Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Flood warning: politics is too shallow not to be overwhelmed

Ed Miliband is right: climate change and its effects are far, far too important to be left to the petty vagaries of party politics.
Never mind that the policies – or near non-policies – of the present government are following the disastrously negligent path taken by his own party when in power. The vital thing now is to learn from and avoid past mistakes, not to waste time in laying blame.
No party, no politician, can expect to govern for long enough to take the long view. Which leaves us with a succession of short-term tactics and no longer-term strategy.
Governments give all their attention to relatively unimportant things like money and fail to plan for such serious matters as rising sea levels or changing weather patterns.
If the present floods have taken them by surprise, they have no excuse for that. No previous generation has ever been so well informed by science.
The unpredictably of the weather was predicted, in some detail, years – no, decades – ago. But the politicians weren’t listening. They stuck their fingers in their ears because they didn’t know what to do.
Or rather, they did, because the experts were telling them – but they didn’t want to know because it was all too big, too difficult. Especially for people whose careers weren’t going to last that long. Especially if they took decisions that would be unpopular – in the short term.
My own profession hasn’t helped. Much of the press still keeps finding the odd crank to set up against the 95 per cent plus of rational scientists and pretending that is “balance”.
The reality is that there aren’t always two sides to every question. Sometimes one answer – such as that still being peddled by the climate-change “deniers” – is just plain wrong.
Perhaps the present flooding in southern Britain, the severe cold in North America, increasing episodes of “freak” weather everywhere, will make the head-in-the-sand brigade think again. Or perhaps not.
In the meantime, even if halting or reversing climate change is too big and hard – certainly for one government, or one country – can we at least do something to mitigate the effects of the next inevitable drenching winter?
Like not concreting over fields and gardens, ripping out trees and hedges, failing to maintain ditches, continuing to build homes on flood plains, and all the rest of it.
It’s not as if we weren’t warned, long ago, where all this behaviour would lead us.  
I’ve never enjoyed a Winter Olympics this much before. But then, no Olympics before has included the slopestyle events.
And somehow I’ve never cottoned on before to the astonishing spectacle of aerodynamics that is the snowboard halfpipe.
Snowboarding may be a young sport for young people – surely nobody as old as me has ever ridden a board in contest – but the sheer exuberance of the competitors has been as enthralling as the skill with which they fly through the air nonchalantly performing near-impossible feats.
It wasn’t just the novelty value of a British winter medal that made Jenny Jones’s bronze-winning run in the snowboard slopestyle an occasion for joy. Her performance was a joy to watch – and so was her response, not just to her own medal but also to the gold-winning display of her friend and rival, the American Jamie Anderson.
That camaraderie between opponents, the obvious pleasure they have taken in each others’ achievements, has been one of the delightful aspects of the whole snow show.
In stark contrast to the exponents of certain other sports – mostly better-paid ones – these have looked like people it would be pleasant to know.
The intelligence, good sense and sheer niceness of Lizzy Yarnold, the gold-winning British skeleton racer, have been remarkable, but not exceptional. She will surely succeed admirably in her stated intention of being a role model for young girls, but she is not alone in that.
As for those glorious show-offs of the halfpipe – if I was 40-odd years younger I’d be inspired.
If not, perhaps, to try physical feats that would always have been far beyond me, but maybe by their sheer style. Are there, after all, any cooler dudes on the planet – except maybe the slopestyle skiers?
The Swedish skier Henrik Harlaut may have suffered the fate risked daily by teenage boys everywhere when his low-slung trousers slipped far enough to topple him on his face. But his style in the air, blond dreadlocks flowing from his helmet in every direction, was glorious.
The commentators on these events, un-BBC-ish as they are, have added ripely to my enjoyment of the past 10 days. Without their guidance, I might not have known how unlucky Harlaut was to be judged just outside the medal places.
Even from the comfort of my sofa, I found literally breathtaking his chutzpah in attempting – and bringing off – tricks whose very names were new to me. Nose butter triple cork 1620, anyone?
At risk of inducing cringes among those young and cool enough to have known before last week the meaning of such terms as truck-driver grab, pretzel 180 and switch triple rodeo, I’d say these Games have well and truly stomped it.
  • Postscript: the curling has been unexpectedly riveting too...

No comments: