Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Future Fingers in the Dike

So, yeah...whatARE the Dutch thinking and doing about the prospect of sea level rise, their being below sea level already? This animation illustrates one scenario of how bad the flooding could get.

The Dutch skeptics say, Do nothing; there's no evidence that the sea is rising at all, much less at an accelerating rate. They believe an investment in improving the sea barrier would be wasted, based on bad science and hysteria.

I ran across these expressions in the comments following an article titled The Dutch experience of sea level rise on the Climate Audit site. As one fellow posted:

One of the features of the proponents of the doomsday is that they heavily underestimate the natural variations of everything. They say that the world is living on the edge, and if you change the sea level by half a meter or the temperature by 1 degree, everything collapses. They have not looked at these graphs - especially the more historical ones. The biosphere was very happy 3 million years ago when the temperature was 2-3 degrees higher...
But a February 7 AP article in the International Herald Tribune, titled Dutch may build offshore breaker islands in response to global warming indicates that some serious scientists and politicians there are thinking hard about the consequences of guessing wrong and being unprepared. Dutch policy.
More than two-thirds of the Netherlands' 16 million population lives below sea level, and Dutch policy makers are counting on a rise in sea level of around 80 centimeters (30 inches) in the coming century regardless of the ongoing scientific debate on the causes and likely impact of global warming.
This is Climate Frog behavior. The Hell with the debate, the risk is too great to be complacent. Let's do something now and start designing a defense.

The Dutch stand as perhaps the greatest cultural example of hard work and intelligent planning in preserving a land base and a way of life. Check out this promotional video of their current defenses against the sea and inland flooding. But even these monumental works will fail when the sea level rises.

Their solution for that eventuality is creative in that it leverages natural processes to do much of the building. By pumping sand into the right place, they can count on the ocean to bulk up the wall of dunes along the coastline. An alternate (or perhaps complementary) plan would build a line of barrier islands off the coast to serve as breakwaters when North Sea storms threaten to send a surge over the dikes.

The Dutch aren't just talking a good game, their government approved an increase of $18.5 billion in spending on water defenses over the next 20 years. Not surprisingly, Hurricane Katrina was seen as a "wake up call" for anyone in the Netherlands who thought that catastrophic flooding could only occur in developing countries.

Yet, not even a raising of the coastal defense levees is counted on for full confidence. There are also plans for evacuation drills and contingency plans for fullblown flooding of the low countries. At some point, many locations around the world had better get on that page.

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