There's a hard rain gonna fall (and frazzle your clothes)

'There is genuine potential for environmental disaster, but the case must be made with some logic'
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The Independent Online

Maybe these floods will do us some good. At school I was taught that English weather, like everything else about us, proved our natural superiority. Other countries had droughts and tidal waves and monsoons but we had just the right amount of everything, because we're English. And our weather has traditionally granted us the opportunity to be utterly trivial.

Maybe these floods will do us some good. At school I was taught that English weather, like everything else about us, proved our natural superiority. Other countries had droughts and tidal waves and monsoons but we had just the right amount of everything, because we're English. And our weather has traditionally granted us the opportunity to be utterly trivial.

When I was a boy, the news could show guerrilla fighters running through a South American shanty town to lob grenades at a line of tanks, and my mum would say, "Ooh, look, it's raining there as well." Wherever you've been, when you arrive back in England, the main concern is what the weather was like. I bet that when Terry Waite came home, his neighbours said, "But did you have nice weather out there? That's the main thing."

I despair when a stranger on a bus or train or in a lift says, "Phuur, well they said we might have a bit of sun this afternoon." I'm tempted to reply "No. Oh no, you're wrong there, they didn't." It sums up how we're apparently incapable of even imagining extremes.

I once saw an English weatherman on BBC World, in a week when a deadly hurricane had swept through south-east Asia, reading out his international report with the same phrases and intonations as if he was doing the weekend forecast for Norfolk. "And, moving down here to Vietnam, more typhoons expected over the weekend I'm afraid, with some scattered mudslides around Ho Chi Minh City and the north-east. But this should begin to clear up over the weekend, with a good prospect of sunshine by Sunday afternoon." And he should have carried on, "So when you discover that everyone else in your village has drowned, at least you can cheer yourself up with a nice picnic."

But now we can look any Bangladeshi in the eye and say, "You think you had it bad? Some people in Kent have had their album covers ruined." So now we have a new gripe, which is to blame every unusual weather incident on global warming. Now you hear things like "It must be global warming, it's never drizzled all afternoon on my birthday before." There seems to be an acceptance that the floods are due to global warming, because they represent the worst weather for 47 years. But then, and I'm aware I'm arguing out of abject closing-time ignorance here, what caused the even worse weather 47 years ago? Gas emissions from ration books? As Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Everest, did he push an important cloud out of place?

There is obviously a genuine potential for environmental disaster, but the case has to be made with some logic. Instead, you get worthy documentaries on Channel 4, introduced by sombre announcers saying: "And now, an alarming report on how the growing number of expeditions to the North Pole has forced a family of snow gerbils to move two or three hundred yards to the left."

And now Prince Charles is warning us about potential ecological disaster. They might as well report the ramblings of any random bloke in a pub. Then the news could begin: "Apparently, right, what's causing it all is these scooters. 'Cos every time someone rides one, it wobbles the Earth, and tips up the rivers."

All this allows anti-ecologists to dismiss the real horror, which is that most of us don't know whether global warming is changing our weather, nor do we know whether it threatens the planet. But the reason is that scientists are predominantly employed by governments and corporations, and, like medieval artists, are expected to produce results that show their patrons in a favourable light.

Studies from institutions such as the "Competitive Enterprise Institute" are pounced on by characters like George W Bush, to prove that global warming doesn't exist. Their "free market" views on global warming are about as plausible as reassurances on alcohol from the Portman Group before you realise the latter are funded by the alcohol industry. It might as well be announced that "a new report from the Institute of Chocolate concludes that a finger of fudge is just enough to give the kids a treat." This is why you hear local politicians coming out with stuff like, "But according to the latest study, the toxic waste we're dumping will actually replenish the soil and make it more healthy."

And it's why the Rio summit of 1992 came up with the bizarre system whereby every country was urged to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide, but the United States was allowed to exceed its limit, as long as it "bought" its extra quota from poorer countries.

So it is just possible that one day we'll all be sat on buses muttering "Hasn't the acid rain been dreadful? I put the washing out this morning, and then down it came, and before I had a chance to get it in, it was burnt to a frazzle."

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