A few days’ worth of non-stop rain is pretty normal at this time of year, but as I decked my six year-old out head to toe in wet weather gear for the fourth consecutive morning recently, she looked up to me and asked, “is it going to flood again?”
After two winters of extended flooding in a row, when this year’s rains began my daughter wasn’t the only one asking this question in our community. The spectre of more school and road closures, and sandbags and portable toilets set up in flooded streets loomed large in many conversations.
I’ve spent the last year visiting other communities around the UK impacted by flooding and discussing the devastating impacts - both physical and emotional - through a series of workshops. And of course, as someone who cares about and works on climate change, I’ve also discussed where the day-to-day experience of small communities hit by such monumental events fits into the global experience.
Not surprisingly, most people who’ve given up their time to come to these sessions ‘get’ climate change, but far fewer would fit into an ‘eco-warrior’ stereotype, while some are the absolute antithesis of a climate change campaigner. While there was overwhelming consensus that climate change was playing a significant role in UK flooding, there was a real sense of social silence around talking about the issue to anyone outside of their peer group. And this was seen as a serious problem. How can communities truly plan to cope with future events if a key driver for flooding isn’t discussed or included in plans? How can new defences be built high enough if rising sea levels or increasing sudden rainfall isn’t being considered? As these events become more common, should we use the methods we’ve used in the recent past or is it necessary to step back and see the bigger picture?
These questions came up repeatedly and a key element of the workshops was to explore the practical actions participants could take to make their communities more resilient. But another vital area was the training we offered in how to start breaking the climate silence people experienced around them. Not in a preachy or inappropriate way, but one that starts with personal experience and allows all members of a group to see the importance of factoring in climate change to create more robust communities.
Hopefully we won’t see a repeat of last year’s flooding, and those people I’ve met who are still not in their homes will move back soon, but COIN’s work helping people hit by flooding talk about climate change is still very necessary and I hope that we can continue to offer such vital community support.