Money can’t buy you good weather

Some people go for sandbags; others prefer money. Possibly sandbags full of money would do it.

Is your home flooded? No problem. The Government has lots of money, so everything will be fine.

Whose fault is it anyway?   Perhaps the Environment Agency, who are so infatuated with wildlife that they don’t have time to dredge rivers. Perhaps the Government, who don’t live in Somerset and are in love with high-speed trains. Perhaps the planners, who are keen to build on flood plains. Perhaps local authorities. Perhaps the police. Perhaps the fairies.

Someone should have stopped it.

Remember King Canute, who tried to stop the tide coming in and couldn’t – presumably because he hadn’t allocated enough money – or sand. Haven’t we progressed any further than that?

Well, Canute was not quite that stupid. If you read the story carefully, you’ll find that he was not making foolhardy attempts to stop the sea coming in. He was demonstrating to his wrong-headed supporters and subjects that he wasn’t all-powerful, and some things cannot be stopped.

Of course he was right. He had a level-headed view of humanity’s limitations – a view that we seem to have jettisoned as life has got easier and easier.

We are used to being safe. We are insured. We take precautions. If something goes wrong, there is someone to put it right.

Except that no-one has yet mastered the sea, any more than they have mastered the rain or the wind. Or the climate. We like to think that we can, and it’s just a question of making the right decisions, using the right energy, making everything completely safe.

But this is a delusion. We happen to have been living in a very quiet period. In past centuries there have been huge sea floods of unknown origin. That story about Lyonesse – the land between Cornwall and the Scilly Isles that was lost during a “huge sea flood” – is usually described as a myth. Couldn’t happen, could it?

Or could it? We forget that in Roman times the coast of my home county, Norfolk, was very different, with the sea pushing much further inland. We forget the Fens – drained relatively recently. Stories of huge, destructive storms filter down the centuries.

The sea is not easy to push aside. The weather cannot always be easily handled.

Some say there is no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing. I don’t think so.

There is nothing we can do to stop continuous rain, hurricane force winds or months of snow – any more than we can predict or defend against tsunamis and meteorites. Money won’t do it, and nor will sandbags.

The odds are against extreme weather – which simply means that it doesn’t happen very often. But it does happen, and it is just as likely to happen now as at any other time. We take the best precautions we can.

I took the precaution of not buying a house on a flood plain. But the hill on which I live is made of chalk, and there are tunnels in it. Even a small amount of snow and ice makes our steep road hard to use. There are large trees that could fall on us.

Nowhere is completely safe, and we have no right to complete safety. Many parts of the world are forced to be aware of this. Why not us?

What we do have is responsibility – to do the best we can, to protect each other, to have compassion and to recognise that we are not yet ready – nowhere near ready – to conquer the universe. That is not what the universe is for.