Play "Maria," from The Sound of Music

Don’t have much time to write — another starting already! — but I just saw an extraordinary presentation from Pavel Kabat, who … well, he’s got a resume longer than my arm, but he’s a scientist and a lead author on both the IPCC report and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

The talk was on the Netherlands’ response to climate change. Not only is the scale of it boggling, but the sheer practicality and efficacy stand in sharp, shaming contrast to what goes on here in the U.S.

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The Netherlands decided in 2005 to "climate proof" the country. To begin with, that involves an incredibly extensive monitoring system, with emissions directly measured by specially outfitted planes and towers. (They found out that the estimates they’d been using were off, in some cases by huge amounts, which is a big deal now that carbon trading has made carbon a saleable commodity.) Billions of euros have been raised for R&D, at least half from the private sector. Every sector of the economy is developing its own plan, measuring its emissions and developing plans to reduce them and to adapt to coming changes.

A few anecdotes were particularly telling. One had to do with farming taking place on some of the low (beneath sea level) areas of the country. It was calculated that the land, if allowed to return to its natural state, would absorb CO2, whereas when farmed with cattle, etc., it produces CO2. So they talked the farmers into cutting their farmed land in half, and compensated them with resulting revenue from carbon trading.

In another case, there was a tourist resort on one of the lowland coasts. They approached it thinking they would build protective dikes along the coast, but after a thorough assessment, they decided the sensible thing to do would be to … remove the resort. Yes, just knock it down. Return the land to its natural state. The developers of the resort were compensated by being given a majority share in a new inland fishery built behind the area where the resort once stood.

Now I ask you: can you imagine the U.S. getting its sh*t together enough to a) do these assessments well, b) make the tough decision to remove existing agricultural or tourist developments, c) work with farmers or developers in a firm but collaborative way, and d) actually take action to return land to its natural state? Farmers and developers! Mind-boggling.

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One emphasis Kabat returned to again and again is that both mitigation and adaptation are only partially technological. Just as important are cultural and behavioral shifts, and for that stuff to happen, there needs to be a broad and deep social consensus about the need for change.

There was much more. I suppose it’s because the Netherlands has been under direct threat from sea level for hundreds of years, but the sense of community and practicality is just astonishing. And this kind of thinking — hard-headed, long-term, balanced between economic and environmental needs — has paid off richly for the country. They’re going to be bopping along happily when the U.S. has returned to Thunderdome.

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