Can we rely on UK journalists and the BBC to grasp even the basics of the threat posed by climate induced sea-level rise ? It seems not.
Take this exchange on BBC Radio Norfolk, yesterday evening, 13 May. (For UK listeners still at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01y79tt from ca 02.41hrs).
The station’s tea-time (drive-time) host Matthew Gudgin interviewed Anne Edwards the editor of the Great Yarmouth Mercury. A very nice lady. The discussion turned to floods and then melting ice in Antarctica and the Norfolk coast.
AE: “the river [Yare], that’s being sorted out … flood defences … millions …. the coast, I don’t know what the answer is to the coast … I heard on the radio yesterday that there is a glacier that’s melting – erm – in the Arctic, is that in the North ? I’m not sure which is the Arctic and the Antarctic …”
MG “I think this one was the South Pole”
AE: “was it the South Pole ? … oh it’s not going to get us then [sic] … but if this glacier melts [half-laughs], it will mean sea level rise by two metres – well my house is going to be under water then. But I don’t know. I think it’s one of these things that’s going to happen; we’ll to have to live with it”
MG: “And Yarmouth is classified as an impoverished area …”
The conversation moves on to Great Yarmouth being neglected by the rest of Norfolk … and the need to defend the coastline.
If only the melting Antarctic ice-water really would stay put at the South Pole.
As one friend who used to be a senior communications director for flood defences at the Environment Agency commented to me: “this is probably repeated on every local radio station up and down the country”.
As revealing it is of both the state of knowledge about climate change and the realities of sea-level rise on behalf of both the presenter and the interviewee – herself an experienced journalist – it is all the more depressing because Great Yarmouth has already been at the centre of major debates about exactly this subject. For example when agency Natural England managed to accidentally enrage public opinion by releasing a scenario showing it might not be possible to defend “The Broads”, against sea-level rise. (The Broads are a low-lying freshwater marshland system near Great Yarmouth. The town itself has the sea on one side and the river on the other.)
On top of this, UEA (University of East Anglia), a major climate research centre, is just a few miles away and has had long running ‘public outreach’ programmes intended to raise awareness of ‘climate issues’. So this is perhaps the most vulnerable part of the UK facing climate-change-induced threats and ought to be one of the best informed.
If the consequences were not so serious, this case of “Alan Partridge* Meets Cognitive Dissonance” would be funny.
*Alan Partridge is a fictional TV character (a Norfolk Radio Presenter) invented by actor Steve Coogan.