The Dutch show us how to build resilience

As a friend recently told me, “The cup is broken. Even if we could glue it back together, it would still leak. So we have to go beyond the broken cup, sit at the potter’s wheel and throw a new kind of cup.”

This is her metaphor to acknowledge that climate change is continuing to happen. We are unable to reverse  the effects it is already producing. Some governments are not taking this seriously, in spite of overwhelming evidence. Thus, many individual countries, states, and cities are starting to make their own contingency plans for how to deal with this existential threat.

One of the leaders in the understanding of rising sea levels is the Netherlands. The Dutch look at the rest of the world, and wonder how some still deny climate change, and are thus, doing very little to prepare for  sea level rise. The Netherlands has contended with water as a force in their lives for centuries, as 26 percent of the country lies below sea level. But, now, instead of just trying to keep the water out of their country by fortifying dikes and sea walls, they are developing ways of inviting the water into their country, capitalizing on using it as a vital design concept.

The Dutch have become experts at dealing with sea level change, with governmental representatives from all around the planet visiting and learning from them. The United States has sent planners from New Orleans, Florida, Virginia, and New York to observe how they are developing resilience to water inundations. Their advice has already saved thousands of lives in Sri Lanka.


In the next 20 years, the U.S. will have dozens of cities that will be chronically impacted by sea level change. The largest U.S. naval base in Virginia is already making plans to deal with regular flooding. Florida, New Orleans, Galveston, the South Bay Area and Oakland in  California are all looking at future impacts. Hurricane Sandy and its effects on New York was just the “tip of the melting iceberg.” Maps are showing that Novato, Napa, Petaluma and Los Angeles in California will all be affected.

So what is the Netherlands doing that is so interesting? Instead of trying to keep the water out they make use of the flooding waters, to create water parks. Public garages become emergency storage areas for sewage when the treatment plants become flooded. Basketball courts and plazas are being built that will act as retention ponds when flood waters threaten to overwhelm. Floating farms are being developed that will grow produce and presently, one even contains a dairy that can provide most of the milk products for Rotterdam, a city of 600,000. Rotterdam’s mayor has directed everyone to obtain a boat, in case the city has underestimated the effects of any particular storm or surge. One entire agency deals with nothing but roof-top development. Before children can use public pools unattended, they have to have a diploma certifying that they can swim with their clothes and shoes on.

There is no debate in much of the world, where climate change effects are already a reality. The Netherlands has decided to move on … not waiting for the world powers to get on board. They cannot afford to. Also, the U.S. Navy isn’t waiting. Lloyds of London isn’t waiting. The sea levels aren’t waiting.

Climate deniers in the U.S. continue to battle legitimate science. Motivated by corporate financial incentive they seem to have little regard for their children and grandchildren.


However the Dutch, (and many others) are serious about resilience and adaptation to climate change. They realize that “the cup is broken.” We are not going to glue it back together, so we must go beyond and prepare for the impacts we have created.