At home I drink tea from a FC Groningen mug. Although I moved south forever ago, I frantically check 818 every weekend to see how the FC fared. They have to find their feet a bit this season, I say right away. When I travel north, the feeling of coming home starts as soon as I board the train. Around me some fellow passengers are already swallowing their ee’s a bit, and the conductor based in Groningen puts his p’s and t’s on a little extra. Could be less, I think. There is nothing like Groningen.
I think it’s a special feeling that you can maintain such a strong emotional bond with your native region, even though you’ve lived elsewhere for a long time. Maybe that’s why I was so touched last week by a report in news hour about the expropriation of a farmer in the Krimpenerwaard. Nature had to be developed, and his land was in the way. He farmed there for over sixty years. Had hardly ever slept a night elsewhere. I saw the devastation in his eyes, the forced separation from his ground will be hard on him. There are all kinds of valid arguments for creating more nature reserves, to raise the groundwater level, or to make more room for excess water. But here you saw how the policy collided with a human life.
Such clashes will become more frequent in the future. In recent decades, many citizens have been forcibly relocated to make more room for rivers. Expropriation and forced relocation are on the table to solve part of the nitrogen problem. Depending on the extent to which the earth warms further, the Netherlands will have to undergo much more extensive renovation for a warmer future with more periods of extreme drought and major flooding.
Huge forced move
In the long term, we are going to run into the biggest forced relocation you can think of. The question is not whether half of the Netherlands will ever be swallowed by the sea, but when that will happen. There’s 65 meters of sea-level rise waiting in the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets, and the geological past tells us that if the Earth warms a few degrees, almost all that ice will melt if you wait long enough. How long exactly, that is the most important question in glacier science. It could be a few thousand years before our country floods, or another hundred years. That mainly depends on how quickly warming is stopped in the coming decades.
It is therefore logical and desirable for climate science to communicate differently about sea level. We saw the old way in the news last month, following the recently published KNMI Climate Signal ’21: media emphasized Which the maximum expected sea level rise at the end of the century had been revised upwards from 1 meter to 1.20 metres. This suggests that it stays that way. But there is no sea level scenario in which at the end of this century the sea level has risen by more than one meter and then the rise stops. The physics of the ice caps won’t allow that. They react so slowly to warming, they have just started melting. In fact, a rise of more than a meter at the end of the century means that the sea will rise by more than a centimeter every year by then. In that situation, the difference between 1 and 1.20 meters is only 15 years.
New way of talking
The new way of talking about sea level rise is to express yourself in terms of the horizontal axis of time, rather than the vertical axis of sea level. it does KNMI Climate Signal also, for the first time. If warming continues, we will reach one meter of sea level somewhere between 2090 and 2140, and as early as 2065 if things really don’t go well. A two-meter rise, the end of the Netherlands as we know it, will follow between 2100 and 2300. If the warming is limited to below two degrees, we will reach that one meter of sea level somewhere between the year 2150 and 2350, and the two meters way into the future that it becomes irrelevant.
The most important news from the KNMI Climate Signal was therefore not that 1.20 meters in 2100, but that only three to ten generations can grow up in the low-lying Netherlands if we don’t stop warming.
For us Dutch, the sea is ultimately the argument for fully committing ourselves to achieving the climate targets set in Paris and Glasgow. With this we give as many generations after us as possible the chance to grow up on the land of their ancestors. We remember William of Orange as the father of our homeland. Thorbecke gave us parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister of the coming cabinets could go down in the history books as the Prime Minister who secured the future of our low country. For at least a few hundred years.
Peter Kuipers Munneke is a glaciologist at Utrecht University and a weather forecaster at the NOS.
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