This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine May 2020
We know what’s wrong and how to put it right… so why are governments fiddling while the world burns?
Another season with homes flooded, many for the first time ever in areas which have been inhabited for centuries. Global warming and carbon emissions continue to rise. Both ice caps continue to melt and more forests have been ablaze than anyone can remember. There are millions fewer birds in every developed country, while more insects face local extinction and ever more precious fauna are endangered.
The angry young rightly accuse us of betraying them, condemning them to poverty, over population, plague, water wars and the rest… and still even the most progressive governments do little more than rearrange a few of Planet Titanic’s deckchairs.
Because selfish, short-term measures get votes and the media, owned for the most part by the super wealthy support the politics of greed.
Greta Thunberg doesn’t want praise and prizes she wants change. The extinction rebellion doesn’t care if they are allowed to march or are gaoled, they are fighting for all our lives not self-publicity.
We can all do our individual bit; eating less meat, refusing to fly on business or by planting a few trees in our backyards. Individuals shunning plastic packaging, turning down the thermostat and switching to an electric car will help… but individual action is neither enough, nor universal. There are many selfish or ignorant individuals who will not change how they live until governments and multi-national companies take away the selfish choices. It’s no good a few of us throwing ourselves under the wheels of the handcart, it’s still on its way to hell… we have to derail it and compost the contents.
Flooding is an example of how to make things worse. Politicians do what they think the majority of voters want. So, they spend money on flood defences in cities and large towns, building higher walls. They clean out a few ditches so that the water will sweep by. Tackle things in the wrong way just shifts the misery elsewhere. Real solutions take a lot more thought, time, money and effort.
First, we have to restore the header tanks… heath is burnt, peat bogs and wooded hillsides have disappeared ever more rapidly… we have to preserve what we have and plant like there is no tomorrow or there may well not be. Government talks about tree planting but has done almost nothing, while local decision makers still allow trees to be felled.
Second, we must stop any further building on natural floodplains and start the expensive but necessary manoeuvre of relocating housing to brownfield sites.
Thirdly, where water meadows and riverine land has been cultivated we should return it to the seasonal pasture it was for generations. We can no longer subsidise crop growing in places better suited to deciduous woodland, reed-bed or pasture.
Sheep farmers, eking out a bare living on a hillside should be helped to retrain and paid to plant native woodland. Every tree planted above the floodplain not only helps land store water and release it more slowly, but it also pushes back at the rate the globe is warming. Moreover, natural woodland, with its natural grazers returned in low densities vastly enriches land for wildlife.
These are big geographical-scale changes that can only be achieved with government money, legislation and political determination. Just like the immediate banning of single-use plastic, building on ANY green fields and a host of other measure we need today if there is to be a tomorrow.