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Sweet Thames, Run Softly

The tendency to ascribe greater significance to natural phenomena is nothing new – ever since a dozy Egyptian Pharaoh misinterpreted a perfectly ordinary plague of frogs as a sign from God, we’ve tended to read our own beliefs, fears and prejudices into natural disasters. The US had a notable example of this a couple of years ago, of course, when Katrina left New Orleans underwater. Depending on who you asked, Katrina was retribution for America’s obsession with abortion, the gay pride parade planned for New Orleans that week, or the invasion of Iraq. The delightful Rabbi Ovadia Yosef even blamed the disaster on US support for the disengagement from Gaza. 

At the time, there was a bit of a controversy in Britain over the tone of some of the reports: Tony Blair privately described the BBC’s coverage as ‘full of hatred of America’ and ‘gloating at the country's plight’, and he may well have been right. There was a definite subtext in our [liberal] media that seemed to be saying, This is what you get for refusing to sign up to Kyoto, or not having a civilised welfare state [sic] like ours, or for neglecting the racial divide in your country. Maybe not schadenfreude, perhaps; but certainly a rather British superciliousness.

Well, no-one’s sneering now.


As I write this, large swathes of England are underwater, in a vast arc from London through Oxford up to the Welsh border. It’s the worst flooding the country has seen in modern times, and follows hot on the heels of similar problems in the north a couple of weeks ago. And sure enough, commentators have not been slow to share their opinions on what has caused this misery for hundreds of thousands of people.

The Bishop of Carlisle shocked his sleepy flock by labelling the first wave of floods a sign of God’s anger at new gay equality legislation. This was a particular surprise: Church of England vicars are normally too timid even to ask for biscuits with their tea. A couple of days later, the horrendous left-wing columnist Polly Toynbee – a woman so awful that if you were trapped in an elevator with her and Ann Coulter and had two bullets left, you’d shoot her, twice, just to be absolutely sure – tried to claim that if the floods had been happening in the south of the country rather than the impoverished North, they would be taken more seriously by the media, gleefully ignoring the brainless wall-to-wall coverage of the rising waters from welly-clad anchors on all the major channels. Either way, she got her wish: the floods have now hit the leafy south, and the news channels have once again despatched their star names to wade through sodden fields and streets bringing us up-to-the-minute footage of water lapping at doors with all the pompous solemnity that the great British media can muster when it really tries.

Inevitably, of course, the blame has now shifted from God and poverty to that favourite bugbear of the European media, climate change. (We used to call it 'global warming', but nowadays floods, droughts, heavy rain, sparse rain, warm weather and cold snaps are all mobilised as evidence of the impending meteorological Armaggedon.) In today's Guardian newspaper, columnist Jackie Ashley takes us all to task for ignoring the signs of global catastrophe, citing the dire warnings of political Britain's US pin-up du jour, Al Gore – a man who, for writers on papers like the Guardian and the Independent, is as close to secular sainthood as anyone this side of Fidel Castro – and noting with approval the praise heaped on him by the new Prime Minister and his team of dullards and no-marks. And the beauty of this global warming climate change evidence, anecdotal as much of it is, is that it's non-falsifiable; Katrina and the unusually severe hurricane season of 2005 are identified as harbingers of doom by such as Gore, who described it – with unusual elegance – as "the first sip, the first taste, of a bitter cup that will be proffered to us over and over again", but who was strangely silent 12 months later when 2006 drew to a close with not a single hurricane making landfall in the US.

That's not to say that I deny that our climate may well change, and for the worse, as the impact of man on the environment grows ever more stark, nor to assert that we don't need to act to reduce the negative 'footprint' that we leave on the planet, and act promptly. But this gathering bandwagon of vacuous celebrities, ignorant journalists and opportunist politicians drives me to quiet despair; and watching government ministers scramble to apply a thin veneer of greenplate to every policy announcement, in a desperate attempt to persuade us that they're raising our taxes for the sake of the children, fills me with a deep, boiling rage. It almost makes you yearn for the old days, when they just bent us over and hosed us the old-fashioned way.

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