I got to thinking after hearing Jim Shepard read “The Netherlands Lives With Water” at the promotional event for his new short story collection You Think That’s Bad at the Tattered Cover on Colfax last night. Specifically, I started thinking about ways that we can save the Netherlands.
Anyone unfamiliar with the story should click above and read it. Or, better yet, buy the new collection and read it. Or both. Regardless, the story is set about fifty years in the future in the Netherlands where rising sea levels are threatening to completely submerge the country no matter what amazing engineering efforts the country performs.
I was a bit surprised to hear Shepard mention at the reading where this story came from. Apparently, it wasn’t something that bubbled out of his brain on its own. Instead, McSweeney’s had called him and asked him to submit a piece for an issue they were doing involving cities fifty years in the future. At first Shepard said he wasn’t interested, but then they said they’d pay for him to go to whatever city he planned to write about.
For some reason, he picked Rotterdam. he said he couldn’t think of anything to write about Tahiti. I suppose it could have been worse. He could have had a really great idea for a story about Detroit.
Anyway, he talked about the massive efforts the Dutch already are performing to deal with the rising sea levels as the country is already below sea level. Artificial islands the size of Manhattan to break waves, harbor doors so huge that the bearings alone are six stories tall, and so on. Everything engineering marvels that have to be totally invented as no pieces of such things have ever been developed to handle problems of this magnitude before. Even with all of these marvels, Shepard mentioned, the Dutch have only bought themselves so much time. This all still seems like it probably won’t be enough in the long run.
So…I came up with an idea (please excuse this for being humorous, but it’s all I’ve got). I thought, the problem is the rising sea levels. We can all pitch in and help that. At first I thought that everyone in the world should go down to the sea and suck up a drink of sea water. Don’t swallow; just carry it around with you all day. Surely if every person in the world did this then the sea level would go down enough to give the Dutch some relief.
However, then I thought that people might not go for the idea because it isn’t particularly comfortable or convenient to walk around with a mouth full of salt water all day. Then I though, why not just walk around with a cup of it? That way the people on the coasts could pass the sea water on in to the inland folks and not everyone would actually have to go to the sea. Remember all those giveaway water bottles people make for fun runs and corporate swag that end up in landfills? Use those! It’s win-win.
Now, you might not think this could make a difference. However, have you thought about just how many people there are in the world? If each one carried around a bottle of the sea then perhaps a difference could be made. At least I think we owe it to the Dutch to try. After all, not every solution involves engineering marvels. Remember the little Dutch boy who saved the town by sticking his finger in the dike? Nothing high-tech about that.