Here comes the flood
My short story, ‘The Fortress at Bruges’, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday 4th November at 15.30. The story, commissioned by Emma Harding, is read by the distinguished young actor (I can write ‘young’ because he’s three years my junior) Stephen Cambell Moore.
‘The Fortress at Bruges’ is set in a Flanders of the future: perhaps a century from now. Although it imagines a city on the edge of a risen sea – a museum piece in the globally warmed world our elected leaders seem incapable of averting – it is not concerned so much with depicting that world as investigating what living there might do to people emotionally. As the world alters out of recognition (as is already starting to happen in Australia), how will we respond psychologically to becoming foreigners in our own land? And won’t our ancient human impulses to find love and material prosperity come to seem, well, petty in comparison to what we have done?
On the scenario front, ‘The Fortress at Bruges’ is based on solid predictive science; it is harrowingly conceivable. Large swathes of Belgium and the Netherlands (not to mention western England) lie close to sea level, so that a sea-level rise of two metres would leave millions of hectares under water. Google has a useful, if rough-and-ready, simulator. This picture demonstrates the high risk of permanent land loss due to rising and expanding seas. Large parts of Holland (the bits under the broken white line) are currently below sea level, kept dry by an elaborate system of dykes and flood defences. The cost, however, of building ever higher and more resistant defences will most likely become prohibitive. One of the responses, already in practice in the UK and elsewhere, is managed retreat. There are good summaries on this process here and here. Unfortunately, while managed retreat has economic and wildlife benefits under the present, relatively slow, rate of sea-level rise, if as seems more and more likely the ice shelves of Greenland and – heaven forbid – Antarctica undergo substantial melting, managed retreat may become a full-scale evacuation. I’m thinking for analogy of 'the miracle of Dunkirk' – the site of which, in such a scenario, will go the same way as the land around Bruges.