Always Well Within

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Rising Tides

Bangladesh - Climate Change Impact

“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.

Read the full article:  The Coming Storm;  See more photos of Bangladesh by Jonas Bendiksen

If this article touched you, please share the link with your friends.  Thanks for your support!  You can also connect with me on Google+ or the Always Well Within Facebook Page.  With love, Sandra


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  1. This is a perfect example of how weird it is to be a thinking American, learning one one hand how amazingly adaptable others are in different parts of the world, and on the other hand having one of our own blithely screw it up a little more right under our noses, as it were!

  2. “Because the tide is high
    And it’s rising still
    And I don’t wanna see it at my windowsill” –Arcade Fire

    How quietly stoic-heroic are these men, and how Stepford do we sound: let’s just spray away discomfort. I’ve just been thinking like the Bangladesh Americans: not “thinking too much,” but living under a cloud of unknowing. This is not a denial, so much as right thinking: this is what I can do, what I can change. The rest will make me sad, tired, angry, and worried.


    • Mark,

      This is an interesting take. I took the “not thinking to much” as being in the present moment and not get entrapped in worry and unhelpful emotions. To me “not thinking to much” doesn’t necessarily equate with living under a cloud of “unknowing” but I suppose it depends on how you mean that term. I agree that it’s not necessarily denial but right thinking.

  3. ops, i live beside the sea as well
    i hope technology finds a solution to this serious problem

  4. I enjoyed thinking about this kind of adaptation. It’s similar to why I prefer kayaking even though I enjoy sailing. it’s lower-tech shapeshifting.

    The Dutch also have a lot to teach when approaching control of coastlines from the opposite (highest-tech) direction.

  5. Hi Sandra,

    Your article reminded me of a game that I have played recently called Fate of the World.

    Basically, the premise of the game is you are the head of a fictional international organization where you have to manage social technological and environmental policies. In effect you make decisions that tries to manage all the problems happening around the world. I would have posted about this game, but I did dismally and became responsible for the deaths of billions because my policies brought about global famine. Luckily they released a new version that has “easy mode” so I might pick it up again soon.

    What really struck me about the game was the immense difficulties involved trying to coordinate the various efforts around the world to save it. Not only did I have to wrestle with natural disasters worsened by climate change, I have to get world governments to do what was environmentally friendly without losing their support. And to get countries to take up environmentally friendly policies takes decades to begin with.

    Having said that, it is a very interesting game to learn about environmental issues. But given the disunity prevalent in the world today where all the world leaders are more concerned with domestic politics instead of the greater good, it makes me wonder how the world will turn out. Throughout human history, only when there has been an external threat sufficiently large enough have we been able to put aside our differences to work together. I fear that by the time such a threat appears, too many lives would have been lost.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

  6. Fascinating story. They are indeed role models of adaptability, resiliency, and simplicity. Companies spin lies about who we are and what we need, just to get their hands in our pockets. We’re being robbed of reality, literally.

  7. Excellent article Sandra! I love how you pulled the different facets of life together and showed the intricate connections that connect the world we see.

    I have to say I find the Char dwellers story so inspiring! I have recently often thought of how much easier climate change and Earth changes would be if we were only more mobile. One of the reasons so many people suffer is because they are so solidly rooted to one place – it is about our house, our stuff, etc. But if we remove that as an obstacle and become fluid (like the rest of nature’s creatures) then all of a sudden life takes on a different meaning, where loss isn’t bad, it is just a natural cycle of life.

    As for P&G and Febreeze, Lynn above said it so well.

  8. In a way the char dweller are like the nomads in Africa. I guess if I’d been raised to live that way, it would seem normal to me. I am always ready to move to another part of the world, however, I don’t have the hardship of living off the soil and worrying about my food source. Yes, we a re very fortunate which is why I am grateful our kids lived in Belize for a year to see how others have so much less than us.

    • Hi Sonia,

      That’s a good analogy. There are indeed nomads in many different places in the world. I’m impressed that you had the guts to move to Belize and give your kids a different lens on the world. Can’t wait till your book comes out!

  9. I live by the sea and we are able to see what is happening almost daily to our shoreline and coastal regions….our bay is becoming so shallow all the boaters and shippers must move out further into the sound…which means even more tanks and war equipment must be moved through our downtown, which increases the number of protestors and activists, pollution and damage…you understand the cycle.

    I so liked how you tied together the air freshener and it’s ad with what you were reading – I spend much of my life at home because of all the pollutants and chemicals instead of food in my environment. I write all the time on one of my blogs about the problems of water and how we are killing our salmon and bays…then again I was just confronted by my book group about their Costco potluck (cheaper foods) and that they are trying not to pay for anything for the books they read – and I asked, Will the Authors still write if no one pays – if all stories and articles are free?

    My partner is a Green sustainable architect with a 13 (now 7) member firm…but all the jobs go to the 400 people firms in the big cities…Our firm has the opportunity to clean up the messes these P&G firms make and attempt to green them up for about 1/6 the design costs that these firms are making…and then we have to share those funds with the folks who are designing new products to assist the earth.

    We need a big change and not just from the 1%

    I am so happy to read posts that keep the message moving and growing…It is us, we all must change and more rapidly that we would like

    • Patricia,

      There is so much here in your comment. Thank you for adding your voice to the conversation. When you can really *see* the changes in front of your eyes, it would seem that it would really make a difference. But still, it’s challenging to “see” because our lives have become so complex.

      Finances are tight and so it can be tough to make the green choices. I’m glad people are stepping forward to do that to some degree. I appreciate your sentiments about trying to get books and articles always for free.

      So good that your husband is involved with green architecture. I wish his firm great success.

      You’re right, we need a big change. Or someday in the now too distance future our lives will be like the char dwellers too.

      Thanks so much for your insights.

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