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Booker On The Cumbria Floods

December 10, 2015

By Paul Homewood 




Booker writes for the Mail:


There have been two quite different responses by politicians and the media to the devastating floods afflicting the people of Cumbria.

One of these has rightly focused on the ordeals of all those thousands affected — above all, those whose homes were filled with filthy water.

(I know a little of what they are going through because my own former home in North-West London was flooded by the most intense rainfall ever recorded in Britain, in 1975.)

It was equally right to praise the admirable reaction to this crisis of the emergency services and volunteers who arrived from all over Britain to give round-the-clock aid to the victims.

But the other response couldn’t have been more different.

This was the way the disaster was hijacked by a particular group of people for wholly wrong-headed political ends — led by Dame Julia Slingo, the Chief Scientist at the Met Office, abetted by Liz Truss, Secretary of State for the Environment — not to mention by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

All these people have tried to make out, first, that last weekend’s rainfall in Cumbria was ‘unprecedented’, on a scale never before seen. They then used this claim to promote their belief that our climate is changing disastrously because of all the carbon dioxide being pumped into the air by fossil fuels.

So how far can these claims be justified?

Based not least on information from the Met Office’s own voluminous records, it seems there is no proper evidence to support either of them.

For a start, as I shall explain, the Met Office records show that the rainfall in Cumbria was far from unprecedented.

In fact, there are two separate problems that have caused havoc this week. One is rainfall on the mountains of the Lake District, which has long been acknowledged as the wettest region in England. The other is the flooding of the nearby city of Carlisle, which lies in a different water catchment area.

The Met Office records show that both these places have suffered from very similar extreme rainfall before.

Its claim that last weekend saw the most intense 24-hour period of rain ever recorded in Britain — more than 13 inches (344 millimetres) — was based on readings taken at Honister, at the top of Borrowdale.

But this Honister data record, high on a mountainside — where rainfall is likely to be heaviest — only goes back to 1970. Many earlier Lake District readings, taken at much lower sites where rainfall is likely to be less intense, show figures almost as high.

And among these, none stands out more than the legendary downpours of 1897 and 1898, which were comparable to anything experienced in 2015.

Two scientific studies of the 1898 Cumbrian flooding agreed that rainfall on the hills above Borrowdale could well have been as high as 13.8 inches (350 millimetres) — even more than that now being trumpeted by Dame Julia Slingo as ‘unprecedented’.

And that was 117 years ago, decades before we ever heard of global warming.

As for the flooding of Carlisle at the weekend, the cause of this was not just the abnormal rainfall brought by what the Met Office absurdly called ‘Storm Desmond’.

The problem was rivers already swollen by weeks of rain — itself not unusual for November. ‘Desmond’ just pushed it over the top.

Historical records show that Carlisle and Cockermouth have many times suffered flood events as serious as this one. Those listed on the Environment Agency website include no fewer than four such floods in the Thirties alone.

So where does this leave the excitable claims by the Met Office’s Dame Julia and Environment Secretary Liz Truss that this recent rainfall was yet further evidence of ‘climate change’, which is making such ‘extreme weather events’ more frequent and more intense?

Despite the global warming-obsessed Met Office’s insistence that its computer models show that more carbon dioxide (CO2) is making such events ‘seven times’ more likely than before, even the latest report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concedes that there is no evidence to show there have lately been any more ‘extreme weather events’ in the world than there were before the alarm over global warming was ever thought of.

In fact, this is not the first time the Met Office’s £230,000-a-year Chief Scientist has been caught out playing this game. We may recall Dame Julia making remarkably similar claims at the beginning of last year, when national headlines were daily filled with coverage of those terrible floods in Somerset and to the west of London.

Dame Julia was also quoted then as saying that, between December 2013 and February 2014, Britain had seen ‘the most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years . . . we have records going back to 1766 and we have nothing like this’.

Her argument was that this strongly suggested a link with climate change.

Yet the Met Office’s own records showed there had been even more rain between November 1929 and January 1930, again long before we ever heard of ‘climate change’.

In England alone, the 15.6 inches (396mm) of rain which fell in the winter of 2013-14 — claimed by Dame Julia to have been the most exceptional period for more than two centuries — was significantly exceeded by the 19.5 inches (495mm) recorded between November 1929 and January 1930.

In fact, that rainfall two years ago turned out to rank as only the fourth heaviest three-monthly rainfall figure since the Met Office record began in 1766, below those recorded in 1929-30, 1960 and 2000.

The real problem here, as we have seen so often in recent years, is that the Met Office has become so driven by its belief that CO2 is disastrously changing our climate that this has skewed much of its forecasting.

Again and again, as when it predicted a ‘barbecue summer’ in 2009 which turned out to be months of rain, or a ‘warmer- than-average winter’ in 2010, just before the coldest December on record, its computer model forecasts have made it a national joke — and, alas, its performance over the current Cumbrian floods has only added to a litany of failure.

The tragedy is that our politicians, like Liz Truss, not only still believe what the Met Office tells them but shape their policies accordingly.

It is for precisely that reason that we are now legally committed, uniquely in the world, to cutting our ‘carbon emissions’ by 80 per cent, and to closing the coal-fired power stations which still supply a third of our electricity — mainly to replace them with wind turbines and solar panels which work only when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

For those directly affected by flooding, as I was in 1975 when 6.74 inches of rain fell in just 40 minutes on Hampstead, where I then lived — easily the most intense downpour on record — to experience these ‘extreme weather events’ is certainly very alarming and unpleasant.

But for those in a position of power then to exploit them just to make a deluded ideological point, as we have yet again seen in recent days, is a disgraceful abuse both of science and of common sense.

  1. December 10, 2015 11:45 am

    Reblogged this on WeatherAction News.

  2. Christopher Booker permalink
    December 10, 2015 12:08 pm

    Paul, I really need to apologise to you and your readers for not being allowed to mention in my Daily Mail article the fact that pretty well everything I reported about the Cumbrian floods originated from your superb and meticulous researches. As on other occasions, I always like to pay tribute to you and your blog, not least because this gives readers a way of checking out further details and sources for which I have no space in my articles.
    All I can say, as I have done many times before, is that we all owe you a huge debbt for what you are doing, which has put your blog in a league of its own as a source of meticulously researched information on energy and climate issues – as we are again seeing in the impending fiasco of this Paris climate ‘treaty’, which is about to fail for entirely predictable reasons which no one has done more to make clear than you. Thank you!

    • December 10, 2015 2:37 pm

      Christopher and Paul
      Congratulations to the both of you. Keep plugging away, and your voices will one day be no longer crying in the wilderness.

      Christopher’s piece is beautifully presented – better than some of his for the Telegraph! Incidentally, what has happened to the DT recently? It seems to me to be getting increasingly tabloid, and with far fewer authoritative articles. Come back Charles Moore, please!

    • John F permalink
      December 10, 2015 6:47 pm

      Dear Paul and Christopher,

      To support Mothcatchers’ comments, thanks to both of you for super research and journalism. Your common sense, analysis and realism are greatly appreciated. Please just keep supplying myself and the rest of your readers with the ammunition!

  3. markl permalink
    December 10, 2015 4:24 pm

    Pure propaganda. Repeat a lie enough and people start believing it. When you control the media the lie becomes simple to propagate. I do believe though that there are enough people who can tell the difference between fact and fiction.

  4. A C Osborn permalink
    December 10, 2015 5:49 pm

    Not just Chris either, there is one from Ben Webster of the Times and one from Andrew Montford in the Spectator.
    The times one is interesting in that it quotes Dr Tom Spencer talking about histroic floods very much like Paul.

  5. Stonyground permalink
    December 10, 2015 7:32 pm

    I remember thinking that the leaked Climategate emails would burst the climate alarmist bubble but it didn’t happen. I wonder if the lying is the thing that will lead to the alarmists coming unstuck?

  6. Philip Walling permalink
    December 26, 2015 4:39 pm

    These floods are a direct consequence of the UK being forced to abandon dredging following our being bound by the European Water Framework Directive in October 2000.

    I attach an article I had published in the Newcastle Journal a couple of weeks ago. It’s in the Farmers’ Guardian next Friday.

    What the authorities won’t tell you about the floods

    Amid all the devastation and recrimination over the floods in Cumbria hardly anybody mentions one factor that may not be the sole cause, but certainly hasn’t helped, and that is the almost complete cessation of dredging of our rivers since we were required to accept the European Water Framework Directive (EWF) into UK law in 2000.
    Yet until then, for all of recorded history, it almost went without saying that a watercourse needed to be big enough to take any water that flowed into it, otherwise it would overflow and inundate the surrounding land and houses. Every civilisation has known that, except apparently ours. It is just common sense. City authorities and, before them, manors and towns and villages, organised themselves to make sure their watercourses were cleansed, deepened and sometimes embanked to hold whatever water they had to carry away.
    In nineteenth century Cockermouth they came up with an ingenious way of doing this. Any able-bodied man seeking bed and board for the night in the workhouse was required to take a shovel and wheelbarrow down to the River Derwent and fetch back two barrow-loads of gravel for mending the roads. This had the triple benefit of dredging the river, maintaining the roads and making indigent men useful.
    In Cumbria they knew they had to keep the river clear of the huge quantities of gravel that were washed down from the fells, especially in times of flood. For Cumbrian rivers are notoriously quick to rise as the heavy rain that falls copiously on the High Fells rapidly runs off the thin soils and large surface area over which it falls. Cumbrian people have always known that their rivers would be subject to such sudden and often violent inundations and prepared for them by deepening and embanking their channels. Such work was taken very seriously.
    There are numerous records over many centuries of the Cockermouth Court Leet (Manor Court) imposing fines on occupiers for neglecting to cleanse the watercourses that ran through their land. So important was it to prevent flooding that the court often issued detailed and explicit instructions to parishes how to cleanse their various watercourses. For example in 1718 (and again in 1772) certain owners, whose land bordered the river, were fined for allowing it to become ‘beaten out of its course by sand and gravel’ and given two months to dredge it out.
    It was obvious to people, who depended on the land for their living that failing to keep the rivers clear of sand and gravel would cause them to burst their banks and destroy in a few hours fertility that had taken generations to create, wash away their houses, and drown their livestock.
    Last century the obligation to dredge out the rivers was transferred to local river boards, consisting of farmers and landowners who knew the area and its characteristics, and who had statutory responsibilities to prevent or minimise flooding.
    But all this changed with the creation of the Environment Agency in 1997 and when we adopted the European Water Framework Directive in 2000. No longer were the authorities charged with a duty to prevent flooding. Instead, the emphasis shifted, in an astonishing reversal of policy, to a primary obligation to achieve ‘good ecological status’ for our national rivers. This is defined as being as close as possible to ‘undisturbed natural conditions’. ‘Heavily modified waters’, which include rivers dredged or embanked to prevent flooding, cannot, by definition, ever satisfy the terms of the directive. So, in order to comply with the obligations imposed on us by the EU we had to stop dredging and embanking and allow rivers to ‘re-connect with their floodplains’, as the currently fashionable jargon has it.
    And to ensure this is done, the obligation to dredge has been shifted from the relevant statutory authority (now the Environment Agency) onto each individual landowner, at the same time making sure there are no funds for dredging. And any sand and gravel that might be removed is now classed as ‘hazardous waste’ and cannot be deposited to raise the river banks, as it used to be, but has to be carted away.
    On the other hand there is an apparently inexhaustible supply of grant money available for all manner of conservation and river ‘restoration’ schemes carried out by various bodies, all of which aim to put into effect the utopian requirements of the E W F Directive to make rivers as ‘natural’ as possible.
    For example, 47 rivers trusts have sprung up over the last decade, charities heavily encouraged and grant-aided by the EU, Natural England, the Environment Agency, and also by specific grants from various well-meaning bodies such as the National Lottery, water companies and county councils. The West Cumbria Rivers Trust, which is involved in the River Derwent catchment, and includes many rivers that have flooded, is a good example. But they all have the same aim, entirely consonant with EU policy, to return rivers to their ‘natural healthy’ state, reversing any ‘straightening and modifying’ which was done in ‘a misguided attempt to get water off the land quicker’. They only think it ‘misguided’ because fast flowing water contained within its banks can scour out its bed and maybe wash out some rare crayfish or freshwater mussel, and that conflicts with their (and the EU’s) ideal of a ‘natural’ river .
    The Environment Agency has spent millions of pounds on ‘flood defences’ and still has the gall to warn us piously that they are not guaranteed to work and if our houses are flooded and livestock washed away and drowned, we will just have to accept it. The climate is changing, they say, live with it. But the real reason they erect expensive and largely ineffective flood defences, as at Carlisle and Keswick, is because such work does not interfere with the flow of the river in its bed, so it does not infringe the EU Water Framework Directive.
    Also there is EU money available for flood ‘defences’, but none for the very measure that would do some good, namely removing the huge build-up of gravel from the river bed. This is hardly mentioned, and if it is, they try to make out that it would do more harm than good. Maybe to molluscs and invertebrates, but not to the devastated people whose homes are being destroyed time and time again.
    No. The truth they don’t tell you is that even if they wanted to, neither the UK government, nor the Environment Agency has the power to dredge – or the money. So next time you see David Cameron and his MP acolytes swanning around Cumbria in wellingtons, high-viz jackets and hard hats, wringing their hands and promising to do whatever it takes to protect us from flooding, ask them how exactly they intend to get round the European Water Framework Directive. And they would have to tell you they can’t. Not while we remain in the EU. So any sympathy politicians express for the plight of their constituents is either based on ignorance, or deceit. It’s about time we asked them which it is.
    Philip Walling is the author of the best-selling Counting Sheep published in 2014 by Profile Books and is currently writing a book on man’s relationship with water.

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