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Talking (Dutch) about climate change

Right now, climate change is a hot topic around the world. And it will be so forever – especially in the Lowlands of the Netherlands, which are abounding in water and mainly man-made. With great effort, a lot of land was reclaimed from the delta and the sea. Over many centuries, there have been many floods, and so much of the country is now below sea level that one wonders why the Dutch like to live in such a dangerous place.

1. De dijk (The dike)

According to the one and only atlas of dikes, Dutch Dikes (2014), there are almost 18.000 kilometres of water-resistant dikes in the Netherlands, which is roughly the distance from Amsterdam to Sydney! More than ten times the circumference of the country!

The Minister of Infrastructure and Environment, Melanie Schultz van Haegen, writes in her foreword to this magnificent atlas: “Without dikes, our country would be about a third smaller: The Hague would lie on an elongated dune island. Nobody would have ever heard of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Green Heart.”

Dikes are the backbone of the nation and without them the sea and the rivers would have free play. We call these lifesaving construction works “dikes,” but there are at least 43 different types of them. Each type has a different structure, history of origin or regional location. So, what is a dike exactly? The Atlas gives the following definition: “A dike is an erected, originally water-retaining earth body with associated structures and structures.”

The Netherlands consists of a gigantic system of dikes, which is the result of over twenty centuries of work and constant vigilance. Thousands of Dutch engineers will forever continue to work on the dikes and create new defence systems, especially now when new threats have become known, such as the rising sea level.

2. De zeespiegelstijging (The sea level rise)

One of these threats is the sea level rise. Marjolijn Haasnoot, environmental scientist at the Delft research institute for applied water management, Deltares, says: “It is not a matter of whether sea level rise will rise to certain levels, but when this will occur. This may help to overcome decision paralysis due to uncertainty. The Netherlands still has enough time to take measures, bearing in mind that there is a delay of about 20 to 30 years between making a plan and the implementation of it.”

Until 2050, the present strategy of the Netherlands will probably work okay and there will be enough time to adapt. However, after 2050, as the results of a Deltares study show, accelerated sea level rise may push the present strategy to its limits. According to Deltares, this asks for ”intensified research into the processes that determine sea level rise, and adequate monitoring and detecting early warning signals for rapid sea level rise.”

If you would like to have an impression of a possible disaster after a flood, you could watch the Dutch television series on Netflix Als de dijken breken (When the dikes break) – but be warned, this series is not for those who are easily scared.

3. De klimaatverandering (The climate change)

Climate change is a natural phenomenon, but since the last century, we, Earth dwellers, have witnessed an accelerated climate change: een versnelde klimaatverandering. Mainly through the burning of fossil fuels which add carbon dioxide (koolzuurgas) to the air, the planet’s energy is out of balance and climate adaptation (klimaataanpassing) is urgently needed..

4. Het broeikaseffect (The greenhouse effect)

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses can be thought of as a blanket wrapped around Earth. This blanket of gasses traps the heat close to the Earth’s surface. This has made the Earth such a comfortable place to live in. However, because the level of these gasses has been rising consistently for decades, temperatures have risen too.

5. De klimaatwet (The Climate Act)

So, apart from being vigilant and creative in water management, what will the Dutch government do to fight accelerated climate change due to the greenhouse effect? In 2019, the Climate Act was promulgated. This act determines by what percentage the country must reduce its CO2 emissions. The act has the goal to emit 49 percent less CO2 in 2030 compared to 1990, and 95 percent less CO2 in 2050 compared to 1990.

Ik zal handhaven

So, this is the state of affairs in 2021. A small minority still thinks the threat of climate change is a hoax, but most Dutch people have come to realise that the winters are not as harsh as they used to be (the last national skating marathon in Friesland, the 11-city skating race, de Elfstedentocht, was back in 1997), and that the weather conditions are visibly changing (remember the floods in Limburg?).

Fortunately, the headstrong Dutch have two millennia of experience and therefore terrific expertise in the field of water management. As the motto on the Dutch coat of arms says in French: “The Dutch lion will vindicate and stand by” (Je maintiendrai – ik zal handhaven).

There you have it, five words and phrases that you can use while discussing climate change. Now all that’s left to do is get outside and try them out! Want to learn more Dutch words and phrases? Sign up for a Dutch language course with Direct Dutch.