What a wonderful thing climate change is. A mundane, obvious phrase (of course the climate is changing), promoted well past its paygrade by the unproven suggestion that humans cause all or most of it. And what a splendid excuse it has become for any past failings – and those to come – for public bodies charged with keeping our infrastructure in good working order.
Earlier this week, the Government-sponsored Natural Resources Wales (NRW) cheered up its local population no end by telling them that, “If flooding hasn’t happened to you in the past, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future.” This was the message after a series of storms – Ciara, Dennis and Jorge – in February 2020 served as a “stark warning that record-breaking flooding is becoming a harsh new reality for Welsh communities in the future”. NRW chief executive Clare Pillman went on to add: “Climate scientists have underlined that record floods are not anomalous, they are the beginning of a new normal, and the new records will continue to be exceeded, year after year.”
For some inexplicable reason, the “new normal” does not seem to have affected the amount of rain that Wales gets. Variations going back to 1850 are barely noticeable.
Wales is a very wet place. Its geography inevitably leads to heavy precipitation. Low pressure systems and storms racing in from the Atlantic eagerly dump rain over the first hilly warm land they encounter. Over 1,450mm of rain falls annually in Wales, compared with the U.K. average around 1,200mm. Cardiff and Swansea are two of the wettest cities in Britain.
Like many public bodies, NRW is now firmly signed up to the Net Zero political agenda and takes regular opportunities to blame bad weather on human-caused climate change. But flooding has long been a problem in Wales. Reporting on the weather in December 1960, the Met Office noted a complex low pressure system that led to “exceptionally” heavy rain in South Wales and southern England.
It continued: “On December 3rd, many places in South Wales had over four inches [101mm] of rain, five and a half inches [140mm] being recorded in 20 hours in the Rhondda Valley. A total of seven inches [178 mm] on the Brecon Beacons during the first three days of the month, resulting in serious widespread floods in Glamorgan.”
The phobia over climate change is very recent. In 2015, Cardiff City Council commissioned a 150 page flood risk management plan. It accepted there was a problem with flooding and went into great technical detail about flood defences. These included basic engineering housekeeping duties such as keeping drains and culverts in good repair. Climate change was barely mentioned, and typically only in parentheses – “(and related aspects such as climate change)”; there is little sign of it forming an urgent consideration.