In Floods

I live in a small town in Shropshire called Much Wenlock. I moved here in 2007. In the summer of that year it rained a lot. I mean, really, a lot. So much so that the town flooded. Weeks of steady rain had left the fields surrounding the town water-logged. The earth was sodden. So, when a sudden storm let go a heavy downpour, the land had no capacity left to absorb the moisture. Instead, the water poured off the fields and down into the town. You see, Much Wenlock, although it is 160 metres above sea level, sits in a bowl surrounded by arable land. It’s location in the landscape plus the geological composition of the land it sits within means that it is peculiarly prone to this type of flooding. So much so that it has been designated a Rapid Response Flood Catchment area at the highest level. Which means that when the meteorlogical conditions are right, the town will flood and flood very quickly – 20 minutes is the estimate given. And Climate Change means that the likelihood of these conditions occuring will only increase. Up to 400 homes in the town are at risk of flooding.

Much Wenlock High Street in 2007

Which explains why I found myself last week sitting in the Priory Hall with fellow residents attending a Consultation Meeting about the Flood Risks in Much Wenlock. It was a multi-agency event. There were representatives there from the Environment Agency, the National Flood Forum, Shropshire County Council and Wenlock Town Council. A presentation was given that explained the situation as it stands, what has been done so far to reduce the risk of flooding, what the plans are for the future, and then people were free to ask questions which the authorities represented did their best to answer.

The meeting was pretty well attended by a reasonable cross section of the community. A number of things struck me during the course of the evening. I have been thinking about the issues it raised over the past few days and I want to take the opportunity here to open them up a little.

climate change

The first thing that struck me was the extent to which the idea of Climate Change has gained wide-spread acceptance. Ten years ago I was part of a group called Sustainable Wenlock who were trying to engage people in Much Wenlock with issues around Climate Change and Peak Oil. It was hard going back then. People just didn’t want to know about Climate Change. It wasn’t a mainstream issue. We were seen as slightly loopy fanatics with a bee in our bonnets about something that wasn’t really a pressing issue. We were easy to ignore. Much has changed since then. Thanks to Greta Thornberg, David Attenborough, Extinction Rebellion and others, Climate Change is now widely accepted as real. Only the President of the United States of America seems ready to deny its reality. Climate Change was referred to repeatedly during the Wenlock Flood Meeting. Not once was it challenged. Everybody now seems to accept that it exists.

The Death of A Way Of Life

However, though, as a society, we may no longer be denying the existence of Climate Change, I do not believe that we have truly accepted its reality. We may be happy to entertain it as an abstract concept, but we show no signs of having come to terms with what it actually means. Because, if we really stop and think about what Climate Change means, even for a moment, we would realise that accepting it as real means that we have to tear up the rule-book and make radical changes to our lives. Climate Change basically says “The way we are living is not sustainable. The way we are living is creating conditions on this planet in which the human race will be unable to survive. The way we are living will eventually kill us all.” So, Climate Change demands that we must change the way we are living. Or die. Climate Change means the End of Our Way of Living. Our Way Of Life is going to die. Either we adapt, put our Old Way Of Life out of its misery, find a new, better way to live on this planet or we die with it. I don’t think that we are any where near coming to terms with the death of our way of life. I think that we are at the beginning of a process of grieving for that loss.

The Grieving Process

Grief is a process that takes time to work through. It has many different facets all of which must be experienced. Often, when faced with the prospect of loss, we react by denying it. So, the patient just diagnosed with a terminal illness refuses to accept the diagnosis. It seems, in the case of Climate Change, that we have, as a society, worked through that denial stage. It is then common for people experiencing loss to react with anger – the patient says “Why me?” and rants at an uncaring God. There seemed to be a fair bit of anger in the air at the meeting. With anger comes blame – the anger needs a target to attack. There were a number of people there who seemed intent on laying the blame for the flooding at the door of Shropshire Council. The Council were repeatedly accussed of not doing enough, of failing to keep their promises. Which may or may not be true but seems to me to be failing to see the bigger picture: the truth is that we are all to blame for Climate Change and its consequences. I can pretty much guarantee that anyone reading this leads a life of privilege. If you have a computer, a phone, electricity, then you are leading a life of privilege. And that way of life is what is causing Climate Change. We cannot just blame the Council, the Government, China, Consumerism or whatever or whoever. We have to recognise our own part in the problem. Our attachment to our privileged way of life is the problem. And, if we are honest with ourselves, few of us are actually ready to let go of our way of life. We like our little luxuries. We deserve our little treats. We have earned them. We work hard. We look after our families and friends. We are good people.

And the Good People will kill us all. That is the terrible truth of Climate Change. The truth is that Being Good is not enough. Behaving in certain ways that our society deems to be acceptable, desireable even, are going to destroy us.

Take Working Hard, for example. Working Hard, Trying Your Best are qualities that our society celebrates and encourages. You go to school and you get a gold star for Effort. “Just try your best” we tell our children. “No-one can ask for more.” You go to work. You work hard. Harder than the other guy. So you can get the promotion. Work Hard, Play Hard. Even your leisure time becomes competitive. And we reward Hard Work with material benefits – the gold star, the trophy, the raise, the bonus. Until it is hard-wired into our systems: To Work Hard Is Good. With the result that we create a society that demands material rewards in order to feel Good about itself. How do I know that I am doing a good job unless I get paid well for doing it? My salary is a reflection of the esteem in which I am held. A reflection of how Good I am.

We create a Society structured around the premise that the harder we work, the more we earn, the more stuff we can buy. Stuff which shows the world how Good we are. It is a system that demands that we continually produce more stuff to act as rewards. It is a system that lends stuff a moral dimension. When stuff is a reward it is no longer just stuff – it has a moral value. Which makes it very difficult for us to give up our stuff. That fancy company car is not just a car, it is a symbol of the value the World places on my existence. The stuff that surrounds us, our standard of living is now vitally linked to our self esteem.

The problem is that making all that stuff needs energy and creates waste. To produce the energy needed we have been relying on fossil fuels, the emissions from which cause Climate Change. And, until recently, we have paid little attention to the consequences of dealing with all the waste.

As a society, we are unwilling, at present, to admit that we are simply making too much stuff. We are still insisting that we can find sustainable ways to produce the energy needed to produce more stuff. Solar, wind, tidal – whatever. It doesn’t matter. So long as we can continue our addiction to stuff. We are still insisting that the solutions to Climate Change are technical – if we can just figure out the science we will be ok.

I don’t think that the answer lies in better, more sustainable technologies. That’s just sticking plasters. What needs to change is something much more fundamental. Much more radical.

We need to change our whole relationship to the planet. And, in doing so, we need to redefine how we see ourselves and how we value each other. We have to redefine Good.

Can a lifestyle that demands the creation of more and more stuff ever be Good? Not if you redefine Good as “that which makes least demands on the planet’s resources.” By this measure the loser on the bus in scruffy second hand clothes surviving on benefits, living in rented acomodation and producing very little may well be doing more Good than the high powered business man in the suit running his own company, employing a few hundred people, flying to international meetings and ….well you get the picture. So, in order to save us from climate change, we have to endorse behaviour that is lazy, unproductive and slothful – at least in material terms.

So, in accepting the reality of Climate Change we may be facing the Death of the whole value system upon which our Society rests. I don’t think many of us are ready to truly face that level of change. Even though, deep down somewhere that we keep hidden even from ourselves, we know it to be true. But it isn’t simply that we are lying to ourselves. It is more complex than that. If we admit that most of us are a long way from completely accepting that Climate Change demands that we make radical changes to the value systems underpinning our Society, we are forced to also admit that we will in all likelihood fail to make the changes necessary to save our social systems from complete collapse (best case scenario) nor our species from extinction (worst case scenario). Do you believe that the current administration of whatever country you inhabit is capable of bringing in the technical advances necessary at the pace required to curb Climate Change? Or is your country run, like the UK, by a bunch of self serving, short sighted, power hungry charlatans?

So, when you stand and face Climate Change, you are looking at The End Of Humanity. Think about when you have lost a person or animal that you loved. Think about the moment when you fully realised that this was the end. Game over. That you would never see them again. Ever. Remember the pit that opened up in your stomach at that moment. The horrible emptiness that never really goes away but that you learn to live with. It is that same feeling that Climate Change should engender. It is that scale of loss. A bereavement. You are being forced to acknowledge that Humanity is finite, will not last forever. And that the bell is tolling. Right now.

so, what next?

How, then, do we respond in this situation? Do we …..

  • Try to recycle a bit more and not use plastic carrier bags?
  • Get down on our knees and pray to whatever God seems to be listening?
  • Glue ourselves to a boat and block the roads in protest?
  • Vote in politicians that seem to care about the environment?
  • Sign petitions calling for change?
  • Write blogs about it?

I think it is clear that all the above are not bad things to do but all are pretty ineffectual in bringing about the type of change that is necessary. I think that, in one sense, it doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is that you do it and that you do it with your eyes wide open to the reality of the situation. That means that you recognise that the odds are hopeless, that you are probably going to lose, Climate Change is probably going to bring Humanity to an End, but you go into battle anyway – because it is the heroic thing to do, because in doing so you just might find out what it means to be fully Human, fully alive. I don’t believe that we are here on the Earth just to be comfortable and get by. How did that ever get to be enough? How did keeping your head down, not causing a fuss and having a nice cup of tea on the sofa at the end of a busy day get to be an acceptable life goal? Have we allowed ourselves to settle for lives of shallow banality defined by what we aquire rather than who we inspire?

Well, excuse me, but sod that for a game of soldiers. Let’s go down in a blaze of glory with a laugh and a joke – a bit of style and pizazz, if you please. Because it only in adversity that we discover the true depth of our humanity. It is only against the odds that we find our true worth. It is in the moment of defeat that we recognise the quality of our souls. The Gods envy us our mortality because it is the presence of loss that gives our lives a depth of meaning that the Gods will never know. We should lead lives that inspire the Gods.

And let us do it together. We Humans are pack animals. We are weak clawless, toothless creatures. We don’t even have the fur to survive a harsh winter. It is only by using our creativity and working as a team that we are able to thrive. It is our ability to imagine that sets us apart. We alone in the animal world are able to conceive of various possible futures. So, let us celebrate that ability. Let us imagine better futures and work towards them. It doesn’t matter if we fail. As long as we fail gloriously.

Ultimately, we should look at Climate Change not as a problem to be solved but as a chance for us to explore what it means to be fully human. An opportunity for us to lead lives that may be less comfortable, less full of stuff, but lives that are better, richer, more satisfying, that have more meaning.

So, when the floods come, grab a coracle, take to the flooded steets and be a pirate. Join together with the other pirates. Drink the rum and sing the shanties and follow the pirate code. There be monsters out there but there be treasure too.


  1. Oh My Goodness Andy that is the best piece of (exhortation) I have read in a very long time. Churchill in time of war comes to mind. Inspiring. I feel uplifted even though it is a bleak message. Yes, it is a great piece. Should be widely read and acted upon. (PS Thank you for complimenting my already lifestyle of 2nd hand clothes and living on almost nothing!) Do you mind if I share this piece? PPS Much Wenlock! How did it ever get that name? Here in California we have picturesque names (Manteca = means lard in Spanish, for example)


  2. Andy, I am going to read it every day. I posted it to my Facebook group. I sent it to my family and my kid. There’s only one question I have: What does the new way of living on this planet look like? Maybe dumping the old and adjusting to the new isn’t all that terrible. People go into this “It’s going to be terrible!” reaction but maybe it isn’t really all that terrible!

    People do really need to get a better grip on themselves. People are really OK the way they are and don’t need so much ego-bolstering. But how do we convince them of it?

    Wearing hand-me-downs is not bad. Riding the bus is not bad (if you live where there are buses) Walking or biking is not bad! Sharing rides if the weather is crappy is not bad. Taking it more easy is not bad. Buying only what you really truly need is not bad and then when you buy something buy something that is well made and lasts.

    The new industry might be manufacturing products that cost more but last.

    The only thing I can’t imagine is how to produce enough food. Home gardening is not easy. Soils are depleted and that would take years to replenish. Some places there is not enough water. People might have to move and then learn to get by with less.


  3. Reblogged this on R L Benoit – Writer/Artist and commented:
    I think this is an extraordinary piece of thinking, bravery, and insight. I also think that it shows a way forward that many essays don’t. He doesn’t spell out specific things we can do. We’re smart enough to figure out what needs to be done. We just have to find the will to do it. Can we? Can you? Can I?


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