29th February 2016

A couple of things from the first part of yesterday’s brilliant Green Party conference in Belfast:

12Aidan, just arrived from Manchester with two hours’ sleep, presenting the Young Greens’ manifesto with a powerful and moving speech.

 

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Here I’m listening to questions about the Fermanagh & South Tyrone Greens’ motion calling for an integrated flood prevention and mitigation strategy.  No audio, you’ll be relieved to know, but what I said was:

In Northern Ireland as throughout the world, floods are growing more frequent, more extreme and more destructive. In my own home constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, we have seen serious damage inflicted: personal misery, isolation, disruption and serious economic loss.

Climate change is, of course, a major driver of these changes, and I’m entirely happy to support the South Belfast amendment. It’s yet another reason why Northern Ireland needs its own Climate Change Act, and why, with the rest of the Green Eighteen, I would be pushing relentlessly for this in Stormont.

But there are other reasons too, reasons more immediately under the control of our institutions. Some of these are obvious, like construction on floodplains, some counter-intuitive, like the dredging of rivers which more often exacerbates, rather than relieves flooding problems.

And some may appear at first sight to have nothing to do with flooding at all, such as changes in farming policy and practice: the removal of vegetation especially from high ground, the decline in ground cover plants, subsidy changes and a veritable bonfire of the regulations which once conserved our soil. The effect of these changes is that rainfall which was once absorbed by our landscape, and slowly released, now flashes off bare hills and compacted ground, thundering in torrents towards our homes.

This is why, valuable as initiatives such as local Flood Risk Management Plans are, they do not go nearly far, or deep enough. In the same way that the disjointed operation of children’s services, before Steven’s Bill, let those very children down, so the isolation and competition within our Executive make flooding more likely, more violent and more destructive.

There is probably no department which is unrelated to flooding, either by cause or effect. Decisions about the location, structure and catchment areas of schools and hospitals are nonsensical without taking into account the likelihood and nature of local flooding. The viability of industries which DETI wishes to support is altered when flooding is taken into account. The risks of fracking, for example, high enough already, are dramatically multiplied.

This motion doesn’t seek to identify the precise policies which would work best in Northern Ireland. That is a fascinating discussion which I hope we will have in the future. Nor does it detail the mechanism by which the duties outlined would be imposed. That, again would be too complex for the time we have available. But if Steven, with the support of the children’s sector, can do it for children’s immediate needs, I think we could do it for their future.

When people are unable to live in their homes, travel to work and school, operate what should be sustainable businesses and make plans for the future, our society cannot function effectively. The effects of climate and agricultural change will, if unchecked, exacerbate these problems to the point of crisis. We cannot afford not to spend the time, thought and resources necessary to take long-term and effective action.

(Photographs by Anne Ramsey)

 

30th January 2016

1214I was hoping to go to meeting in County Leitrim today, but the blizzards kept me at home.  Instead, here’s a letter I wrote to the Impartial Reporter last week in response to this story and others.

Dear Madam

I was disappointed to read, in last week’s Impartial Reporter, the comments of senior politicians and civil servants that little or nothing could be done to prevent future flooding in parts of Fermanagh.

It is true that, owing to climate change, we have experienced unusually high rainfall over the past months and years. This is almost certainly going to continue, and probably worsen, and is one of many reasons why Northern Ireland urgently needs a Climate Change Act.

But there are other reasons, too, why flooding across the entire British Isles has been especially devastating over the past few years. Changes in agricultural policy and practice, bad planning decisions, inappropriate development and short-sighted waterways management have all contributed to the problems. What all these have in common is the prioritising of the interests of big business and large landowners over those of ordinary residents, and the reliance on discredited dogma over sound scientific evidence.

There are ways in which the incidence and effects of flooding can be reduced, in Fermanagh as elsewhere, but they require intelligent commitment, adequate resources, co-operation between departments and a willingness to put the needs of the many before the greed of a few. Are our representatives up to the challenge?

Yours faithfully

Tanya Jones
Fermanagh & South Tyrone Green Party

13th January 2016

An excellent Fermanagh & South Tyrone Green Party meeting this evening – I meant to take some photos but there was so much to talk about that my camera stayed forgotten in my bag.  It’s wonderful to have such support from brilliant friends and colleagues, and I’m feeling really confident about this year and this campaign.  By the way, we’ve now fixed our meeting dates as the second Wednesday of every month, at 6pm in the Westville Hotel Enniskillen, so if you’re thinking of joining us, please feel free to come along.

Meanwhile I was a bit disappointed to read in the Fermanagh Herald that Tom Elliott’s suggestion for dealing with our flooding problems is to dredge the local rivers.  I thought it was pretty well known by now that dredging does no good whatsover in these situations, and may even make flooding considerably worse.  Here is a straightforward explanation of why.

26th December 2015

Photo: Vimeo/David Webster from Telegraph article
Photo: Vimeo/David Webster from Telegraph article

Today a two-hundred-year-old pub near my mother-in-law’s home in Lancashire was half swept away by torrential rain and floodwaters.  It is only a couple of weeks since the last serious floods wrought havoc across the UK, including Fermanagh.  But here they are, back again, months before the spring season of traditional flooding.

There isn’t one reason for this devastation.  Climate change, of course, intensifies all extreme weather events, so that normally dry regions are afflicted by drought while damp ones, such as ours, suffer vastly increased and concentrated rainfall.  Meanwhile government action and inaction not only fail to protect us, but make the situation hugely worse. Agricultural, environmental, planning and economic policies leave us with bare hillsides, shorn of the natural features that slow the passage of water, dredged rivers that bring it ever more swiftly into towns, floodplains developed with houses, shops and offices, tracts of land covered with concrete and tarmac with no place for water to drain and cash-starved flood defences which, when they work at all, protect the wealthiest, most prestigious areas while letting their low-status neighbours quite literally sink beneath the waters.

And meanwhile the other story of the day, as on every other Boxing/St Stephen’s Day for many years, is the Sales, the ridiculous ritual whereby random pieces of useless,unsustainable and overpriced junk are slightly less overpriced for a day.  This continues to be reported as sufficient reason why people who have received remarkably similar pieces of junk as presents just hours before, and have already spent far more than they can afford, should abandon their homes, families and leftover turkey in order to attack one another with machetes, apparently over a pair of shoes.

And they complain that Doctor Who doesn’t make sense….

14th December 2015

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Home at last this morning to a graphic, if small-scale, illustration of the urgent need for climate change action – this picnic bench is part of the new loughside walk installed in Enniskillen this summer.  I hope the ducks are appreciating it.

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6th December 2015

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A few yards from our house this morning.

We’re having a brief lull in Storm Desmond today, but for thousands it is only an opportunity to take in the devastation of what used to be their everyday lives.  Across Ireland and the north-west of England, floods have left more than a thousand people homeless and many more isolated by impassable roads and power failures.

Some of the problems, and the delays and deficiencies in dealing with them, can rightly be blamed on government under-funding and cuts in essential environmental and emergency services.  But even if the resource levels for these had been maintained, we would still have been in trouble.  It is impossible to say that any particular extreme weather event is definitely the result of climate change, but the number and frequency of formerly freak occurrences can have no other cause.

For the past week, the COP21 talks have been taking place in Paris, seeking an effective and transformative global agreement on climate change.  There is no longer the slightest reasonable doubt: human activity, principally the burning of fossil fuels, is causing devastating levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, leading to crises for us at home and catastrophe in much of the rest of the world.  ‘Business as usual’ will lead to a future where nothing is as usual, and individuals, communities and their environments will be ravaged beyond our imagining.

That is why I was standing in the stormy Diamond on Friday afternoon, why I have been praying for the talks as part of the #Pray4cop21 network, and why at 2am on Tuesday morning I will be setting off on my way to Paris to express my hope and commitment in person.  I’ll be travelling by bus, ferry and train to London, meeting up with a group of frack-free activists there and going on to Paris to a series of events organised by Friends of the Earth.  The recent attacks in the city have made everything a bit more difficult, but we are determined to meet, to share ideas and experiences and most of all to express our longing for a better, fairer, cleaner and richer future for our earth and all its inhabitants.

Events in Syria, and their consequences around the world, have dominated this week’s news. But the really big story, of which the Middle Eastern crisis is only a part, is about whether we will have a liveable home on this planet at all, no matter what our politics or religion.  When our grandchildren ask us what we did to save it, let’s have our answer ready.