Martin Hannan: Rising tide of climate change

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As I sat with white knuckles gripping the steering wheel while motoring into a flood-hit Edinburgh last Wednesday, I thought “the next person who talks about global warning in my presence is going to get a verbal kicking”.

I mused that the unseasonal monsoon which was obscuring my windscreen was probably caused by global warming, and that got me to thinking – are we ready for much more of this?

Then on Saturday, it happened again. Just as I motored towards the bypass, it was closed by the police – flooded.

The scientists who first warned us of global warming did not predict that Britain would become a balmy Mediterranean climate with sunshine all the time. No, they said weather patterns would become irregular and there would definitely be more rain – lots more rain. As the seemingly unending torrent swept down on all us trapped motorists last week, I thought “climate change – QED”.

For what have we had in recent years? Exactly what was predicted. Periods of drought followed by excessive rainfall, the first half of this year in England being a classic example.

Let’s just take a look at June. The Met Office recorded that it was the coolest June since 1991, and the wettest across the UK since 1910. That was after a March which was the warmest since 1957, and an April that was the wettest since records began. May had average rainfall but some blisteringly hot days in Scotland. That’s all bonkers weather.

The real experts know our climate is changing. The only debate is whether climate change is caused by mankind. There are some people who will never be convinced of that, but they are increasingly in the minority.

Caused by humans or not, scientists have proved that climate change means greater extremes of temperature and much more rain. Are we ready for that?

I am not just talking about flash floods and massive thunderstorms of the kind we saw last week. I’m talking about sustained weeks of excessive rainfall – the kind that bursts the banks of rivers and turns farmlands into marshes, the kind that closed the City Bypass for hours on Saturday.

How do we stop this flooding? Can no-one devise a traffic warning system that works? Why do we still have green bus lanes restricting car movement when traffic’s already crawling?

What would be the economic impact of our local climate turning almost permanently dreich, as it seems to have done in recent weeks? Most tourists know that Scotland tends to be wet, but would they still come here if they knew that it was always going to be soaking? How badly is climate change affecting people’s health? Has anyone researched this? These are the sort of immediate problems we have to try and confront if we are to meet the real challenge of climate change. The whole thrust of UK and Scottish Government policy is to combat climate change by weaning us off our addiction to carbon-based fuel, and that is going to mean some lifestyle changes for a lot of us – those who wilfully refuse to recycle their household waste, for example, should be fined.

And I’m well aware that driving my car uses a carbon-based fuel and causes carbon emissions, but while I’ve been using buses more and more – that £3.50 day ticket on Lothian buses is great value – often I have no choice but to drive, though now I don’t jump in the car when I know I could take a bus. It’s a sign that the arguments for tackling climate change are convincing me at least.

But are we actually prepared for more rain and extreme weather? As proven by the snowfalls of recent years and the recurrent flooding, this city just isn’t ready to deal with climate change’s main effect – dire, rotten weather.

The closure of the bypass on Saturday for a prolonged period was simply unacceptable. For crying out loud, we’re supposed to be a major international city with a 21st century infrastructure and one of our main trunk routes was closed for hours with resultant chaos all over south Edinburgh.

Don’t tell me – the “once in a century” rainfall excuse. That’s just nonsense, because it’s more like once a month these days.

We’ll get the usual platitudes that the emergency services were stretched but coped. I’ve got news for you – they didn’t. Bunging up a few “Police – Road Closed” signs doesn’t make for a serious response to a flooding emergency of that order.

Which privatised road maintenance or drain clearing firms fell down on the job? And why were traffic wardens not diverted to help people like the Spanish couple in the car behind me who were panic-stricken at the thought of missing their flight – and yes, I guided them all the way to the airport through the city.

What independent research will take place into the way the authorities in this city responded to the flooding? And what confidence can we have that the council, the emergency and health services, the road maintenance companies and public transport groups actually know what to do when the rain doesn’t stop. Because it isn’t going to stop. The climate has changed, and we’re drookit for ever.