Friday, November 2, 2012

Holding Back the Sea 

As I watch places like New Jersey, Staten Island, Manhattan, the Northeastern states, as well as New Orleans trying to cope with devastating storms, I think of the old story of the little boy with his finger in the dike.

In the story Hans Brinkeror The Silver Skates written by American author, Mary Maples Dodge in 1865, the boy puts his finger in the dike to avoid a catastrophe. This is an example of band aid surgery that we in the U.S. need to rethink. For the second year in a row, the Northeast is coping with a natural disaster and we need to plan ahead.

If we look to the "low countries" around the North Sea in Western Europe, such as the Netherlands, they have successfully dealt with existing with the sea and coping with regular floods. 

That area of the world has been struggling to hold back the sea for thousands of years. If we look around the world to places such as Venice, they have always struggled to coexist with the surrounding water. 

If we can learn anything from history, we have to assume natural disasters will happen again. We have to prepare for the distant future, not just next year by rebuilding in flood plains with no regard to the probability that it will happen again. Yes, this country is resilient and optimistic. We discuss and argue about everything which sometimes means nothing gets done. We paralyze ourselves with indecision. If we want the best of everything, we have to be willing to pay for it for all the people, not just a select few. The land of opportunity shouldn't mean the opportunity to take advantage of others.

It is a sad, sad situation that we see on news clips and we certainly don't want it to happen again. Hurricanes will continue and floods will continue. We can't stop the weather, so we in the U.S. will have to face reality and decide what is the goal regarding our coastlines and our own "low countries".

We can't go back. What will be will be; we have to get ready. If we want to preserve our beaches and cities, we will have to analyze the situation and either commit to engineering ways to hold back the sea, or stop building on coastal areas. We will have to stop arguing about the cause and deal with our new reality. The U.S. needs to learn from other areas of the world who are experts at holding back the sea.


  1. I have had this very thought the past week, R.J. I too have wondered if we should be looking at other parts of the world and how they cope with the sea. Very interesting post, thank you for the links.

  2. Yes, you are right. Couldn't agree with you more.

  3. We could learn from other parts of the world regarding mass transportation in crowded cities too. I was always disappointed that all the years I lived in California they did not do something about the horrible traffic.

    It was sad to hear people who survived the New Orleans disaster say that it would never be the same again. So many people had to move to other states. The music and traditions of New Orleans went with them.

  4. I remember seeing how the Dutch were dealing with the problem of flooding when we were in the Netherlands. We definitely need to learn from them. We've been getting these 100 year storms every couple of years. We need to be more prepared.