What if the Water Wins?

The latest issue of Time has a piece I did on how the Netherlands are adapting to climate change.

Just downstream from the Dutch Port of Rotterdam, a storm-surge barrier waits for the seas to rise. Twin latticework arms, each as long as the Eiffel Tower and twice as heavy, stand ready to swing together to shield the city from the wind-whipped waves. Together, they form one of the longest moving structures in the world.

The Maeslant Barrier, or Maeslantkering, is the culmination of an effort initiated in the wake of a 1953 flood, when a storm surge overwhelmed the country’s dikes and killed 1,800 people. Completed in 1997, the $7.5 billion Delta Works — a series of dams, dikes, locks and gates — was designed to put a permanent end to flooding in a country where two-thirds of the population lives below sea level. “The general idea was that water would never be a threat to the Netherlands again,” says Tineke Huizinga, Vice Minister for Transport, Public Works and Water Management.

But even as the great barrier was being tested, it was becoming clear that climate change would one day make the effort obsolete. In 1995 and ’98, several rivers burst their banks, forcing mass evacuations. Then, in 2005, the country watched in horror as Hurricane Katrina shattered New Orleans. “We saw what could happen,” says Eric Boessenkool, an adviser for international affairs at Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch equivalent of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “And it really changed our mind-set.”

Read the rest.