Waiting for the water in the Netherlands

In the attic of my house in The Hague, a beautiful city on the coast of the Netherlands, there lays a dinghy. The type that you can fill with a hand pump. A few years ago, we received the rubber boat as a present from a friend, because we moved from Amsterdam to a house near the sea. So it might come in handy. I never unpacked the boat, but stored it in the attic. Next to an emergency kit with a flashlight, radio, batteries, water, blankets, and some sustainable food. A few weeks earlier I had stumbled upon the website ‘Will I Be In Flood Territory’ and I understood that our house would be seriously flooded if a dike broke. An emergency package with a boat could indeed come in handy.

My friend laughed a lot about the destination of his gift–and everyone he told it too–but, speaking for my family and myself, I found it reassuring. It was obvious he believed there would not be any flooding, any time soon. This is based on the history of the Netherlands, which as a country has had a number of experiences with high tide. It is generally assumed, underpinned with scientific studies, that the dikes should be high enough and that for a rising sea level we would find a solution in time. I helped him hope so.

Our conversation was reason for me to send to the same friend, last week, the free e-book written by historian and The Correspondent contributor, Rutger Bregman. Bregman wrote a letter to all Dutch people entitled Het water komt (translated as The Water Is Coming). For this book he interviewed seven well-known scientists, who spoke frankly about the consequences of rising sea levels. Their conclusion prognosticates that the flood disaster of 1953 may be repeated, and there is a real chance that we will have to say goodbye to large cities in the ‘Randstad’ area (comprising Amsterdam-Utrecht-Rotterdam and where most Dutch people live). Not tomorrow, of course, but encompassing the long term vision, and only if we do nothing to combat climate change. 

Bregman wants to shake the Dutch people awake so that they will take action. He says that people accept that the climate is changing, but nobody seems to care about the consequences because they still seem so far away into the future.

Still, we must do something now–right now. 

Investing in sustainable energy and adapting our behaviour is obvious. At the same time we can also invest in new ways of living. We can build water-resistant houses that withstand extreme rainfall, but we can also go a step further by building on water. The Danish architectural firm BIG and the company Oceanix are developing concepts for floating cities, but that’s still far into that future. In Amsterdam, the unique sustainable floating residential area Schoonschip (which literally translates as ‘Clean Ship’, and also carries the figurative meaning of cleaning away bad habits, including on a societal level) is already a reality. Schoonschip is an initiative of a group of young, environmentally conscious Amsterdammers. Together they have created a green oasis in the city proper. Now they hope that others will copy their plans in other cities, so that they too will keep their feet dry for decades to come.

Meanwhile, I’m doing what I can to live as sustainably as possible. And otherwise I always have that little dinghy, which now symbolizes the need to make sustainable choices with my family and friends.

Asceline Groot is ondernemer bij hetkanWEL, schrijfster van ‘Het Nieuwe Groen’ en PhD kandidaat aan de Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen. In haar columns schrijft zij over (start-up) sociale ondernemingen en trends en ontwikkelingen op het gebied van duurzaamheid.