Floating houses – Dealing with flooding without fighting it

One of Dutch architect Koen Olthuis’s floating housesWith floods again occupying many of us here in the UK, those living on the floodplain are searching increasingly for an insurance policy that will cover them for any water-related inundation. Recently the chief executive of the Thames Gateway London Partnership said of the river:

“There will be at some stage a massive catastrophic event that will finally goad us into doing something.” His advice? “Everybody should get a boat.”

However, other less sensationalist solutions are being thought about if our country is starting to go through a wet patch. Many of these solutions originate in Holland, two thirds of which is below sea level. Architect Koen Olthuis’s houses that float on hollow concrete bases that move up and down with the water level are an innovative way to have a normal home-like existence whilst working with the water instead of trying to stop it. There are two good interviews with the architect at Inhabitat and Washington Technology.

Also in the guardian today – architects are designing a city in the United Arab Emirates that is 99% waste efficient and uses 100% renewable power, in a quest to create a completely sustainable city.

[story and image via the Guardian]

21 thoughts on “Floating houses – Dealing with flooding without fighting it”

  1. Floating houses are a good idea (in theory, at least). Why not go the next step: floating cities? A floating city, perhaps a mile or so in diameter. The inhabitants would live off the sea – as many Japanese do today. It would follow the ocean currents. Power would come either from a nuclear reactor, or from the sea.

    It’s interesting to consider what sort ofsocial structure would be best suited to that environment. The simplest would be a military hierarchy, but maybe some elements of the Greek city-state woul be better.

  2. Masdar (the zero emission city in Abu Dhabi emirate) looks really cool, but I suspect its design would only work out there. Narrow alleyways, high density living – hasn’t worked all that well in the West, has it? The UAE is a controlled enough society that Masdar just might not descend into a lawless zone…

  3. Jasper, I don’t understand you using that link, it’s from 2006. There’s been at least two updates from the panel since then completely contradicting that statement. Also, I did not mention Climate Change at any point – although today’s post on why it doesn’t matter whether it exists or not might give you food for thought. In the UK this winter there have been 4 major flooding emergencies spread across much of the country – alternating between the South-West near where I live and the North-east where places like Hull were metres underwater. Millions of pounds of homes and property have been damaged and some people in Worcester and gloucester have had their houses reflooded barely six months after originally having their downstairs ruined. Many of them have refurbished only to have it flood again. Trains and roads have been blocked. At times some villages and towns have been cut off by rising water. In the UK, flooding is an issue, no matter what the cause. It is already a problem needing solutions such as these.

  4. Tomas,

    The link demonstrates that IPCC predictions of Armageddon are science fiction and highly unreliable.
    The climate models from which their predictions are based can be manipulated through “parameterizations” to generate the outcome desired.

    Can you say that the flooding in the UK you cited is caused by AGW? On a related note, didn’t a UK court recently find the predictions about coastal flooding in “An Inconvenient Truth” were not supported by science?

    One of the challenges to the credibility of AGW supporters is that if the facts do not support their position, they change their position to support the facts (as the IPCC has done when they are forced to revise their predictions from “the sky is falling” to “not so much”).

    This is a major problem, especially when Al Gore believes exaggerating is okay when the stakes are high.

    I shake my head when I think about the number of people who have staked their reputations on this flawed, political and now, religious issue.

    Reality bytes, I would rather be free and ignorant than be bound by the bonds imposed on me by those who seek to control my life for, wait for it…the Greater Good.

  5. I cannot say for certain this flooding is caused by global warming. In fact if you look at the post and my reply to your comment, I don’t say that at any point.

    I am a scientist and I look at this purely via the science. The fact that the IPCC has changed its view on the matter since that article you quoted is exact evidence that it is doing its job of summarising the scientific consensus on the issue. It looks at all of the articles written by those trained in the matter and weighs up the likelihood of climate change happening across the board of all the related scientific papers and journals. If the next IPCC report backed down on the risk due to new evidence, that’s not them making a mistake, that’s them doing their job of summarising the overall view of scientists. This can and will change as experiments come to fruition. This is not a criticism of the system but a very feature.

    None of this argument makes any difference to the houses being flooded, mind you. Whatever the cause, their owners are losing everything and technology like these new floating houses can save them pain and loss. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that.

  6. JP:

    “On a related note, didn’t a UK court recently find the predictions about coastal flooding in “An Inconvenient Truth” were not supported by science?”

    No, but that’s how it was spun in a number of places. You might like to look at a fairly comprehensive look at the actual findings of the case in question.

    And as regards your freedom from “the shackles of the Greater Good”, you’re entitled to that opinion – even though I’d argue that the free market economics you champion would actually be better served by … wait for it … the greater good.

    But I’d be interested to watch you defend your position in a sports centre full of the recently-made homeless.

  7. I’m not sure how big the intersection of British law and science is, but I’d set it aside, no matter what they decided.

    Look at
    Errors in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth
    The Real ‘Inconvenient Truth’

    The Oreskes blunder is enough for me to have doubt cast on the whole thing:

    “Finally, the film made great play of a short essay (Oreskes, 2004) that had reviewed abstracts of 928 scientific papers published between 1993 and 2003 inclusive, not one of which had been found to oppose the “consensus”. In fact, the “consensus” was defined in the essay in an extremely limited sense, as follows: … A further analysis showed that only 1% of the papers reviewed explicitly endorsed even this very limited “consensus”; almost 3 times as many were explicitly against (Peiser, 2006); and not one endorsed the alarmist definition of “consensus” advanced by Al Gore in the film. A subsequent review by Dr. Klaus-Martin Schulte …, has found that of 539 papers published from 2004 to date only 9 explicitly endorse the “consensus” even if the limited sense defined by Oreskes is used. Some 68 papers either explicitly or implicitly reject the “consensus”. The film’s suggestion of scientific unanimity was simply false.”

    Then there’s the CGI of the poor polar bear. Evidently the filmmakers couldn’t find a real example of polar bears in dire straits.

    I’m not saying that the whole GW thesis is bunkum, ony that “AIT” is.

  8. The SPPI, as I pointed out in another comment thread, have taken donations from Exxon-Mobil; find me the same data supported by a truly neutral party, and I’ll consider it more seriously.

    Junkscience.com is run by Steven Milloy, a Fox News commentator noted for his continued assertion that second-hand cigarette smoke is perfectly safe and is widely suspected of being a tobacco industry shill, in addition to operating a number of non-profit organisations which (wait for it) … received funding from Exxon-Mobil.

    So, call me paranoid, but there’s a distinct pattern here. Show me assertions that climate change science is flawed that are made by people with clean hands and no vested interests, and I’ll take them seriously.

  9. Seriously.

    For over a decade the nay-sayers have gotten it wrong. Most estimates of how bad global warming was going to be, have proven to be too conservative.
    Even if your not a scientist you can look at animations of ice melting at the polar region and grow a bit more concerned.


    I don’t want to hear any more crap from anyone, or anything that doesn’t know what the IPCC is or does.

  10. “The Oreskes blunder is enough for me to have doubt cast on the whole thing:”

    Actually, ZZMike, that’s a quite common argument among skeptics, but Peiser wasn’t an actual paper, it was a letter to the editor of Science, which means it wasn’t peer-reviewed, and therefore lacks much credibility beyond speculation. There’s a good deconstruction of this argument at: http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/11/14/1511/4868

    complete with a link to admissions by Peiser that much of his findings were incorrect. So Oreskes wasn’t really a blunder.

    In addition, many climate scientists readily admit Gore embellished a bit in his claims about hurricanes and some coastal flooding, but they also find that the vast majority of the science is sound.

    Back to the OP, Tomas is spot on with this: no matter what the causes, flooding can affect more people over a larger area and for a longer time than most other common natural disasters (just look at New Orleans – 2.5 years later and still not back on its feet).

  11. Paul (at #12): If you’ll grant me the same thing about people like Gore & Co, I’ll agree. But beside that, attacking the messenger is not the best line of argument.

    Unfortunately, nobody has “clean hands”, and even if they did, the other side (whichever side) would claim corruption.

    About Peiser – how do you interpret this (from your URL):

    “I noticed the debate on your website. No matter how you wish to interpret the sceptical abstracts, there can be no doubt that most of them question that all uncertainties about anthropogenic forcing of recent global warming have been removed.”

    Mooney replies

    “Note that Peiser added “or doubt” to the category so it is logically possible for both of them to be correct. So, judge for yourselves by looking at the abstracts.”

    Looks like we’re back to opinion and “my expert is better than yours”. So let’s actually look ata few clips from the abstracts on that site:

    “This article examines the status of the scientific uncertainties … More and better measurements and statistical techniques are needed … Uncertainties about the amount and rate of change …

    Significant uncertainties about global climate change cannot be reduced without expansion of the knowledge base of CCN. …

    Ocean temperatures in the upper 250 m in the northern North Pacific … increased bt more than 1-degrees-C from 1972 to 1098 but are now decreasing. …

    Shortcomings in present policy research include: (i) inconsistencies in data and methods, (ii) myopic vision of available options, …

    The authors conclude that, even though the possibility of some minor indirect effects of global warming on TC frequency and intensity cannot be excluded, they must effectively be ‘’swamped’’ by large natural variability.

    The implications of global climate change are enormous. However, there are major questions …

    Almost every article rings with “we don’t know enough about this”.

    I just bought Lomborg’s new book (“Cool It”), in which he starts out agreeing “That humanity has caused a substantial rise in atmospheric CO2 levels over the past centuries, thereby contributing to global warming, is beyond debate. What is debatable, however, is whether hysteria and headlong spending on extravagant CO2-cutting programs at an unprecedented price is the only possible response.” It looks like one of his main arguments is that if we spend as much as we would on Kyoto-like measures, on more direct things, we can save significantly more lives, worldwide.

  12. Almost every article rings with “we don’t know enough about this”.

    And your argument seems to come across as “we don’t know enough about this, so we don’t need to do anything about it until we do”; I’ll admit this may be an oversimplification, but feel free to clarify.

    The scientific method, by design, always implies that we never know as much about anything as we need to, and hence drives further research. I can accept arguments much easier from people who say “OK, we don’t know everything, but we’ve got a lot of evidence that points to [conclusion x]” than from someone who says “there are elements of conjecture in [hypothesis y], therefore [conclusion x] can be ignored completely and considered bunk”. As Tomas and other commenters here have pointed out, the cost of applying solutions and finding them unnecessary would be far smaller than the cost of doing nothing and later discovering we should have acted.

    Re: Lomberg; I’ll agree that CO2 programs are not the “only possible response”, but the alternative of “more direct things” seems a little nebulous – can you expand on that for us a bit (in the absence of a copy of the book)? I’d be interested to know what could be a more direct solution to an overabundance of CO2 than cutting down the amount of it we release.

  13. Your argument was precisely why I posted the details about the science teacher’s youtube videos on climate change and probability theory. I can totally understand people saying ‘we don’t know enough’. It’s a very valid thing to say and only more research will help. However, we probably don’t have time to wait if the average outcome of the majority of current research is correct. The probability is that climate change is happening and the sooner we act the bigger a difference we can make.

    It’s a gamble but based on all the evidence we’ve seen so far (the 90% IPCC figure, for example, which is about as close you can come to a scientific consensus without the theory being 50 years old) leans the outcome very strongly towards us needing to make big changes. So although the more information we can glean from new research to clarify exactly how much warming (or even if none) is there, large volumes of data say there is going to be at least some damage so it’s logical to start working to negate some of that even as we work out whether it’s 0.3 degrees or 7 degrees we need to worry about. Once it moves into the political and economical realm it needs to be less about “my paper vs your paper” and more about “consensus of every paper suggests this is the most prudent response”.

    I really hope that readers of this blog find that a compelling argument as that’s how a lot of science works and I feel the general public misunderstands the fact that whilst theory is being devised, it is by its very nature varied in opinion and magnitude of effect, and that the combined analysis of all of these data is more important than any one particular paper whether it leans towards one way or another.

  14. What’s important about Lomberg is that he accepts the AGW argument. He just says we shouldn’t do anything. That’s completely different than the idea that climate change isn’t caused by humans.

    If one accepts Lomberg’s argument, then all previous anti-anthropogenic arguments cannot be made, and the debate moves to what should be done.

    One criticism of Lomberg is that he argues few lives will be lost if we don’t act environmentally, but spend the money on other things. The problem is that projections put the highest loss of life after Lomberg’s 50 yr limit. So while we may lose fewer lives over the next 50 yrs, after that the loss will greatly increase.

  15. “He just says we shouldn’t do anything. ”

    Not exactly. He does say that we shouldn’t run out wildly doing things that make no sense economically. He says that we should think carefully about where to put those billions.

    As far as 50 years out goes, we have absolutely no possible way of knowing what the climate will be like after 50 years. Current trends simply do not extrapolate linearly (or even logarithmically). Cycles happen – consider the Maunder minimum.

  16. But the basic fact remains that Lomberg doesn’t seem to deny global warming’s anothropogenic origins, which is a lot of the argument here has been about. What he’s saying is a whole ‘nother ball of wax that I won’t get into here. Just know that, as ZZMike says, it “turns into my expert is better than your expert,” which makes it rather useless.

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