Taking The High Ground: How Some Countries Are Preparing For Global Warming

Published March 10, 2016
Updated January 31, 2018

Protection From Flood

Preparing for global warming with sand dunes

Image Source: Flickr

The Netherlands has always existed in a kind of limbo between often-hostile neighbors and an even more hostile North Sea. Much of the country was carved out of the ocean by a vast network of dikes and artificial dunes that just barely keep the saltwater off its farms.

All this is expensive, and demands a level of central organization in which most Americans seem to lack faith. Keeping the dikes up is the key to the Netherlands’ survival, however, and increasingly violent North Sea storms – as well as a general rise in sea level – are forcing the government to expand the bulwarks like never before.

The Dutch have been pushing back the sea for over 500 years now, and the system they’ve built is like a suit of armor for the small, low-lying country. Two of the last chinks in that armor – at Hondsbossche and Pettemer – are due to be plugged with over 100 million cubic feet of sand in enormous dunes that will keep the rising sea at bay for the next 50 years.

Behind the dunes, Dutch planners intend to create an enormous recreational area that tourists can visit and kindly deposit their Euros. With any luck, the revenue from this will cover the cost of the project, which is undoubtedly just the first major step in what will likely be decades of expansion and renovation.

Protection From Plague

Warming Prep Anopheles Mosquito

Image Source: Wikipedia

Malaria is one of humanity’s oldest enemies. The World Health Organization estimates that between 473,000 and 789,000 people were killed by malaria just in 2012, 77 percent of them under age 5. The murderous parasite is also becoming more common in Europe than in any of the past centuries when records were kept.

The disease is carried in the guts of female mosquitoes, who infect any warm-blooded animals they bite. The equation is simple: where the fast-breeding insects go, malaria follows, and it brings along its buddies — such as dengue, yellow fever and zika — among an assortment of other maladies.

Another part of the reason malaria kills so many people is that, like most tropical diseases, it clusters in poor places where doctors are few and far between, making treatment — and even prevention — next to impossible.

Warming Prep Five Skeeters

Five different species of mosquito. . . all infected with malaria. Image Source: Imager

Now, experts fear that malaria-carrying mosquitos are migrating to higher latitudes. If warmer temperatures are encouraging mosquitos to increase their range into areas where they’ve never thrived before – and where the population has little native resistance to tropical diseases – the last century’s progress against malaria could be swiftly undone.

Naturally, this has powerful people freaking out. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, has been shoveling money at the problem in an effort to spray and toss nets over most of sub-Saharan Africa, where most malaria cases are still localized. The program is ambitious, in that its goal is worldwide eradication of the malarial plasmodium.

Closer to home, public health agencies across the United States are monitoring mosquito populations and looking out for malaria-carrying species in states they’ve never been before, including Alaska.

All over the world, global warming is leading us to question our habits and the way we live. But as the sea level rises, droughts parch formerly fertile farmland, and disease-carrying insects expand their reach, a depressingly large number of people refuse to accept the changes caused by altered temperatures.

Some places, at least, are showing a pewter lining to the clouds by taking control of their fates and making an honest effort to save what they have left.

Obviously, a floating school here and a water purification plant there aren’t going to put things right in this world. But they are steps toward saving lives and livelihoods. Given how much foot-dragging is holding up developed countries’ efforts to start preparing for global warming, at least some of the people who will pay the price are stepping up and planning ahead for the kids who will grow up hot.

Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Stockton, Richard. "Taking The High Ground: How Some Countries Are Preparing For Global Warming." AllThatsInteresting.com, March 10, 2016, https://allthatsinteresting.com/preparing-for-global-warming. Accessed May 29, 2024.