Climate change comes to Croydon: flooding and my fears for the future

By - Friday 28th March, 2014

Clive Farndon, co-ordinator of Croydon Greenpeace, reflects on how global warming made itself felt locally – with a vengeance

Global warming increases the frequency of extreme weather events: extratropical cyclone over the UK, January 2014. Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Used under Creative Commons Licence.

I cannot believe it’s not raining. I am actually sitting at the bus stop bathed in warm sunshine.

It has rained and rained and rained until I thought it could not possibly rain any more – not just here in Croydon but across the country. Locally this near-biblical deluge has seen flooding in Whyteleafe, Caterham, Kenley and Purley as the two underground branches of the Bourne have risen to the surface from their underground lairs.

The army has been deployed sandbagging homes and battling to save the water treatment works in Kenley. The underpass at Purley Cross has been used as a temporary reservoir – right across the street from local MP Richard Ottaway’s constituency office. As one worker told me: ‘We keep pumping it away and it just keeps finding its way back’.

The river Bourne usually runs through South Croydon many metres underground but it has risen to the surface. In Coulsdon, the ditch through which the Bourne sometimes gently flows after heavy rain has become a raging torrent, bursting into woodland and flooding back gardens. An elderly resident told me he had never seen it like this in his lifetime.

Climate and weather are not the same thing – but climate drives weather. The consensus amongst climate scientists is that we are affecting our planet’s climate so much that this era has its own geological name, the anthropocene, meaning the era shaped by man.

We cannot continue to pump it into our atmosphere without consequences

Carbon dioxide gas (CO2) behaves like a blanket around the planet, insulating it from heat loss. Without it there would be no life on Earth. But we cannot continue to pump it into our atmosphere without consequences. Since the Industrial Revolution we have dug out Earth’s vast reserves of carbon (coal and oil) and converted them back to atmospheric carbon by burning them. By 2013 levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere reached 400 parts per million – a rise from 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution. The last time there were 400 ppm of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere was 3 to 5 million years ago and global temperatures were 3-4°C higher than at present.

Such steep changes in atmospheric carbon have never happened in such a short time span before. Climate change is occurring and is evidenced in rain and floods, severe droughts and extreme storms. Temperatures are increasing on land and in the oceans, sea levels are rising and ice sheets and glaciers are melting.

It is sometimes easier in the short term to keep one’s head in the sand, especially when the reality of it all is so indigestible. The media gives the appearance that opinion is split 50/50 on climate change. But there is no 50/50 in the world of climatology, just scientifically observed and recorded fact that our climate is changing. But what are we supposed to do about it when our lifestyles and habits are based upon years of free energy?

I wonder whether the view from Richard Ottoway’s office during the Purley floods will have done anything to change his mind

I recently wrote to my member of parliament, Richard Ottaway, to ask him what his opinion was of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) after Northdown Energy gained a licence to explore for natural gas in our borough. His opinion is all too rosy about what this great new energy source offers Croydon. I find his arguments are those of climate change denial. I wonder whether the view from his office during the Purley floods will have done anything to change his mind.

We cannot stop the effects of 400 ppm CO2 in our atmosphere. But we can stop adding to it. We can slow the accelerating climate change that is coming to our town and the planet. We can invest in renewables, stop using extreme measures to find and use fossil fuels and accept that enough is enough.

At Croydon Greenpeace we are striving for a green and peaceful world that continues to nurture diverse life. We campaign for forests and oceans and against toxic pollution. We head out to tell happy shoppers in the Whitgift Centre about our campaigns or just how to petition their local MP. You can find out more, join us or meet us at 7:30pm every second Wednesday of the month at the Green Dragon pub, High Street Croydon.

I believe that recent events are just the beginning. No-one in Croydon or anywhere is safe from the impact of global warming. Let’s work together to protect our town and our planet – nothing matters more.

Clive Farndon

Clive Farndon

Clive Farndon lives in Coulsdon and co-ordinates the Croydon Greenpeace group. He is passionate about a peaceful, sustainable approach to life on Earth.

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