The Guardian view on a Dutch solution: make land out of the sea | Editorial

Faced with extreme weather, voters in the 1970s responded to a government call to move to drier land. The same spirit of innovation is needed today

What should governments – and people – do, confronted by the terrifying force of nature? It is the question of our age. But one answer, found on mainland Europe, serves as a reminder of human ingenuity in the face of adversity. The Netherlands offers perhaps the most astonishing example of government intervention in the 20th century: acting to deal with North Sea surges, which not only cost lives but threatened food production. The project involved the damming of the Zuiderzee – a large, shallow North Sea inlet – and the reclamation of land in the newly enclosed water. What has been created since 1972 is a new region to the east of Amsterdam, called Flevoland, out of the sea in the form of two great polders – essentially flat fields of reclaimed marshland which together are about the size of the English county of Dorset.

These days Flevoland is a busy place: containing the country’s fastest growing city of Almere, the regional capital of Lelystad, and a vast nature reserve, Oostvaardersplassen. Half a century ago, all were submerged metres below sea level. The country’s youngest province is living proof of how humankind can live with the ever-changing elements. Michel van Hulten, one of Flevoland’s architects and a former Dutch minister, says some of the success of the area is down to the collectivist spirit of the early 1970s when voters instinctively trusted government. He points out that there were no tax incentives or state subsidies for people to move to what were then empty new towns. The public simply answered the government’s call as part of a national mission. The Low Countries remain ideologically and historically close to the UK. The problem is that today’s politics is marked by polarisation rather than solidarity.

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An effluent tide awaits Cop26 guests. They should see the state of our rivers, too | Marina Hyde

Our sewage-spewing PM fronts a party that has just voted for literal sewage-spewing. Environmental conference, you say?

To the £2.9m Downing Street briefing room, and a Monday matinee performance by dissolute children’s entertainer Boris Johnson. Johnson always looks nervous talking to kids, as though he’s afraid one of them might ask for a hair sample or his discarded coffee cup. Still, here he is, Climate Santa – holding a Q&A with some youngsters in a show that never felt more than four seconds away from a slurred, “I’m sorry kids, I just threw up a little in my prime minister’s costume.”

We already know that many children live with a sense of powerless anxiety about the climate crisis – and these ones had presumably been handpicked for being particularly committed to the cause. So really, just a very special outreach effort from the PM. Let’s take a look at some of the lowlights. “Recycling isn’t the answer, I’ve got to be honest with you,” the prime minister told their little faces, as the WWF UK chief executive next to him suppressed another thousand-yard stare. “You’re not going to like this. It doesn’t begin to address the problem”; “We need to have municipal toothpaste, something or other, we’ll work this out later”; “We have to encourage [cows] to stop burping”; “It’s going to be very, very tough, this summit, and I’m very worried because it might go wrong. We might not get the agreements that we need. It’s touch and go, it’s very, very difficult … It’s very far from clear that we’ll get the progress that we need.”

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