levels lies in its rivers, kept dredged to provide all that water pumped off the land with an escape route down to the sea. From the moment the Environment Agency took over, however, it began to neglect its responsibility for keeping those rivers clear. From 2000 onwards, under the leadership of a Labour peeress, Baroness Young of Old Scone, this reluctance to dredge and to maintain the pumping stations became a deliberate ideology, designed to give priority to the interests of ‘habitat’ and ‘biodiversity’ over those of protecting the Levels as farmland. Lady Young is famously said to have remarked that she wanted to see ‘a limpet mine attached to every pumping station’.
The undredged rivers gradually become clogged with silt, drastically reducing their ability to take floodwater away. The Somerset farmers and engineers who run the local ‘drainage boards’, responsible for cleaning the ditches or ‘rhynes’, also found that the Environment Agency was forever on their backs, imposing every kind of restriction on what needed to be done; such as how they could dispose of the resulting silt and vegetation, now classified as rigorously ‘controlled waste’.
The floods were apparently not only inevitable, but foreseeable. The chief problem to preventing them lay in a policy which maintained that active flood control was bad. Nature treats humans as part of the natural world but environmentalists treat nature as part of the political world. Many a misunderstanding arises therefrom. Alas the rains and the seasons refuse to read Labor Party and Green Left manifestos and the results are often inconvenient. And so the floods came.
The indifference of the natural world to politics was highlighted in Tom Clancy’s 1998 novel Rainbox Six. In that book, it is the jungle which destroys the radical environmentalists after they fail to wipe out the human race. The Wikipedia plot summary gives the key details:
radical eco-terrorists from a biotechnology firm called the Horizon Corporation … plan to launch a sophisticated bioweapon attack intended to wipe out the majority of the human race. …
Their plans destroyed, the eco-terrorists retreat to their refuge deep in the Brazilian rain forest, hoping to negotiate a deal to return to the United States. Clark, knowing that they may never be put on trial, tracks down the Brazilian hideout and deploys Rainbow to the location. After Rainbow defeats the eco-terrorists’ militia force and destroys their facility and supplies, Clark has the survivors stripped naked and left to die, taunting them to “reconnect with nature.” When no survivors resurface in nearby towns, one agent notes that although people try to preserve nature, nature is not known for returning the favor.
Habitability in the face of nature’s variance has historically been obtained by paying the cost. The natural state of things is primitive man sitting out in the rain and so would remain without the constant application of ceaseless labor to keep the heater going and roofs sound overhead. The Green ideology argues that humanity is better off submitting to nature, using less energy towards maintaining habitability that in the past. This was the position of the chairman of the British Environment Agency, Lord Smith, who essentially argued a retreat from an area had been settled from “Roman times” was in order.
He indicated that people living in flood plains were responsible for deciding to live in places susceptible to flooding.
“Anyone who builds in a flood plain, anyone who buys property in a flood plain, needs to think about the flood risk that that property faces,” Lord Smith told the BBC. “When planning applications come in for this sort of building we are a statutory consultee, but we are not the statutory planning authority.”
Ian Liddell-Grainger, the Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said: “We have always lived here, we have never had a problem like this.
“It is the abject failure of the governance at the Environment Agency which has left me in the position where I’m standing in between a massive, multi-million pound operation to save the houses that we have been building here since Roman times.
But at least Smith had the choice clear in his head, a choice which the public has not grasped because politicians have long tried to hide its unpalatable implications. Smith understood that Green meant accepting floods. And floods mean you can’t live where people have lived from Roman times. The “simpler life” that Green policies promise require the public to make more allowances for the fury of nature. It means less mobility, smaller design margins, more restrictive zoning, more expensive waste handling, and a lower “standard of living”. In general it means doing with less and living more dangerously.
You can live as Green as you like if you don’t mind sitting out in the rain. But people like their lattes, titanium bicycles and Ipads and really don’t want to hear about what things cost in terms of convenience.
The drought which has recently devasated California’s Central Valley offer even more stark choices. The fruit and vegetable production of the US is really endangered. But so are the smelt. Both sides of the public debate blame man for the drought. NPR quotes farmers who blame the water shortage on misguided environmentalists which have favored river smelt over farmers while the Los Angeles Times cites no less than Barack Obama who points the finger at anthropogenic Global Warming. In each case, “somebody” did it the only question is who? The Democrats or the Republicans?
The BBC notes the political similarity between the UK floods and the California drought. In both cases the public is asking ’how come the bear that tried to eat me wasn’t as friendly as Ben was to Grizzly Adams?’ Why is nature not the sweet idyllic place humming with classical music I see on the television specials?
While the East Coast is buried in snow and the UK is battling record flooding, California is in the midst of a historic drought. Last year it rained less than it had in any previous year since the state’s founding in 1850. Rivers are flowing at record low levels, reservoirs are drier than ever, and the mountain snowpack – snow that melts over the coming months and provides water throughout the year – is only 20% of expected levels.
The issue is causing concern not just in California but across the country, which depends on the state’s agricultural bounty. It also threatens the jobs of thousands of farm workers who will have neither fields to plough nor fruit to pick.
Republican lawmakers in Congress have proposed rolling back several environmental regulations and undoing years of negotiation over water issues in an effort to end what they are calling a “man-made drought”.
The successes of technology have accustomed the public to believe that government can control the environment. That we can “choose” this or that. But if nature has a mind — dynamics — of its own; and man can only adapt to natural forces to a limited extent, then whatever Barack Obama says about ‘making the oceans fall’ we can only try to survive. Nature is a complex system whose actions we can’t even predict. All that technology and the best engineering has bought us from the dawn of the human race is a chance to show up tomorrow.