Water, water, everywhere!


As can probably be guessed from the title, I’m going to write about floods. They seem to be the main topic of news and conversation, depending whereabouts in the country you happen to be. Of course I have sympathy for the people who are homeless and have lost possessions, but only up to a point.

This may seem a little harsh, but there are a few very important reasons why the flooding we are currently seeing was not only predictable but inevitable.

The first is all to do with geology. The vast majority of valleys in the British Isles have been formed over millions of years by the effects of erosion, mainly due to either glaciers, or, more commonly by rivers. That little stream wandering through a wide valley didn’t end up there by chance, it built the whole place, changing course and size with the seasons and the climate and as it cut its way through different materials.

A second factor is that we as a people have grown a bit lazy. Settlements used to be built on high ground, for a variety of reasons, including defence, but also because of the dangers of water. Nowadays high concrete walls can be built to contain the water (more on that in a bit), and we no longer need to live in walled fortresses to protect us from marauding enemies. That means we can live by the river, where there is plenty of fresh water, or by the sea so we can trade by ship.

The trouble with living by the sea is that the sea changes. To be fair this wasn’t a known fact in the middle ages. Everything was as it always had been, the sun revolved around the flat world which had been created in six days only quite recently. Now of course we know a little bit more (a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, someone once said!). What is at present a nice piece of flat land with sandy soil ¬†near the coast was at one time the sea bed, and at other times may have been miles inland and/or covered by ice! Sea levels in the past 20,000 years of ice ages have varied by over 120 metres, an enormous amount compared to the estimated 1m rise predicted for the coming century.

Over the population of the world has expanded and people have arrogantly believed they can change nature to suit their needs by draining land, building on flood plains, walling in rivers and barricading out the sea. The Somerset Levels, very much in the news lately, are a perfect example. This area of wetland has been drained by settlers for over 1000 years from land that is at or below sea level. This may have seemed a good idea back when it was believed that we lived in a constant world, but with hindsight we have been setting ourselves up for a disaster. Serious changes to the coastline are not just likely, they are unavoidable, but whilst this has been understood for decades, it has been ignored for just as long as environmentalist propaganda. Towns and cities continue to expand along rivers and low lying coastlines at home and around the world.

When you combine all these factors it is hard to avoid the conclusion that serious flooding and ultimately a redrawing of the map will be the long term result. Personally when I see a new another new housing development being built on nice flat ground near a slow-running river I just think to myself “nice house, but let someone else by that one!”.

People who claim to fight climate change for ¬†environmental reasons are deluding themselves. The planet can cope just fine with anything we can do to it, it was here before us and it’ll still be here when we’re nothing but fossils. What they’re afraid of is losing the way of life they know now.


Further reading:

Yale Environment 360