Bill Carmichael: Floods tragedy and a tide of nonsense

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Of all the dreadful photographs of the devastation caused by the floods in Cumbria and Lancashire over recent days two images stick in the mind.

In one a wedding shop owner in Carlisle surveys the damage to her wares – once beautiful, floor-length white dresses stained to the knees by filthy brown water. Thousands – if not tens of thousands – of pounds worth of stock ruined beyond repair.

In another a woman is enveloped in a comforting hug by a neighbour as she stands ankle deep in foul water in what remains of her living room in the Lancashire village of St Michael’s on Wyre. Most poignant of all a bedraggled Christmas tree stands nearby.

As it happens we decorated our family Christmas tree this week, complete as always with jolly music, mince pies and a glass or two of sherry. But the mood was subdued, as we couldn’t help thinking of the terrible time our neighbours were having just a few miles across the Pennines.

Yet, the tragedy unfolding in the North West didn’t stop eco-ghouls from attempting to make political capital out of other people’s misery.

The floods are all our fault, they told us, because of our addiction to fossil fuels – and unless we signed up to drastic emission reductions at the current climate talks in Paris, we can expect more of the same.

Apparently, if we all just agree to pay more tax it will enable our politicians to control not only the weather but the climate too. No matter what the question is the answer is always the same – pay more tax!

This is of course nonsense on stilts. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to connect Storm Desmond – or indeed any other individual weather event – to increases of CO2 in the atmosphere or long-term climate trends.

Floods have been with us since Noah was a lad, and they will be us for some time yet, regardless of how much extra tax we agree to pay in Paris – although if we continue to build on the flood plains we are asking for trouble.

But surely it is not beyond the scope of human ingenuity and modern engineering to devise flood defences that actually work. Some places in Cumbria have been flooded three times in a decade – despite the Environment Agency spending £45 million to protect homes since 2009.

The Dutch seem to manage it – even though much of the country is below sea level. A few years ago I rented a house north of Amsterdam where water stretched out on all sides and lapped at the front step even in the middle of summer. But locals told me they had not experienced any flooding since the Great North Sea Flood of 1953.

The problem we are told, as always, is money and the Government has cut £116 million from spending on flood defences this year. Times are indeed hard, and government debt continues to soar, but money can always be found if the London metropolitan elite find the issue sufficiently fashionable to pique their interest.

Take for example the foreign aid budget, which has soared under the current government and will reach more than £16 billion by 2020 – more than we spend on the police, counter-terrorism or immigration controls combined.

We even give £279 million a year to India – a booming country with its own space programme.

UK foreign aid spending includes £5.8 billion of taxpayers’ money on an International Climate Fund to combat global warming. For example we are funding a £28m project to stop flooding in Kenya. So, we can afford to protect people in Kenya from flooding, but not people in Cockermouth?

This isn’t a case of insufficient money, but one of twisted priorities. A couple of billion siphoned off from the vastly bloated foreign aid budget could easily be used to protect homes and businesses here in the UK.

But it isn’t going to happen. The needs and problems of taxpayers and small business owners – particularly in the North of England – are of little concern to London-based politicians when there are more trendy causes to support.

Instead George Osborne has set up an emergency £50 million fund to help compensate flood victims in the North West.

£50 million? Compared to what is actually needed that is just a drop in the filthy waters that have engulfed large parts of our country.