The Dutch Can’t Save Us From Rising Seas

CityLab: In nearly every major coastal city on Earth, elected officials are going Dutch—placing their faith and the future of their communities in the hands of Dutch engineering firms who are exporting their brand of climate adaptation to anyone that will listen. In the United States, their ideas have dominated the recovery and rebuilding efforts that followed Katrina in New Orleans, Ike and Harvey in Houston, and Sandy in New York. Even San Francisco, a city with little or no experience with tropical storms, is becoming a site of experimentation for Dutch engineers through a competition known as Resilient by Design.

It’s easy to understand why so many American cities are eager to entertain these ideas. Perhaps more than any other issue, climate policy engenders a sense of hopelessness. The scale of the problem and the measures necessary to combat it can seem overwhelming. Mainstream writing on climate change remains apocalyptic. The reaction to last week’s IPCC report is emblematic of the optimism deficit that pervades American climate policy—one that’s left the nation without anything resembling a plan to manage the disparate, diffuse, and devastating impacts of climate change.

That vacuum of leadership has created an opening for industry and other nations to shape how we think about the future and, increasingly, how we redesign our communities for a wetter, more volatile world. Americans are turning toward the Dutch because, in their telling, they have a success story to share—a rare glimmer of hope in cities facing the existential threats of sea-level rise, storm surge, and mass human migration. Check it Out >>