“More than a third of the world’s people live within 62 miles of a shoreline. Over the coming decades, as sea levels rise, climate change experts predict that many of the world’s largest cities, including Miami and New York, will be increasingly vulnerable to coastal flooding. A recent study of 136 port cities found that those with the largest threatened populations will be in developing countries, especially those in Asia.”
I was stunned by these facts as I read “The Coming Storm” in the May 2011 issue of National Geographic while waiting to have my vision checked.
What grabbed my attention in particular was the life of the “char dwellers” in Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Char dwellers are:
“…the hundreds of thousands of people who inhabit the constantly changing islands, or chars, on the floodplains of Bangladesh’s three major rivers—the Padma, Jamuna, and Meghna. These islands, many covering less than a square mile, appear and vanish constantly, rising and falling with the tide, the season, the phase of the moon, the rainfall, and the flow of rivers upstream.”
Yes, these islands are constantly disappearing. And so char dwellers are constantly moving – as often as once a year or more. Since the islands can suddenly disappear, they are prepared to move in a matter of moments. They create highly portable homes that can be taken down, moved, and put back together at a new location in a matter of hours. They live with their suitcases at the foot of their beds. The char dwellers are the epitome of resiliency and adaptability.
Ibrahim Khalilullah, a char dweller who has moved thirty or forty times now, says his real secret is not to think too much:
“We’re all under pressure, but there’s really no point to worry. This is our only option, to move from place to place to place. We farm this land for as long as we can, and then the river washes it away. No matter how much we worry, the ending is always the same.”
The story of the char dwellers is only one part of the piece.
The main point is that the people of Bangladesh have a great deal to teach us about adapting to rising sea levels. Although climate change and its impact may be an abstract idea – or even one that’s scoffed at by many people in developed countries – it is happening right now in Bangladesh. And it’s coming soon to a shoreline near you. It’s expected that by the year 2050, a good portion of the current Bangladesh landmass could be permanently under water.
Experts predict that the number of “climate refuges” – people who flee from their country due to climate change – will swell to around 250 million worldwide by mid-century. Most of these will be from poor, low-lying countries. The impact of such a large mass refuge population is enormous leading to problems like disease, religious conflict, chronic shortages of food and fresh water, and heightened political tensions.
Reading this article:
- Made me wonder what I can really do to help the world.
- Lit up the truth of impermanence.
- Made my personal problems seem miniscule.
- Sparked gratitude for the privilege of having my eye sight check and the resources to buy corrective lenses.
- Underscored how I am usually disconnected from what’s really happening in the world as I live in my own small, comfortable, and relatively luxurious bubble.
- Showed me the world is changing faster than most of us realize. It’s time to wake up.
- Encouraged me to follow the example of the char dweller: adaptability, resiliency, simplicity seem to be the qualities necessary for survival in the coming times. Not “thinking too much” may also be a saving grace.
Meanwhile, back at the vision center, the assistant was spraying Febreeze “Air Effects” to freshen up the waiting room, which was not stinky in the least. Ironically, given that I was at a vision center, he was using a product considered to be a mild eye irritant according to the Material Data Safety Sheet. It did indeed irritate my eyes. But after all, as Proctor & Gamble tells us, what’s a little eye irritation because:
“Part of leading a fresh lifestyle is knocking out negativity right in its tracks. When something stinky gets you down, get rid of it and freshen up the room right away with Febreze Air Effects.”
If you ask me, we’ve been sold down the river by companies like Proctor & Gamble and we’re ruining the world. Now the storm is coming. Are you ready to move?
Any thoughts or insights? I would love to hear them in the comments.