Thursday, 21 August 2008

Government policy increases extreme weather risk

OK, the arboreal defaecation habits of Ursidae may be more astonishing, but it's sometimes worth stating the bleedin' obvious.

The costs of extreme weather events have been rising exponentially over the past few decades. Partly this is due to there being more Extreme Weather because of climate change, but it's also due to changing living patterns, population increase, increased global asset values and increased vulnerabilities of modern technologies and environments. Societies can't do much about climate change, but steps to mitigate risk by changing development patterns and behaviours are within their power. Here in the UK government policy has been perverse in that not only does it not mitigate the risk of increased costs, it actually works to increase risk.

Not building new towns on flood plains is a start. Not building new towns in areas without enough fresh water would be good policy as well. Not encouraging mass immigration into a region without the sewers, gas or power infrastructure to cope might also be a good idea. If Joseph Bazalgette had been constrained by the Treasury's Green Book rather than the genius of his own vision, London would now be knee-deep in sewage. Building-in resilience with a factor of safety of 7X and a design life of 100 years rather than our modern 1.5X and 25 years might cost more in the short term but may pay dividends in the long term.

Pratchett once remarked that a man dressed in copper armour standing atop a mountain during a thunderstorm shouting "All Gods are bastards!" was tempting fate. He might also find some difficulty in getting life insurance.

Living 100 feet above sea level in a solid Edwardian brick and slate home perhaps I can afford to be just a bit complacent; all my rain and sewage falls down the hill to the new housing estates in the river valleys, where it will now burst through manhole covers and flood homes rather than running into the Thames. But it would be mistaken to be complacent.

The number of failures it would take to get to Cholera, Typhoid, Typhus and Diptheria, to famine and lawlessness, from our present state are growing fewer and the risks greater. The freeze in the new-build housing market in the south-east may actually be a blessing in disguise. London's population not reaching 9m by 2016 may actually be a good thing. And insurers refusing to insure homes built on the flood plain may bring some sense to government policy.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You missed the bit about our government harbouring refugees from international crises isn't doing anything to mitigate risk over there, but is doing plenty to increase it here.

Nick

hatfield girl said...

People don't know what a sudden weather change can do. I set off in the Landie to rescue a small walking party who had unwisely ignored the black threat gathering over their destination in an otherwise clear sky. They were so surprised to see me - it's only going to rain, they said. Once inside, and with the Heavens opened, mud streaming over the track and lightning at Wagnerian standards, and they instantly switched to - it's global warming. We must all act to .....

It was a thunderstorm, they didn't know about them and open hillside.

DocBud said...

"Partly this is due to there being more Extreme Weather because of climate change,"

There is no evidence to support this statement:

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/resource-2476-2008.02.pdf