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What will the Dutch do when the sea level keeps rising?

When we talk about sea level rise, people often look at the Netherlands because we have been waging war against water since the start. With our dykes, levees, dams, (wind)pumps, sluices, locks, and other delta works we have reclaimed approximately 7.150 km2 of land in the past centuries. We have increased the size of our country by more than 20%.

While many believe that at least half of the Netherlands is below sea level, this is not the case. Currently, 26% of the Netherlands is below sea level, and an additional 29% is vulnerable to (river) flooding. On YouTube, Professor Poldergeist (the animated alter ego of Simon Richter) explains the situation as follows: visualize the reclaimed bit of the Netherlands as an empty swimming pool with a deep and a shallow end. On the deep end, we have built dykes to keep the North Sea out, but on the shallow end, water flows in from the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt River Delta. To make sure they don’t fill up our pool, we have dredged the rivers and built levees to lock them in all the way to the sea. To keep our feet dry, we continuously pump our (ground)water into the rivers and out of our country. We have basically raised the rivers and left the residents below.

While we proudly proclaim to be experts on flood management, there is no viable solution to keep the water out with increasing global temperatures. With a lack of ambitious climate action and the fact that ice caps melt, glaciers disappear, and oceans heat up (thermal expansion of water) at unprecedented rates, the question is not how much but when the sea level rises to 2m+.

Climate change is projected to lead to more and higher-intensity storms and heavy precipitation, which as a result, increases the risk of flash floods and storm surges. Yes, rising global temperatures pose unthinkable risks to billions worldwide, including us. So, what will the Dutch do when the sea level keeps rising? Are we going to be stubborn and stay, or will we migrate away?

With that in mind, we visited the “Plan D” exposition in the Haus der Niederlande in Münster, Germany. Here, thought-provoking maps and plans visualize how the Netherlands could respond to the changing climate and what could happen if we do not respond at all.

Because we really enjoyed the visualisation of the Dutch climate risks and adaptation plans by Project Poldergeist, we have embedded some of the videos below. They are fun and insightful – give them some love.

Elise & Joy

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