Profit system exacerbates flooding

Iain Dalton, Leeds

The flooding over Christmas has been some of the worst in recent memory. Fingers are rightly being pointed to the cuts the Tory government has made to flood defence spending, as well as to the emergency services.

Spending was cut by 8% – around £540 million since 2011 – including planned defences around Leeds and York. Yet back in 2009 the Environment Agency was asking for an extra £500 million over 25 years to deal with the effects of climate change, a request rejected by the then Labour government.

The flooding crisis is also being intensified by capitalism’s thirst for profit. Between 2001 and 2011 around 200,000 new homes were built on flood plains.

Another linked issue is agricultural policy. The clearing of uplands for sheep grazing has reduced its capacity to absorb water.

A study cited by George Monbiot in the Guardian suggests that the infiltration rate of rainwater is 67 times higher under trees than sheep pasture. Yet the EU Common Agricultural Policy gives farmers subsidies for clearing ‘unproductive’ land.

The same is the case with owners of grouse moors, who drain and burn blanket bog and moorland heather which holds back water. These landowners do so to maximise profit from grouse hunting. They also receive subsidies from the government to do so.

This mismanagement of UK peat bogs is also contributing 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, adding to global warming and thereby increasing the risk of extreme weather events such as flooding.

While further flood defences will undoubtedly be welcomed by those ruined by flooding, if our environment is continually degraded they will only offer a temporary relief.