David Cameron and the Floods of 2014. Copyright The Prime Minister's Office

As the UK deals with some of the wettest weather in 250 years, Cameron announces he will do everything possible to deal with the crisis. Neil Faulkner is sceptical

The neoliberal political elite argues about detail but agrees about essentials. That Cameron, Clegg, and Miliband stand together in opposing Scottish independence should send a clear message to working people in Scotland: it is in your interest to vote yes in the referendum. If the political representatives of the bankers and the bosses want to preserve the British state, the rest of us should welcome its breakup.

But I digress. It is the response to the Great Flood that is most revealing. The British Isles have experienced the wettest December and January since 1910, and southern England the wettest in 248 years. The reason is almost certainly that the functioning of the jet stream is being altered by the warming of the ocean.

The Great Flood is only one in a series of extreme weather events across the globe over the last few years. Their character varies. In arid and semi-arid latitudes, the problem is drought. From California through the Horn of Africa and the Middle East to the North Indian Plain, water shortage is destroying livelihoods and, in many places, causing humanitarian disasters and creating a growing risk of water wars. A secondary consequence is the growing incidence of raging bush fires.

Rising seas

In equatorial latitudes, the problem is again flooding. Entire islands and some low-lying regions – notably parts of Bangladesh – are disappearing beneath rising seas. Millions of people have already been displaced. It is in these parts, too, that hurricanes and tsunamis wreak their devastation.

What is the response of our rulers? The hard right has been captured by climate-change deniers. The Tory benches are stuffed so full of them that government experts are now training themselves to avoid using the ‘double C’ term when speaking on official committees. Systematic lying – promoted by ‘think tanks’ funded by the energy companies – is shaping mainstream discourse.

Cameron is not so stupid as to be a climate-change denier. But Owen Paterson, his Environment Secretary, most certainly is. That he holds this position is testimony to the grip that climate-change denial now has on the Tory Party.

Clegg and Miliband are less constrained by political neanderthals in their own parties. Miliband is clear that climate change will mean ‘more extreme weather events’ and that we face ‘more flooding, more storms’ in the future. But his prescription is limited to investment in flood defences. He castigates the government – rightly – for cuts in flood defences, for its weak response to the crisis, and for the paltry amounts it is offering in assistance and compensation. But that is all.

A global neoliberal problem

There is an underlying unanimity across the political class. Whether they deny climate change or accept it, none of them offers a solution. And this is now a global phenomenon. Since the 2008 Crash, the neoliberal elite has abandoned any serious attempt to reverse climate change by co-ordinated international action. Indeed, they do the precise opposite.

On the one hand, Cameron wades through flooded streets announcing that the government will do everything possible to deal with the crisis. On the other, he invites the fracking corporations to tear up the countryside, increase carbon emissions, and accelerate global warming.

This is the pattern everywhere. We have mounting scientific evidence of climate change and unequivocal support for the science from a rising curve of extreme-weather events. And at the same time we have a political and business elite committed to dirty energy, rising pollution, and a warming planet.

The reason is very simple. We live under a system of competitive capital accumulation. We live in a world parcelled up between rival corporations and rival nation-states. Nothing is safe from the ravages of a ruthless global struggle for markets and profits.

As the Great Flood rolls across southern Britain, as 100-mile-an-hour winds batter the west, a simple truth is buried under a deluge of party political point-scoring and media ‘human interest’ trivialisation: either we get rid of the system – and replace it with one based on rational planning and democratic control – or capitalism will destroy the planet.

Neil Faulkner

Neil Faulkner is a freelance archaeologist and historian. He works as a writer, lecturer, excavator, and occasional broadcaster. His books include ‘A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics‘ and ‘A Marxist History of the World: from Neanderthals to Neoliberals‘.