AMSTERDAM -- On an early morning flight coming out of the clouds above the North Sea, the first objects that come into view as the coast of the Netherlands approaches are the windmills. No, not the quaint, creaking, wooden windmills that, along with wooden shoes and the little boy with his finger in the dike, are the cliches of Dutch culture; these windmills are sleek and modern and so huge they dwarf the container ships passing by.
There are phalanxes of them just off the Dutch coast, and on land there are many, many more planted like daffodils along the wet rural stretches of this low-lying country that looks as if it could, at any moment, be inundated by the sea.
In fact, the Dutch could be swamped as sea levels rise due to global climate change. Wisely, they are doing something about it before it happens. The windmills are providing a source of energy that is not dependent on fossil fuels. Billions of euros are being spent on re-engineering the coastline. They are constructing “floating communities” that can withstand rising tides and sudden floods, expanding rivers and canals and relocating farmers from flood-prone regions.
Some have accused the Dutch of surrendering to climate change. Rather than finding ways to cope with global warming, many environmentalists argue, the world should be fighting harder to turn it back.
Certainly, it would be nice if that could happen, but it will not, unless the big countries, such as the United States, China, Brazil and Russia, start building their own ranks of windmills, curbing industrial pollution and preserving the ecology of the Siberian steppes and the Amazonian rain forest. If the Dutch waited for these major powers to act, though, they would soon be underwater.
In the U.S., some states have begun to prepare for the inevitable. In California, plans are being made for the decades ahead when coastal highways are swamped, Yosemite waterfalls run dry, agricultural areas turn to dust, the San Francisco airport floods and the famous beaches near Los Angeles are reclaimed by the Pacific. But states cannot do it alone; the federal government needs to become fully engaged.
And that will not happen as long as the Republican Party stands in the way. Partly to do the bidding of the industrialists who are their benefactors and partly because they seem to have abandoned belief in science, Republicans have become climate change deniers. Even in a year when the West is aflame in wildfires and extreme weather batters the East, Republicans continue to insist there is nothing unusual going on – just a little blip in the weather.
If we lived in a rational society, any Republican who insisted climate change is not real would be as shamed and ostracized as the backwoods snake-handlers in the GOP congressional caucus who say a woman cannot be impregnated if she is raped. As a country, we should all be embarrassed. Americans, not the Dutch, should be leading the world in dealing with the imminent calamities being brought on by the rise in global temperatures. But we will not be able to take the lead until one of our two major political parties stops shilling for the big energy companies and abandons its medieval scorn of science.