For most of the past decade, Kadir van Lohuizen used photography to try to document the climate crisis and explore its meaning for the future. Since a chance meeting in Panama during a news trip, the Dutch photojournalist has documented the effects of sea level rise around the world. Working closely with scientists while learning a lot about both human and tidal migration, van Lohuizen has tried to visually prove what many experts have warned against. year: Our coastlines are in jeopardy.
His work, spanning 11 countries, has been used in presentations to the United Nations and at the Paris climate summit, and has been edited into television dramas, books and a number of exhibitions. . One is currently viewed in New York, High tide, highlighting how the island city will be affected by the upcoming changes.
His book, After the great flood, providing a comprehensive view of the slow motion climate change happening on every continent – and how it affects the people who live there. While some countries are adept at adopting forward-looking policies, including resettlement strategies, many refuse to admit that sea level rise is only a problem. area. Van Lohuizen’s work points out the close connection between civilization and the sea, challenging viewers to think more critically about the future.
Did you know that this project will take a lot of lives?
I started this back in 2011–2012, as a little story. I’m studying contemporary migration in the Americas, traveling on land for a year from the tip of Chile to the northern tip of Alaska, finding out why people migrate.
When I interviewed people on the San Blas Islands in Panama, they said to me, “We are being evacuated because the sea level is rising ”. I’m a little confusing because, you know, I’m talking to them from the bottom of the sea, six feet below sea level. This was 10 years ago, and I knew that sea level rise was an imminent issue, but I didn’t realize that this was already an issue. I started to research different regions of the world, if there is urgent need elsewhere. The big challenge is, how do you envision something that hasn’t been seen yet?
So how do you turn this into a powerful image that everyone will understand?
It requires quite a bit of research, because I want to look for further areas where people might recognize this as a problem, like in countries in the Pacific or Bangladesh. I really want to touch this globally.
I really think I’ll finish the project in 2015, because it feels like I’m starting to repeat myself. Can you point out how many islands, or how many coastlines, have been eroded? It was originally a collaboration with the New York Times, then it became an exhibition, where to go and go to a climate summit in Paris, and eventually I was approached by Dutch public television. . That allows me to go back to some of the places I’ve been to, and sometimes I find people like that.
I have worked a lot with scientists. I definitely had to adjust my method of working very early in the story, because you know, usually, as a photographer, you work with light. I very quickly found out that, if I wanted to visualize it, that I had to work with tides. If you found that land flooded at high tide, you would have a hard time figuring out what it would mean if the sea level rose permanently 3 feet or 6 feet. It’s not much. And it is not a question if the sea level is rising. It is a question of timing.
When do people decide to move?
You would think that the real problem becomes when the water is in your house, but it started much earlier. If seawater floods the land, and then usually does not recede, people cannot cultivate anymore, because the soil is contaminated with salinity and the water for domestic use becomes brackish. That’s enough reason to move. Usually this is not coordinated by the government, but it is the people who make this decision.
And where are people moving? Will they go to cities? Do they go to other countries?
It depends where you are, doesn’t it? If you’re in the Pacific island states, like the Marshall Islands or Kiribati, you will have nowhere to go, as it is not three or five feet above sea level. Not only do people not know where to relocate but also do not know where they will have water to move.
If you have to resettle, in fact, you’re becoming a climate refugee, especially if you have to cross the border. And that’s not mentioned internationally, which is crazy. If you are trying to apply for asylum somewhere due to climatic reasons, no chance will be granted to you. This is often considered a national or local issue. So Bangladesh has a problem and the Netherlands has one, but it is not resolved internationally.
Sea level rise is one aspect of the climate crisis, but clearly, it’s much broader. I don’t know to what extent it was discussed in America, but a lot of people are fleeing Central America because there is no more water, or they can’t grow any more, they lose their land.
By the way, the people on these islands in Panama are still there. It was the government’s displacement program, and that money was suddenly gone. They are indigenous, and they do not have the highest priority in the Panamanian government. So that’s interesting to see.
I noticed that initially, when I was there, people told me they were relocating and they were reluctant to do it, which is obvious, right? It is a very difficult message to send to anyone, if you are told that you must leave your ancestral land: Give up your life, go to higher lands where you must learn to Become a farmer where you are always a fisherman. When I come back [later]It seems very complicated. People worriedly left then, because they felt it was too dangerous.
You’ve worked a lot with conflict and migration and these really complex social problems over the years. Is that very different from covering up the climate crisis?
I think they are becoming the same. We know that one of the main reasons for the original Syrian conflict was water shortages. If you see what’s happening in the Sahel and elsewhere, it’s often related to the climate crisis. And then, if al-Qaeda or ISIS or whoever walks in, it changes the story, but they are often related.
Over the course of this project, have you seen any solutions or strategies outlined, you think, OK, maybe we have crossed this timeline, but maybe it’s not all. ?
I hope I was able to give some balanced view. A lot of people ask me, it must be very sad in Bangladesh, and you know, actually not, because people are coming up with solutions for themselves. They have been living with water all their life. They know what is going to happen, and they adapt. I have met a lot of people who have moved five or nine times. And then, if they are no longer sustainable where they are, they will move to big cities. There is a possibility of recovery.
There is nothing new about sea level rise. The big difference is that it took hundreds of years, or if not thousands, and now it’s happening for two generations. That makes it very different.
Before the Dutch were very well protected by levees, people would just build hills in the ground to make sure their house was dry, or they would move to another area. Especially in Western countries, we have lost the ability to adapt. We consider a city like New York or Miami or Amsterdam, that it has to keep its place. And obviously, we’re dealing with a much larger population.
Commissioner Delta in the Netherlands asked one of the major engineering firms back in 2018 to consider the worst case scenario. And the worst case scenario is, basically, if nothing is done, and if we don’t reach the global temperature drop in the Paris Agreement, the sea level in the Netherlands could rise anywhere. between 3 and 9 feet by the end of the century.
That was 80 years. If you were born today, that’s what you will probably see. We in the Netherlands can deal with three feet, but we cannot deal with six feet or nine feet. So there are very mythical plans of what the Dutch should do to protect themselves, but it seems the most recent reality plan is resettlement.
To imagine that cities like Amsterdam, or Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, can be abandoned is a very difficult concept.
I think it’s also very problematic in New York. It wasn’t until Hurricane Sandy that people began to take sea level and take it seriously, and the investment was still very slow. We’re eight years, nine years after Sandy, and considering something really happened in reality, it’s almost nothing.
Obviously a lot can be done. The Dutch have proven that you can live in a country below sea level, but it’s a very high investment and it takes centuries to create this, in a country that’s still very small. little.
Much of the US East Coast is unprotected. Worse still were the people living on the barrier islands. Very, very valuable real estate exists on a barrier island, but you should not live on a barrier island, because a retaining wall is said to move, get hit by storms and form a barrier island. buffer zone for land protection.
The timing factor is a huge problem. Bangladesh is one of the few countries that has embarked on a giant master plan to protect their coastal areas, called the Delta 2100 Plan. It’s an interesting one because it’s not just about it. building dykes and protecting the land, it also looks at where people might be resettled, and if they have to be relocated, you have to provide them with new livelihoods. It’s very interesting.
Initially I did not include in the Dutch project, because I was looking for regions or countries in the world where there were emergencies and the streets in Amsterdam were not flooded. With the climate crisis, we always thought it wouldn’t be as bad as expected, but there’s no single reason why that was correct, because every published scientific report actually draws. so a darker picture.
I often ask myself, how can this be possible? And one answer to that is maybe we’re in our comfort zone, right? We grew up with the fact that the economy is growing and your children will probably have better lives than we do. We need to make sacrifices, something none of us like. So, you know, take a step or two back and compromise to make sure the next generations are all right, which is a very difficult concept for us.