Cara standing in floodwater in the Somerset Levels

Cara Naden works for Zero Carbon World. An environmentalist with a passion for “clean air, healthy homes, circular economy & nature”, here she explains what it’s like living with the devastating effects of climate change.

I live on the Somerset Levels, where the highest ever recorded rainfall caused vast flooding to the area. So you might say I’ve been ‘living with climate change’ for the last few years.

It started around Boxing Day 2013, when the road from Muchelney to Langport flooded and became impassable. By the first week of March 2014, it was still underwater.

It’s not unusual for that road and surrounding fields to flood during the winter, but not in living memory has there been so much rainfall.

Nor has there been such widespread flooding across Somerset, causing so many main roads and railway lines to be underwater and impassable for months. Or indeed, so many homes, communities and businesses affected by floodwaters. That winter, it looked liked I lived in a West Country version of Venice.

Life on a floodplain

Yes, I live on the edge of a floodplain, so I’m aware that the area floods. But we’ve had two successive winters with yet more water. Friends and neighbours were flooded where no flooding had been recorded before.

Something is changing.  And it’s not just that the waterways haven’t been dredged of silt, as they were before the early ‘90s. Those who've lived in the area for generations recall widespread flooding of other homes not affected this time. This was back when dredging was a regular activity, but there was less recorded rainfall. To me, this suggests the recent severe floods aren’t directly linked to the lack of dredging. Quite clearly, the problem has come from the biggest deluge of rain recorded in around 250 years.

I felt that these floods were coming. I felt after the previous winter’s excessive flooding that this was just a taster of things to come. I felt that, since the government and media were losing focus on climate change, the planet would do something to show us what the effects of increased CO2 levels caused by humans burning fossil fuels would look like. And here it showed a very wet and windy retaliation.

Positive changes for the climate

Cara in her kayak during the floodsThe floods have reignited my desire to live an even more low-impact lifestyle. I’ve felt guilty driving long ways around the floods to “civilisation”. But as I’m fortunate to work from home for an environmental charity, I’ve drastically reduced my daily transport CO2 emissions. I’m also making plans to switch to an electric vehicle (EV).

I’ve been planting trees, and I’m looking to move to an off-grid smallholding.

Since the flooding, people have been making noticeable changes to reduce their environmental impact. Solar panels have gone up on homes. Meanwhile, some households that were flooded have improved their homes to make them more resilient to future flooding.

A local transition group is working on reinstating a train station near Langport. This local service would be fuelled by biomethane from food waste. It would enable the community to use sustainable transport and still get around in future floods. The group has also worked with the local Town Council to install solar panels on the community hall, and a public electric car charging station in the car park.

Large civil works have created an earth flood bund around those communities, creating some sense of security. But the people who watched the water seep into their homes through the floor worry this won’t keep their feet dry if the deluge happens again. Reducing emissions and building in flood resilience for everyone is the best option to weather future storms.

Someone to blame for climate change

The positive side of all this is that it did tighten our bonds as a community. It enabled those with an understanding of the effects of climate change to discuss what caused the excessive weather effects that created those floods.

But the floods split opinions locally. Last time it was an “Act of God”, a one-in-one-hundred-year effect that people living on the levels have to cope with once in a while. And maybe climate change was impacting, but that was just life.

This time though, some of the loudest opinions are those blaming the Environment Agency - for not dredging the silt from the rivers, and spending too much public money “saving birds not people”. But although no people died on the Levels during this flooding, many parts of the ecology and wildlife did.

Humans want to blame someone for their pain, and this instance shows that it’s easier to blame an agency. But we have to look at the bigger picture - where we’re all part of the problem, but equally part of the solution.

Find out more

Read more about how we can minimise flood damage and tackle global warming.

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