How Do Low-Lying States Deal With Climate Change?

by Belle Waring on June 16, 2017

The NYT today has an article about how the Dutch, with their long experience of holding back the sea, plan to advise other nations about utilizing children’s pudgy fingers to avert devastating floods. At least, I assume that’s what it’s about; I didn’t RTWT yet. More interesting and pertinent to me was this article from some weeks ago about how Singapore is constructing new land, both to increase the city state’s area on general principles and to deal with rising sea levels. Singapore is in a difficult position as a low-lying polis with no higher ground or inetrior countryside to relocate to. In addition, it is forested with high-rise apartment blocks that can hardly be moved. Bukit Timah hill, which I can see from my window, is only about 400 ft above sea level and is the highest point on the island. Singapore imports tons of sand from neighboring countries and uses it to create new islands offshore or infill and extend the current island.

The area where the Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino is located is on infill. It’s the one that looks like a cruise ship plonked on top of three curving towers. Next to it are these fabulous tree-like structures filled with plants and a stylized lotus building, and the huge ferris wheel, currently the biggest in the world, is nearby. With this and the durian-shaped Esplanade theatre Singapore has methodically achieved its goal of having a recognizable skyline. It is just like the government to plan the whole thing out like in this way after, one assumes, envious comparisons to the spontaneous towers of Hong Kong, and build it up in a slow plodding way–but then have it actually work!

From what I have seen in staying here so long, after the sand is put in, the ground is usually firmed up by being planted with trees for a while, though apparently they also build concrete honeycombs to support it from beneath. Both Indonesia and Malaysia have become irritated by the expansion and have begun to withhold exports of sand, so that Singapore has to look further afield. Myanmar has no compunction about selling something that’s worthless to them. Singapore has created something I didn’t know about, namely a strategic sand reserve in Bedok. This is also the most Singapore thing ever. Looking ahead! 10-year plans for new public housing and new MRT lines to service them! It is a curious place. I recommend you do read the whole article though it is long. The stories of a man who has viewed all the changes from the water are very interesting for a different perspective than the one I see. It is a fascinating look at what a truly endangered nation will do when it takes the Anthropocene seriously.



Heliopause 06.16.17 at 3:02 am

“How Do Low-Lying States Deal With Climate Change?”

As a USAian who lives near sea level I think I speak for the entire country when I say that the best way to deal with climate change, clearly, is to increase military spending.


Belle Waring 06.16.17 at 3:33 am

Maybe they can plug dykes with rifle barrels?


Gareth Wilson 06.16.17 at 5:26 am

” Both Indonesia and Malaysia have become irritated by the expansion and have begun to withhold imports of sand, so that Singapore has to look further afield.”

Do you mean exports of sand?


Emma in Sydney 06.16.17 at 8:20 am

That’s a fascinating article about Singapore. Thanks for sharing, Belle.


Bill Benzon 06.16.17 at 10:15 am

“Singapore has created something I didn’t know about, namely a strategic sand reserve in Bedok. ”

Yes. In the past few years I’ve been reading these articles about how sand is a resource that’s becoming scarce. I don’t have specific citations at hand, but the most recent article (within the last few weeks) was about sand for use in concrete. Apparently not just any sand will do – you can’t just go out to the nearest desert and scoop some up – and the good stuff is getting hard to find. Other articles have to do with finding sand to replenish beaches on the eastern shore of the USA. So it makes sense that Singapore is stock-piling it.


Belle Waring 06.16.17 at 1:15 pm

Thanks Gareth; I meant to mean [Singapore’s] imports but I’ll fix it…


Bill Benzon 06.16.17 at 1:19 pm

A Google query on scarcity of natural sand. That most recent article that I mentioned above was in The New Yorker:


Omega Centauri 06.16.17 at 3:28 pm

In answer to Heliopause. Of course one of the scary things about climate change is the expected increase in political instability, and the pressures from millions of climate refugees. So it does impact on national security in the traditional sense of the term.

Sand, can be a fickle thing. When I lived in Wisconsin, excellent beach quality sand was available for the taking. It was left at the endof the last iceage. [I’ve read the area is getting wrecked by being mined for sand used in fraking]. But, then I moved to New Mexico, and there wasn’t any natural source of sand for over a hundred miles.


Yankee 06.16.17 at 4:52 pm

Here on the Oregon very coast, no death by millimeters, one day soonish the sea will rise and smite us. As part of the same event the land will jump upwards, so in geologic time we have to deal with sea level fall. Hard to say how that will work out. In the meantime we are on a slight downward trajectory and what with one thing and another the estuary is trying to reclaim its wetlands. The state copes by redrawing flood zones to include more of our constructed-land downtown. The county copes by giving the Road Department enough money to pour a little gravel here and there, and everybody just drives slow on Broadway when it floods on the high tide except people whose trucks are lifted high enough.


Ogden Wernstrom 06.16.17 at 6:00 pm

So, those guys with the lifted pickup trucks are preparing for the effects of global warming?

I must apologize for thinking they were compensating for something about themselves, rather than something about Clatsop the world around them.


LFC 06.16.17 at 6:07 pm

Singapore can afford to take these steps; other countries with low-lying areas that will be threatened by climate change, such as Bangladesh, can’t as easily afford preventive measures and their bureaucracies are probably considerably less efficient than Singapore’s. And I’m not sure why the post says that sand is worthless to Myanmar; a glance at a map suggests that its coastal areas might well be threatened.

Along with erosion and rising sea levels, climate change may well (I assume) increase the severity of cyclones, etc. Bangladesh is routinely hit by cyclones; there was one fairly recently (h/t to someone who sent me the NYT article) in the Cox’s Bazar area that destroyed a lot of flimsy dwellings and left a lot of people homeless, the majority of them Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.


Belle Waring 06.16.17 at 10:01 pm

Sure, LFC; obviously Singapore is a unique outlier on almost any measure, but that’s partly why it’s interesting to see what a rich state will do if it is the type that plans ahead and decides to pour serious resources into dealing with sea level rise. The same is true of the Netherlands. I guess the post should say “Rich, Low-Lying States”. Obviously Myanmar will suffer perhaps disproportionately badly under climate change, but at the moment it is a poor, poorly managed country that doesn’t use the sand it has and I think regards it as an exploitable resource. I meant from the point of view of Myanmar’s government ( which also doesn’t care about displaced Rohingya people) but I think I didn’t make that clear. Thanks for the perspective.


Bill Benzon 06.17.17 at 1:24 am

I live in Hoboken, NJ, which is across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan. The NYC metro area is one of the wealthiest in the world, in an enormously wealthy nation. But plan ahead? It’s a cascade of transportation disasters waiting to happen. We don’t need sea level rise to wreak havoc – though we got a taste of that during Hurricane Sandy. What happens if the subway system shuts down because the antiquated signal system disintegrates? Or one of the Hudson River tunnels collapses? Singapore’s way ahead of us.


LFC 06.17.17 at 1:37 am

@Belle W.
Thanks for the clarifications.


John M. Burt 06.17.17 at 7:12 pm

I’m not sure “Anthropocene” is the correct term.
I think “Anthropozoic” is more like it.
Or possibly “Anthropic”, as in, first there was the Azoic, then the Zoic, then the Anthropic.
Once sapience goes to work, it really is all different.


Howard 06.19.17 at 2:16 am


Val 06.19.17 at 11:30 pm

Saw this interesting article on Singapore ‘greening’ which is kind of almost on topic

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