Why are we so bad at responding to floods? – Tom Burke – LBC – 28 Dec 15

 

 

LBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

LBC: Lets speak to Tom Burke, he’s an environmentalist, and a former government adviser on the environment. Good morning Tom. Do you think that the government was warned about this or not?

Tom Burke: Well I think that its very interesting that the Prime Minister said the day yesterday that we have to expect more of these events. And I think that there is no doubt that we have known that these kind of weather events were coming for a long time. So there is a real question about whether our preparations have been adequate, we certainly haven’t thought through far enough in advance, which means that we are still building houses on flood plains, which means that they are at high risk of being flooded in events like this.

LBC: when you say we are still building on flood plains, are we doing that right now?

Tom Burke: Yes, still.

LBC: Do we have to do that?

Tom Burke: Well that’s what the argument is we don’t have to do that, there are lots of other opportunities but they are not ones that the government seems keen on taking. You need the flood plains as a place in which you can let the water go when you have these extreme events. The whole point of a flood plain is that it absorbs the water and it slows the water down, it means that the water can flow down the river more slowly. If you have built over your flood plains you have two problems, one is that you have nowhere else for the water to go, but rush further downstream even faster, and secondly you flood the houses you have built on the flood plains. Si it’s a really bad idea not to be thinking through more carefully where we put our houses. That’s certainly one of the things we need to think about in the long run.

LBC: Do you think that the government knew that it was actually going to be this bad, or could no one have predicted this?

Tom Burke: I don’t think that you can predict the exact nature of a particular event, but what you do know, and what the government has been told about repeatedly, is that as the climate changes as the temperature goes up, warm air hold more moisture and when it lets it go, it lets it go all at once, and so you are going to get  more frequent and more aggressive events like this, but exactly when each event will happen I think is as difficult to predict as any other bit of the weather. So you can’t blame the government for not being ready for exactly what happened this time, you have to take a much more strategic approach to dealing with these issues.

LBC: Are you amazed about reports of a flood barrier, in York, which was opened because the barrier and the building itself was flooded.

Tom Burke: Well all equipment from time to time goes wrong and you can’t predict everything. So I wouldn’t focus too much on that one event, obviously it attracts attention, but I don’t think that would have been done without a good cause for it so I wouldn’t focus on that. The really important thing now apart from the strategic view of what we do in the future, is what do we do in the short term to help people, and all those businesses, a lot of small businesses don’t have business continuity insurance, so there’s a real problem about making sure that they can get back on their feet, as well as helping householders. So there is a real money issue here in the immediate future. And then there is a real issue for householders, which is how are they going to get insurance in the future. The government has got a scheme to help them to get insurance but it’s not going to be adequate for the kind of future that we can expect.

LBC: And just a final point Tom, Tom is an environmentalist and a former government adviser on the environment.  Tom do believe that climate change is the cause of all of this?

Tom Burke: It’s part of the responsibility for it, for the reason I said. You’ve got these storms coming over water that’s warmer than it used to be, and more of it gets picked up as those storms come through and it gets dumped on us. The reason the water is warmer and the reason the air is warmer is because of a changing climate. We are about one degree above where we were in pre-industrial times, so that’s a significant difference. The thing people need to worry about is at the moment our temperature is going to keep on going up, so we are going to see more of these events.

LBC: There’s going to be more flooding you’re saying?

Tom Burke: Yes, there will be more extreme weather events of all kinds, it’s not just floods. You look at what’s happening in other parts of the world, you have wildfires in Australia that are destroying peoples houses. You have the same going on in California. So you have floods, you have mudslides and avalanches that are caused by rain. So you’ve got a whole load of extreme weather events. You’ve got a drought that has been going on for four years in California. These are exactly the things that scientists have been telling us would happen if we don’t control climate change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About tomburke

Tom Burke is the Chairman of E3G, Third Generation Environmentalism, and an Environmental Policy Adviser (part time) to Rio Tinto plc. He is a Visiting Professor at both Imperial and University Colleges, London. He is a member of the External Review Committee of Shell and the Sustainable Sourcing Advisory Board of Unilever and a Trustee of the Black-E Community Arts Project, Liverpool.
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