The flat earthers who refuse to believe that there is global warming or that sea levels are rising have had a good couple of months in the Northern hemisphere. They will be cheered to find that increasing numbers of people when polled seem to share their views. This is all largely based on the early onset of winter and some freak snow falls and ice storms, which the flat earthers argue is prima facie evidence for a planet that may be cooling instead of warming.
This may not be the place for any protracted arguments over global warming. All I would add is that scientists are fairly convinced that increasingly freakish weather conditions are part and parcel of fairly dramatic climate change. But this surely has to be the place to heap opprobrium on the various local and national authorities responsible for responding to extreme weather conditions – because in many places, Britain and New York in particular the response has been pretty lamentable.
Heavy snow falls – for Britain at least – brought pre Christmas chaos to airports and transport networks. Hundreds of flights were cancelled as Britain’s main airports ground to a standstill, in conditions that would be regarded as pretty ordinary in Scandinavia or North America. As my family prepared to fly to New York, we learned the two of Heathrow airports three run ways were closed, and that many planes were frozen into position. Thousands of travellers had long awaited holidays ruined as they were marooned or turned away – and all for some four inches of snow! Incomprehension turned to increasing fury as the same tired old arguments were trotted out. This was the “wrong kind of weather”, “We didn’t have the right equipments”, or “It will cost us too much to get the right equipment”. Except that this weather is experienced quite regularly and that some UK airports, notably Gatwick, were just better prepared with the right equipment.
The authorities might ask the judicious question as to how much these now increasingly frequent stand stills are costing the British economy. Flight companies must surely be asked how much it is costing them to compensate passengers and airport managers must surely be asking how they can avoid being made to look like national idiots each year.
At this point it would be tempting to turn to the United States as providing an example of exactly what to do when the snow starts falling. And usually one would. After all, those east coast blizzards leave Northern European snowfalls standing. North Americans are traditionally much better prepared, with ploughs at the ready and aircraft de-icers on hand. In Vermont, in advance of the post Christmas blizzard, I watched as armies of snow ploughs were moved into position and how they sprang into action as soon as the snow had settled. Even the most remote parts of Dorset, where I was staying were cleared within a day. In England, the road outside my house is never cleared; a fate shared by many other country dwellers.
But then there was the New York fiasco, which even the pictures of Mayor Bloomberg surrounded by suitably attired sanitation workers, could not dispel. What on earth went wrong? There I was holding forth, comparing the pathetic British retreat at the advance of four inches of snow with the heroic American offensive against twenty inches, and then came the pictures of all of those blocked New York streets. Manhattan may have been cleared, but in some of the outer boroughs, the piles of snow were still blocking streets some six days on.
It later transpired that Mayor Bloomberg – the nearest America has to Royalty – fired 600 sanitation workers before the storms hit. So any response was bound to be below par on that basis. Unsurprisingly perhaps, and given that the remaining workers in the department were beginning to see the writing on the wall for their own jobs, they went on a work to rule or go slow. Some simply stayed at their depots while others drove around, ploughs raised, barely denting the piled snow, in silent protest at the Mayor’s job massacre.
All of which suggests that both Britain and America still have lots to learn from weather chaos. The most important being that having the right equipment and professional, committed staff should be the number one priority. That is not, as some might say, rocket science, but clearly some public officials would rather the economy lost hundreds of millions than spend a few million in storm prevention.
But there is another question. If Governments and leading civic authorities can’t defeat bands of snow, how can they defeat bands of al Qaeda or Taliban bandits?