As a child, I spend quite some time on the water. My parents owned a small sailing boat and took me, my brother and my sister on weekend trips and three-week vacations during the summers of our youth. I enjoyed the swaying of the boat while trying to sleep. I liked the sound of the water splashing against the walls of this temporary house. Sometimes the big waves of the stormy weather scared me. But mostly, being this close to the water made me feel safe. Even now, when I hear the sound of sloshing it soothes me.
All over the country systems like these, but smaller, are build to guard land from flooding. Fact still is, that about 29% of the Netherlands is situated under sea level and 55% lies at risk of being flooded. In 1995, over 250.000 people were evacuated from their houses. In case of dike bursts, several villages would have been devoured by the water, which in some areas, would have reached a height of 5 meters above street level. Now, with the sea level rising much faster then expected, and more extreme weather coming our way, the average Dutchman doesn't seem too much worried. We don't think much about it, and we are not afraid. Even the fact that the Delta Works can only handle a sea level rise of approximately 40 cm, does not set us into action or even question. Most of us trust the government in keeping us safe.
Last week, while waiting for the ferry to arrive, I noticed the following:While standing on a floating platform, your knees slightly bend, muscles all relaxed, the water sets you in motion. It moves you. Small waves make their way into the platform. Into your feet, into your calves, into your knees, into your hips, all the way up to the head. The water becomes you and you become the water. Suddenly, you will find yourself as a river flowing across Nizhny Novgorod. As a small stream up in the mountains of Torres del Paine. You're a rainstorm raging over West-Jakarta as well as the water in a cup of a nine-year old boy living in the south of Benin. You're the water which is contained in the blood of António de Oliveira Salazar.
“If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” BRUCE LEE2
We look at the sea as something we should be afraid of. Its' infinity and grandeur makes us merely tiny beings. The land, we can conquer. We understand it. We can draw lines on it. Divide it. Make borders. We can cultivate the land. The sea is a stranger who always be our superior. And that's why we fight it. In the Netherlands we have this proverb 'de beste stuurlui staan aan wal', literally translated 'the best helmsmen stand on shore'. It means something like 'the watchers always know better than the doers'. But apart from its actual meaning, it also makes me think about how we, as worshippers of the land, always have tried to tame the sea with the hardness and strictness of the land. We fight it with soil. We fight it with metal. We want to domesticate the water by forcing it into intelligible, straightforward systems.
Deltares, a Dutch independent institute for applied research in the field of water and subsurface, collected and categorised all kinds of proposed ideas and plans that have been made to prepare the Netherlands for the rising of the sea level, and placed them into four different strategies of adaptation.3
1.To protect (closed). In this strategy, the Netherlands is permanently closed from the sea. Rivers will be pumped off into the sea.
2.To protect (open). This actually means we will go on with our current strategy. All of the Netherlands will be situated in between dikes, and rivers will stay connected to the sea.
3.To go seaward. We will keep the Netherlands safe by broadening or coastal areas and by creating big islands all along the seaside.
4.To move along. In this strategy, we will abandon the weaker spots of our land, and only protect places with economic high value. We find ways to connect these areas. Also, we adjust our usage of land in such a way that we can still use it in spite of sea level rising. For example, by creating floating houses/greenhouses and by focusing our agriculture on the growing of salt tolerant crops.
Learning to sail, means learning to work with the elements. At a young age, me and my siblings were taught to take the wind into account. For example, when you need to go to the exact direction where the wind is coming from, you cannot sail straight towards that place. Your sail simply cannot catch the wind, or, when you pull it in a way that it can, it will blow you backwards. You can only get to your desired location by zigzagging towards it.
To protect ourselves against flooding, we should be like water. Flexible, supple, adaptable. Water does not confront. Water finds its way around. In Japanese Buddhism the element of water – 水Sui – flows, and represents the formless things of the world, like rivers and lakes, but also body fluids like blood. Also plants are categorised under this element, for they adapt to their environment. Growing with the seasons and towards the sun. While shaping the future, we should dare to leave the rigid way of the land. We have to start thinking non-linear and non-hierarchical. For water is like a rhizome. It has no beginning and it has no end. /Additionally, rhizomatic thinking suits our brain structure very well/
The deep ecology movement states that all human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves.4 It means that that we cannot value the other-then-human solely for its usefulness to human beings. Everything existing on this planet has an inherent value. Therefore we must not merely take ourselves into account when it comes to decision-making. We are obliged to think for or even think with the sea. We are obliged to think with rivers, glaciers, lakes and the ones dwelling in and with them. To make acquaintance to the water, take a glass. Turn on the tap. Fill the glass. Close the tap. Take the glass to somewhere where you feel comfortable. Place the glass in front of you. Look at how the water gets motionless. Observe still water. Where exactly in the glass is the water situated. Can you see how the water touches the surface of the glass? Now move the glass for a moment, and again, look at how the water gets motionless. Which path does it take to get there? Now stick one of your fingers into the water and keep it still for a bit. Did you notice how the water made way for your limb? Whirl your finger around. The water keeps relocating to give space. Now take your finger out again. Where did the water go? Which part decided to stay in the glass en which part settled on your finger? Is it ok for a water particle to hesitate?
‘Eens zullen we ons land met een zucht van verlichting aan de golven prijsgeven’‘One day we shall, with a sigh of relief, give up our country to the waves’JOHAN VAN VEEN, FATHER OF THE DELTA WORKS
1Bruce Lee during an interview in the 9 December 1971 edition of 'The Pierre Berton Show'.2Bruce Lee during an interview in the 9 December 1971 edition of 'The Pierre Berton Show'.3https://publicwiki.deltares.nl/display/KWI/Adaptatie+aan+zeespiegelstijging4Naess, A & Sessions, G (1984) 'The Deep Ecology Platform', Foundation for Deep Ecology, retrieved online form http://www.deepecology.org/platform.htm