Twickenham Society, Special Meeting: Flooding in the Borough

Panel

Douglas Orchard, Chairman, Twickenham Society
John Perry, Chairman, Richmond Environmental Information Centre
Jon Freer, Assistant Director, Environment Directorate, LBRuT
Trevor Baylis – Inventor and Eel Pie Island resident
Dr. Tanya Mathias, Hampton Wick Councillor and Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Twickenham Constituency

“Join the chorus, make it porous” – John Perry.

On the 11th of November the aforementioned panel assembled for a public meeting set up by the Richmond Environmental Information Centre and Twickenham Society, regarding fluvial flooding (flooding from rainfall rather than tidal) in the borough. The Thames Barrier will no longer be used to defend against fluvial flooding and the floodplain is ever-more impermeable. In light of these facts we must make greater use of alternative flood defences and work on restoring the efficacy of the floodplain to safely process precipitation events.

The meeting commenced with a statistic produced by Sir David King, former governmental advisor, that precipitation will increase some 25% in the Winter and fall a staggering 60% in the Summer. This will undoubtedly put the Thames system under enormous pressure and vastly increase the chances of flooding.

Even without the amplifying effects of climate change, flooding has always been an issue that we have faced. A healthy river naturally floods. A river will periodically spill over onto its surrounding floodplain, dissipating the energy of the floodwaters, depositing its sediment load and allow the excess water to be processed by the land – like a sponge absorbing a spillage. Our impermeable urban landscape conflicts with the once soft, absorbent natural environment the river once flowed through – the main theme of this meeting – hence the slogan, “join the chorus, make it porous.” The most frequently used examples are front drives and patios, which speed up the flow of surface water flow and groundwater flow reaching the channel. A catchment that processes water slowly is far less likely to flood.

Urban sprawl and population growth are synonymous with the majority of the pressures we currently impose on the natural world; none more so than this. Like the majority of the lower Thames, the floodplain within the Richmond borough has been incrementally built upon. We ourselves, have over spilled onto the natural floodplain in direct competition with the river. We have built hard infrastructure to control it, however changes to our climate are making the river harder to live beside.

An early topic of the meeting was the rubble dumped at Ham Fields. Millions of tonnes of rubble was discarded within the 103 acre site produced during the Blitz throughout WWII. This has raised the floodplain. The removal of this rubble was suggested as strategy to bring this section of the floodplain back to its pre-war level, increasing floodwater storage. Orleans Riverside was also discussed with a similar motif. The area that was once the historic Orleans Boathouse has had a layer of topsoil laid over it over half a century ago when residents complained of frequent groundwater saturation. Jon Freer later made the point that the gains in storage would have made negligible difference in dealing with the discharge experienced during previous flooding events. Marble Hill Park has always been poor at dealing with any excess water; floodwaters are not processed and only drain away with low tide.

The meeting moved onto discussing vegetation, principally woodland. There was a general consensus that particularly ancient woodland (existed continuously circa 1600) needs to be better managed and protected as trees absorb and impede the flow of floodwaters. 1 acre of ancient woodland absorbs as much water as 67 acres of grazing pasture. Suggestions of working with land owners to better utilise vegetation were made. The panel was undecided on the impact that dredging would have on the Thames channel, with warnings that dredging in one location may have a negative impact for areas downstream; a tricky issue for hydrological modelling.

Councillor Malthius added that the three weirs at Teddington, Molesley and Sunbury must be maintained to tame future flow. There are plans to convert Teddington Lock to generate hydroelectric power, which is led by a community led project, ‘Teddington and Ham Hydro’ (T&HH). The project was conceived after the Environment Agency (EA), chief environmental regulator of waterways and water infrastructure, invited interest to build hydro turbines on many of their weirs, Teddington being one of them. SLWEN has supported T&HH, however there has been fierce opposition by the board of Lensbury Club.

The Thames Estuary 2100 (TE2100) plan was also discussed; a plan which primarily aims to provide a strategy for dealing with tidal flooding, though other sources of flooding including high river flows as a result of heavy rainfall and surface water flooding. The majority of the panel agreed that this was if not already, becoming out-of-date. Similar to the Thames Barrier. A second Thames Barrier was spoken of as an inevitability, especially with the limited shelf-life of the existing one, which is being deployed at alarming frequency and now only for tidal flooding.

John Freer made clear there were issues in the modelling of the upper and lower sections of the Thames as they have typically been treated as isolated systems. Existing research is now being reevaluated. Freer went on to state that the Environment Agency (EA) has important research in the pipeline relating to flooding that would impact the borough, which should be completed within the next 12 months. On a positive note, legislation is now much tighter on new builds and their porosity. Large buildings are also now required to have water storage tanks for times of extreme precipitation.

The meeting concluded with Councillor Mathius asking the audience whether the flood meeting should become a regular occurrence on the agenda. The audience unanimously agreed.

If you would like to know more about flooding in your area and would like regular flood meetings please tell us at hello@swlen.org.uk.

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Nature’s Gym: Much More Than Mud!

On a mild December morning I joined the ranks of the Friends of Palewell Common Fields and Nature’s Gym. The task agreed was to maintain the Common’s mud paths suffering from the winter rain. We wheeled wheelbarrows along the waterlogged paths, pouring wood chippings onto the boggy patches. A production line of happy locals, earning the mud on their boots. The quality and value of carrying out this humble task, rather prosaically put, of pathway maintenance was initially not realised by myself, but became evermore apparent.

Nature’s Gym was born from a partnership between Lewisham Council and Glendale Ground Management to organise volunteers to carry out conservation and maintenance work. Richmond Council were impressed with the scheme and have now also got on board. Within Richmond Borough, Gina Beresford, partnered with an intern, go to a different park or green space three times a week, including one Saturday a month, harnessing local will.

A pooling of knowledge and resource, but most importantly get-up-and-go attitude. It was evident that the relationship between Nature’s Gym and the friends group was a collaborative partnership; what to do was up for discussion. This day was paths and each volunteer worked with enthusiasm, telling tales to each other as they carried out their work.

Far from hard labour, it felt very social, an element that seemed important and cherished by everyone there. Some were working hard to build up their festive appetite, and others taking their time to share stories whilst they filled barrows with chippings or tended to the sodden mud. From my few hours with everyone there, it was evident that there was a unanimous sense of pride; keeping their patch tidy. The day was only positive.

If you would like to get involved with Nature’s Gym or would like to contact Gina Beresford about your park or green space please do so!

Originally posted here.

Richmond upon Thames Within a Truly Global Issue

Climate Change is firmly embedded in the list of issues facing our planet in the 21st Century. A defining issue of our time. A quick detail however – the term ‘climate change’ refers to any fluctuation in climate, whether as a result of human or natural causes and has been going on for a while – scales I struggle comprehending. Humans are a mere second on the clock face of the Earth’s history – climate change has happened for hours and hours. Natural factors include the changes in the Earth’s orbit, tilt of the Earth’s axis, volcanism and solar activity to name a few exciting ones. However, there is strong agreement in the scientific community that natural factors alone can not account for what is happening to our climate at the moment. A lot is changing very quickly.

A few stats…

Atmospheric carbon dioxide currently rests just below the looming threshold of 400 parts per million at 398.5 ppm, measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. In 1960, this was just below 320 ppm.

Sea level is set to rise by a third of a metre by the end of the century, currently rising at 3.17 mm per year. The first official instance of forced migration due to sea level rise is reported to have been in 2009, the Carteret Islanders of Papua New Guinea.

The global average temperature has already risen by 0.8°C. 2°C is considered to be the temperature threshold at which the global environment will suffer irreversible damage. This threshold is predicted to be surpassed by the end of this century, and if we carry on blowing our carbon budget at the current rates, the threshold could be reached within just two to three decades. We are changing our ways and learning a lot, so this fairly unlikely, but our efforts are not yet adequate so far. Another little point – the observed ‘hiatus’ or pause in the increasing global temperature was the result of insufficient measuring at the Poles. The MET Office have now found that when the rapid Arctic warming is factored in, the world on average has continued to get warmer.

The Greenhouse Effect and Climate Change

The 2013 Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated human emissions are a direct cause of global warming, which causes the changes in the global climate. It is important to note that whilst confusingly interrelated, climate change, the greenhouse effect and global warming are not all the same; the phenomena of ‘global warming’ is a result of the changes in composition of ‘greenhouse gases,’ which actually act like a blanket, rather than a greenhouse, but the name has stuck. And just to clarify climate change can be caused by many different things – at the moment it is the ‘blanket gasses’ that make the world warmer i.e. Global Warming. This is not used so much now as although the average global temperature is warming, in some specific regions, temperatures are likely to fall. Confusing, but it does make sense.

The responsibility for dealing with this blanket, rests uncomfortably on the shoulders of every human on the planet, be they world leaders, or CEOs of the top FTSE-100, or Ban Ki-Moon, or Ben van Beurden, or any and every individual living in Richmond upon Thames. The future may not be as uncomfortable as it is often framed. A world of sustainable living will probably be a lot cleaner, brighter and healthier. Humans finest hours are often in adversity – a lot of people are doing great things, go be great.

How does Richmond upon Thames fit into the global issue of climate change?

In early 2008, Richmond upon Thames Council signed the 2006 Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change. Later that year the council adopted the Climate Change Strategy. In short, this provides an approach to understand energy use and greenhouse emitters within Richmond as well as the impact that climate change is having on the borough now and in the future. The council expresses its commitment to leading by example, as should be expected, and wishes to have its green credentials aspired to.

The council is targeting energy efficiency and low carbon technologies. Priority is given to low carbon projects and pay back given to projects that are successful in encouraging ‘green’ behaviour.

The council offers free or discounted loft and cavity wall insulation. The cost of parking is now related to CO2 emissions and a ‘Go Green’ online service has been launched in order to educate residents, business and schools on how they can make their efforts count.

The Schools Environment Forum has been setup to engage children in climate change. Efforts are being made to support businesses and schools to encourage their employees and pupils to travel smarter with the Green Travel Plan. To find out more visit the Go Green Richmond website.

Sources:
International Panel for Climate Change (http://www.ipcc.ch/)
NASA Global Climate Change (http://climate.nasa.gov)

Originally posted here.

A Delve into the Psychology of Climate Change

Why does Climate Change not feel dangerous?

You may be thinking that climate change does feel dangerous, but in reality, it is taking a long time to stir us into adequate action. We are beginning to make real strives forward and momentum is definitely building, but we have a long way to go before humanity can be deemed sustainable. Logically, when we think about it, many of us do realise that climate change is one of the biggest challenges that humanity has ever faced. The question this article is trying to answer however, is whether climate change feels dangerous? This is a good time for a story.

A few years ago a mobile phone mast was granted planning permission to be installed on the side of a pub in Oxford. The pub was in a residential area, near a school. The surrounding area was inhabited by young liberal professionals. Within a few weeks the concerned locals had spurred into action with petitions and meetings and I’m sure you get the picture…some individuals adamant on stopping the installation van by lying across the road.

There are apparent similarities between this telephone mast silently emitting radiation and climate change; firstly the impacts are fairly uncertain and secondly, the effects are drawn out long into the future.The most significant difference may in fact be that scientific research on telephone masts has evidenced them to be relatively harmless – seventy thousand masts would be required to cause any real damage to our health. Unfortunately science does not say the same for our indulgence in fossil fuels. Despite the scientific consensus, climate change has in many ways failed to stir a significant emotional response. If does feel as though the tide is changing however – the worldwide climate protests in September, 2014 were an incredible statement of intent and togetherness. Naturally though, with anything on a global scale, changing the inertia takes a long time. The way we affect our climate is so multi-faceted – the problem is made of so many compounding problems – a true meta-problem.

Why do we not wake up to the threat?

One way of answering this question is looking at evolutionary research. Our evolutionary journey has equipped us with a toolkit for interpreting threat, which we use to counteract the danger we are faced with. However, climate change has undoubtedly poor characteristics to evoke a significant response.

As said before, climate change is a slow-moving process, incremental and on a scale that is hard to imagine. Investment is needed now for uncertain gains in the future – something I have said previously in the other articles, but this seems to have a large dampening effect on our threat radar. This problem is compounded by the typical ‘future’ framing of climate change. Politicians almost always frame the issue in the future. Not that climate change isn’t a problem for the future, but it is without doubt a problem for now too. We seem to be waiting for a big flashpoint, or the moment climate change really kicks in – climate change is incremental and for some around the world it really has kicked in. Whilst on politics, it seems a good time to ask a question…are the UK’s 2050 climate targets conveniently far away in the future, so we can go on extracting the last drops in the North Sea and then deal with climate change after?

As well as the framing of the problem, it is also hard to grasp the scale of it. There is a climatic zone called the coffee belt, which as expected produces the world’s coffee beans. Climate change is currently altering this climatic zone. Firstly, notice how framing the coffee belt issue as a problem occurring now can elicit a far more immediate emotional response. But moving on, it is extremely hard to predict exactly how this belt is being altered, but if this climatic zone shifts elsewhere the coffee industry may collapse. This is one example of many changes that we are noticing all over the world.

Why can’t international politics take the reins?

Negotiations are making slow, but definite progress. The solutions under debate and solutions that will be brought to the table in the future will undoubtedly require collective action, a shared responsibility, and a fair divvying up of emission allowances if we go forward with carbon trading. There is a concept of ‘ecological debt’ that the developed nations owe to the developing nations as they have gorged on fossil fuels, reaping the rewards, but have steered the Earth into this predicament. How the ‘ecological debt’ is repaid, only time and plenty more arguments will tell. Who is entitled to what and how will it be paid? A political minefield…I’m sure you get the picture. In addition, us humans are incredibly good at keeping track of debts and arrears – fairness is a big deal to us, but we are very prone to bias, which together is causing friction at the global climate talks.

The psychology behind climate change is incredibly layered?

The psychology behind climate change is incredibly layered and obstacles arise almost everywhere. An oddity that psychologists have identified about parents, a group that should logically care about this problem seem to take less notice. Our desire to protect against immediate threats increases when we have children and we seem to generally pay less attention to far off issues. Research points to individuals having a ‘finite pool of worry.’ Additionally, a way of life we associate with the comfort and the protection of our families and one we all typically aspire to is now classed as the menace. 

What can I do?

It is widely recognised that our actions thus far have not been adequate to mitigate some pretty big changes to our world, some argue even the the hopeful 2°C threshold is playing Russian Roulette – it will probably condemn Africa to desert for starters. There is definitely growing energy, which should be undoubtedly celebrated. Efforts are taking effect towards a low-carbon system. However, to tackle a problem on this scale requires a huge mobilisation of resource, innovation and most importantly activity. We naturally follow the jury of our peers and we need leaders to step up. This vacuum of leaders needs to be filled by all of us. The cogs are turning and we are on the path. Corporations, investors and political figureheads undeniably have very important roles, but teachers, children, you and me, have to take the reins. Our individual choices have ripples…we are sardines pushing against a runaway oil tanker – everyone has to push!

Sources:
George Marshall’s ‘Don’t Even Think About It!’
Mike Burners-Lee & Duncan Clark‘s ‘A Burning Question.’

The Doubt Paradox Surrounding Climate Change

The Paradox

There is a befuddling paradox surrounding what we believe about this issue. There is a huge body of scientific analysis that has been amassing over the past few decades, which overwhelmingly points the finger at us. This continuous river of evidence is growing and strengthening.

Five international reports have been written collating and reviewing thousands of published research papers, by a team of leading scientists around the world that make up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC now state with 95% confidence that we are the cause of the observed increase in global temperature. The general physical principles were proven by John Tyndall way back in 1861, who showed that water vapour and other greenhouse gases cause atmospheric warming. This blanket has brought life to this planet, but we keep on adding to it.

However, and unsurprisingly for a few factors later discussed, there is still huge doubt and confusion about whether making this blanket thicker is making us hotter.

No ‘Smoking-Gun’

One major issue for communicating the science is there is no real stand-out piece of evidence, no ‘smoking-gun.’ The evidence is accumulative. Imagine each ‘piece’ of evidence as a child in school lunch hall – they do not make much noise on their own, but together their voices and their cutlery and their tumblers make quite a racket.

The going rate for a published and peer-reviewed paper that does not accept we changing our climate as opposed to one that does is around 1 to 1000. There is incredibly strong consensus across scientific institutions and scientific academies – one notable survey found that 97% of climate papers that state a view, agree that we are the cause – these are papers published by scientists that actually study the climate, not the group of sceptic economic and political leaders that continue to spout otherwise. In real-terms, the only people debating whether or not climate change is real, aren’t the ones researching it.

Climate Science is Imprecise

The debate has been fuelled with a widely known and reported characteristic of climate science. One that climate scientists are the first to voice; its imprecision. The weather man has historically been notoriously inaccurate and imprecise, although with developments in supercomputers, the five-day regional is getting pretty good.

Predicting the changes that will occur between now and 2030, 2050 or 2100, and not to mention grappling with the entire global climate system, is a truly gargantuan task. The grandeur of this is demonstrated by the scales involved and lack of crystal balls. The number of influencing factors are seemingly infinite, and in addition the interactions between these seemingly infinite factors must be calculated. Climate science is imprecise, but the body of evidence accurately points towards us as the agents of the observed changes.

Even BP Agree

We are pretty certain the human population is walking towards a cliff; in the scientific arena this is a given; even BP unreservedly agree that we will surpass the 2°C threshold (a politically agreed threshold generally considered to be the temperature above which climate change will significantly damage the global environment) and that the results will not be pleasant. The thin line we have to tread is between managing our atmospheric blanket and making sure we do not drive the global economy into the ground.

The Carbon Credit Card

As said above it doesn’t really matter to what degree we are going to warm our planet; what matters is that we are, and we have enough easily obtainable, proven fossil fuel reserves to go way beyond this 2°C threshold. We are spoiling the stable conditions we have been gifted in the current Holocene epoch (11,700 yrs – present) that has given humanity a window of opportunity. We have achieved a great deal, but we need to take a little rain check. We are using our carbon credit card, not really knowing about the interest rates.

Sources:
97% Climate scientists statistic – Doran et al. 2009 & Anderegg et al. 2010

Originally posted here.