“The North Sea flood of 1953 and the associated storm combined to create a major natural disaster which affected the coastlines of the Netherlands and England on the night of 31 January – 1 February 1953. Belgium, Denmark and France were also affected by flooding and storm damage.
A combination of a high spring tide and a severe European windstorm caused a storm tide. In combination with a tidal surge of the North Sea the water level locally exceeded 5.6 metres above mean sea level. The flood and waves overwhelmed sea defences and caused extensive flooding.
Officially, 1,835 people were killed in the Netherlands, mostly in the south-western province of Zeeland. 307 were killed in the United Kingdom, in the counties of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. 28 were killed in West Flanders, Belgium.”
I went to see Contingency Plan by Steve Waters at the Bush Theatre this weekend. It was a very good play, unfortunately I cannot urge you to go and see this vital piece of theatre because it is completely sold out for the remainder of the run. You can, however, buy both of the plays in one book, here. Do it, read them. Do it now, I’m not even kidding, I’ll wait here, you go to Amazon, look I’ll provide you the link again so you don’t even have to re-read anything, don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you come back, click here.
Right, good. Thank you. I’m going to talk about the plays now, not with any massive spoilers, but in mildly detailed terms.
The play I saw was On The Beach, I read Resilience before the day was out. These plays are really what theatre can do – it was exemplary political theatre, On The Beach puts the human face on the politics that Resilience expounds on in a dramatic and electrifying manner. You care, you think, by the emotional force you are propelled to practical action (I certainly was).
The plays are set in the near future- amid a David Cameron government. On The Beach is essentially a father/son ‘homecoming’ drama. The son is the eminent glaciologist who realises he was groomed by his father to communicate unequivocally and through hard science, the global warming theories that caused the government to laugh him out of academia in the 70s. The mother and father live right on the East Coast, on land they have reclaimed, only a literal stone’s throw from the North Sea. This is the private, the personal face of the narrative(s) – the small picture. Resilience, on the other hand, deals with the political, the public face of the issues, it dramatises the clash between old and new scientific and environment-governmental approaches, setting out a dramatic agenda for the safety of UK citizens against the background of Arctic sea ice melting at a rapidly increasing rate, and following an imagined small scale extreme weather event. This is scary, credible, electrifying stuff.
One of the things about Climate Change is that more than anything, it is the destabilisation that will get you, a climate may work perfectly well for one place, but transplant it to another and watch it fall apart. We all drew the trees of life at school didn’t we? Went out and shook bugs out of trees and counted the different species, walked around counting plants, and watching water boatmen skate across ponds. We know that everything is connected – you disrupt one thing, everything gets out of whack – well right at the top of that tree of life (or the bottom, or all around) is the climate. Change that, and everything else gets seriously disrupted. Destabilisation of the climate means horrible things; on a meteorological level it means flash floods, coastal flooding, droughts, tsunamis, tornadoes and hurricanes, on a human level it means destroyed homes, water shortages, disease, ruined harvests, ever depleting world food stocks, looting, violence, and the destabilisation of power. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has suggested 150 million environmental refugees would exist by 2050. The IPCC is widely considered to make very reserved estimates. James Lovelock, founder of the modern meta-organism (Gaia) theory of climate science predicts that by 2100, 80% of the world’s population will have been “wiped out“. His is an extreme case, certainly. But as is pointed out in Contingency Plan, in such situations as ours, undue caution is not rewarded.
The storm of ’53 is well remembered where I live in Lincolnshire. It was an extreme weather event, but in Contingency Plan, you see how the destabilisation of our climate combined with a rise in sea level make for a volatile world where these ‘extreme’ weather events are set to become the norm. With frightening credibility a roll call of East Coast towns are given over to the sea, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Peterborough and Cambridgeshire (where Steve Waters lives in fact) and finally, much of London too (at this point the politicians become genuinely worried).
Flooding, in the East – the majority of it low lying, much of it reclaimed – is a possibility we’re all to aware of. I lived somewhere called Bardney for a few years, when I moved there the local kids lost no time in telling me that it used to be a island (hence the -ney root of the place name). The smallest amount of rain and the fields and ditches didn’t hesitate to remind you too. Flat farmland, ditches and dykes. All across Lincolnshire there’s marsh land and flat, low ground, the wide open skies and flat boggy beaches of South Holland claimed one of my wellington boots as a child. But the earth is very rich, and the way the sky leans back allows your mind to really breathe.
According to the calculations of this website the village where I grew up will be completely submerged with a sea level rise of 1-2m. Brigg, the family home in Yorkshire, will be erased at 3m. This could take 500 years, it could take 50. But it’s a very strange thought – that you might never be able to return to your childhood landscape – that you might never again be able to breathe in the skies and trees and birds that taste, smell and sound like home.
These are all of the thoughts that have occurred to me since seeing and reading Steve’s plays. I’m not saying they’re all reasoned, it’s an emotional response too. What I’m trying to describe is how it has just set me off, just started me tipping over from advocate to activist. I slept very ill last night, and spent the most of today seriously thinking about my lifestyle, on the one hand I don’t drive, I bike, bus and train places, have lived and (for the next three years at least) will live within walking and biking distance of my place of work. I recycle, buy locally produced food where possible, lack of money has meant I’ve rarely been able to afford meat, I use re-usable bags, use Ecover cleaning products, I turn lights off, wash at low tempertaures, I write to my MPs about environmental policy and in my 24 years, I have been on an aeroplane 4 times, something which I don’t intend to do again. But I want more, I want to know more, I want to do something. I am a firm believer in action, I will never sit on my laurels if I am unhappy with something, I will change it. I find it very hard to understand when people who are unhappy, who have the choice, don’t try and make things better. But having said that, on a personal level I don’t know what else I can do. I read today about unplugging chargers, and I’ll do that, but in my normal set up (in my own space) I always turned everything off at the wall when I wasn’t in the room anyway (out of stupid fire-hazard paranoia, but still). And how much of that is a waste of time? I’ve been reading today about what a scam ‘off-setting’ carbon is (link, link, link), what else is a waste of time?
Well all of it is, I suppose, if it’s just me – if I never tried to convince anyone else, if I didn’t make my political will known – if we don’t get massive unpopular decisions made both in government, and worldwide at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December. And yes they will curb our lifestyles, and yes it will mean sacrifices on all fronts, but ultimately this one of those brave, unimaginable, momentous changes that has to be driven forward – like the issue of the Magna Carta, the abolition of slavery, the introduction of the welfare state.
Only this time we have so much more to lose, so much.
I feel like I am living amid a world of tipping points- in many parts of my life and politic- in feminism, in party politics, in the economy and in the environment, maybe that’s how all young [to some degree]-empowered people feel. I also feel like I am at a tipping point within myself. I think I want to be one of the people who gives policy a little push, along with a billion other little pushes, to make a leap in the right direction. I think the way that I do that is join campaigns, petitions, marches and pressure groups. I’m ready to be radical. I think the time demands it.
This is what the play made me feel, and this is how I’m choosing to react to it. You should read it, I’d like to know what you think.