It's nearly a year since the storms that led to
flooding across much of the UK.
Over the last decade, the UK has experienced a range
of extreme weather events: heatwaves, droughts, big freezes, as
well as storms and floods. Scientists have
linked some of these with climate change, and the
IPCC concludes places like the UK will experience some
extreme weather events like heatwaves and floods more often as a
result of climate change.
Some, like former diplomat Sir Crispin Tickell,
have suggested that extreme weather events will be the
only thing that prompts meaningful action on climate.
But when the UK next suffers more flooding, will it make any
difference to the public debate about climate change?
To test the idea, I undertook a research project looking at
published opinion polls, newspaper archives and records of
parliamentary debates, from 2006 to early 2014, to see the impact
UK extreme weather events have on how climate change gets talked
about in public, the media, and parliament.
High-water mark of public concern
In terms of public opinion, last year's floods
coincided with a leap in concern about the environment, according
to regular YouGov polls measuring which issues people consider the
Following months of sustained flooding, in February 2014 the
proportion of people naming the environment as one of the top three
issues facing the country jumped from around 7 per cent to 23 per
cent. That put it at about the same level as health and welfare.
It's hard to see any explanation for this other than the