June 13, 2024

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Youngsters of the flood: what can lands misplaced to climbing waters inform us? | Atmosphere

When author Gareth E Rees stands on the muddy foreshore at Pett Amount in East Sussex, his intellect turns to the Mesolithic peoples who hunted, lit fires and dreamed their extremely human goals on the lands now subsumed by the metal grey swell of the English Channel.

It is low tide at Pett Stage and, as at each reduced tide, the withdrawing waters have exposed a landscape of twisted and pocked tree trunks that is illegible to a lot of of today’s brisk canine-walkers and youthful households out on the migrating shingle.

It is just one of a lot of sunken lands all around the entire world that Rees has become fascinated by – sites exactly where individuals applied to live that have been shed beneath the waves all over heritage – areas from the earlier that may well convey to us anything about our individual local weather-alter induced predicament of these days.

“What I really like about this location is that I get this sort of a buzz from viewing the layers of historical past open up out,” Rees tells me as we courageous a southerly wind that whips scarves about our cheeks. Rees, a trim 50-yr-aged dressed in a band T-shirt and jaunty tartan scarf, is, for his part, fired up.

“Standing in this article, I imagine the forest of birch and oak that the moment stretched from in this article to France,” he explains, casting a vast arc with his arm. “Over there, around to the nuclear reactors of Dungeness electrical power station, I can see the bustling streets of Old Winchelsea port, which was inundated by a flood in 1287.”

In 1980, David Bowie and director David Mallet selected Pett Stage as the location for the online video for Ashes to Ashes. Its conceit was the artist’s rebirth at the dawn of a new decade, with lyrics referencing his 1969 hit Area Oddity and Bowie striding by way of the beach’s damp boughs with a funereal parade of New Romantics in the shallows, awaiting regeneration.

Gareth Rees explores a sunken forest at Pett Degree in East Sussex. Photograph: Pål Hansen/The Observer

Pett Level was the ideal selection, Rees claims of the movie: “Here, historic forests have turned to marshes, marshes to fields, fields again into marshes and marshes to sea.” He pauses, then adds: “You see, as people we are born from amniotic fluid, but we are also kids of the flood.”

Rees’s most up-to-date ebook, Sunken Lands, follows his 2013 reserve Marshland, which explored the history and folklore of east London’s marshes as stretches of its wild meadows have been bulldozed for the 2012 Olympics, and Unofficial Britain (2020) which rhapsodised about sundry British civic furnishings, from industrial estates to flyovers.

Sunken Lands was encouraged by Rees’s pandemic, in the course of which he took to parking his dented Peugeot at Pett Degree, which is around his Hastings property, and poking about this storied extend of coastline with his two youthful daughters and cocker spaniel, Hendrix.

In these strange months he would enjoin his daughters to thrust their fingers into the tender picket subject of these ancient fallen trees, touching the exact location that other children may possibly also have touched extensive ago, ahead of Jesus was born. “My youngsters assumed it was a little bit unusual at first, but then they received it,” he claims.

The reserve is a lyrical, light-historic excavation of lands shed to encroaching waves through human record. It recounts tales handed down to us of these deluges, ranging from the common – the tale of Atlantis – to the much less nicely recognized, these types of as the fable of the land that life below the Irish Sea, regarded to the Welsh as the kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod, and the English as the Lowland Hundred.

As a task, Sunken Lands follows in the tradition of Robert Macfarlane’s The Previous Approaches (2012), in which the academic follows the ancient tracks, holloways and drove roadways that crisscross the British landscape and of historian Matthew Green’s Shadowlands (2023), which explores the archaeological and historical traces of British settlements shed to organic forces, war, plague and economic shifts.

Rees’s approach is a psychogeographer’s instead than a historian’s: a dialogue amongst landscape and our emotions. It is influenced by 19th-century flâneurism and 20th-century situationists these types of as Dude Debord, who argued for playful exploration of areas guided by our responses to them. Nonetheless compared with its companion items in the emergent “lost lands” vacation-crafting canon, Sunken Lands is also a manifesto. It’s a call to action for a planet which is at this time projected to see sea amount rises of up to a metre by 2050, submerging metropolitan areas including Amsterdam, Venice, Kolkata and New Orleans.

“I’m a hypochondriac turned local climate-catastrophising dad,” Rees laughs. Partly then, the guide is a way of grappling with Gen X’s rabid usage styles, worse in some means than the Boomers typically inculpated in the generational blame activity. “What with local climate adjust, deforestation and microplastics, our little ones are inheriting a mess, frankly,” Rees claims as we crunch across Pett’s shingle, passing a shuttered seashore café the place signals from 2021 even now market deals on burgers. “How do we talk to them about it?” he asks. “Can and ought to we sugar-coat it?”

The e-book sees him pay a visit to extensive-misplaced and about-to-be-dropped lands all-around the entire world. It travels from Sussex to Wales and Cardigan Bay, exactly where at lower tide on the shorelines of Ynyslas and Borth stumps of birch and pine ghost forests arise. It moves on to the Fens, which he depicts as a terrain stripped bare by generations of gain-driven land reclamation and the Scilly Isles, which are thanks to be our islands’ first reduction to the climbing seas.

In Italy, he dives on the continues to be of Baia in the Bay of Naples, as soon as a holiday break vacation resort for upper-class Romans, now submerged following a volcanic eruption and in Louisiana in the US he visits the communities clinging on in a low-lying point out that is thrashed by storm surges, still in thrall to fossil-gas extraction.

A petrified tree from the submerged forest at Pett Degree. Photograph: Alamy

Prior to we satisfied, I’d questioned about the challenges of telling tales about the several floods humanity has endured in the guise of environmentalism. If humans have generally contended with waters that ebbed and swelled and claimed ancestral lands and civilisations, was this not taking part in to the local weather-transform sceptics’ contention that weather transform is cyclical, and that human beings really should be staunch in the facial area of its threats? Think of plucky Noah packing up his menageries, or the retailers resuming their trade in cloves and claret at New Winchelsea.

Rees stops abruptly on the shingle. “No! No! No!” His intention in telling stories about the reduction of lands to flood is to snap us out of our fever goals of mindless consumption, not to make us sense impotent and gloomy.

“People of the early Holocene who noticed their ancestral properties and searching grounds slip beneath the waves had been just like us: human beings with sophisticated views and feelings and genuine dread about what was taking place to lands wherever they had lived, hunted and liked.” Wanting again into “the deep time of human history”, Rees thinks, can give us solace. “There’s a thing comforting in the realisation that we are little and fleeting in the cosmic and geological scale of issues,” he states.

Not that this gives us any excuses. Then as now, we are dependent on a fragile entire world that we exploit at our peril – and we need to fully grasp that despite the fact that this has took place ahead of, what is getting location now is so significantly even worse. The men and women in these historic tales were being just like us, and we will be just like them if we really don’t just take motion. This reality isn’t a person else’s fact, much away in Tuvalu or Bangladesh, “It’s proper here and now,” says Rees. “The Scilly Isles are on monitor to be underwater in a century and Rhyl by 2050.”

It was on a walk from Hastings to Pett Amount in 2015 that Rees realised his marriage experienced finished. At Pett Amount, land and sea are in continuous movement and under no circumstances the similar from working day to day or moment to moment. Spiritually, probably, we are all in hock to its inexorable forces. Rees believes this is one particular of the reasons we are drawn as human beings to storytelling: to make meaning from nature’s bamboozling idiosyncrasies and to make sense of our swept-away lands and drowned properties.

There are more than 200 identified world wide flood myths, with stories of catastrophic inundation colouring our oral histories and big religions. It is not just Noah: Deucalion is gifted with foresight of a good flood by Zeus, and in Hindu texts from the sixth century BC, Vishnu takes the sort of a fish and tells the to start with person, Manu, to make a boat just before the deluge. The myriad Celtish myths of sunken kingdoms include things like Lyonesse, a affluent kingdom meant to have been in between Cornwall and Scilly, and Ys off the coastline of Brittany.

It struck Rees in looking into this abundant hinterland of flood mythology, that we human beings by no means get when the floods appear, as we won’t earn in the deal with of climate-adjust-wrought flooding, having said that considerably hope, or difficult cash, we throw at those people prayers and levees. “Eventually these people all experienced to adapt and shift,” Rees states just. “That’s the only story in all of these tales. There was not any grand summary exactly where they engineer their way out of catastrophe – a magical fable wherever somebody closes the sluice gates and all is properly.”

We are the young children of the flood. Extra recently, these tales have after much more bobbed to the area of our collective consciousness. In 2011 a bell was mounted down below the pier in Aberdyfi in Wales, designed to be rung by the motion of the tide. It is a tribute to the legend of the church bells of the Lowland Hundred – the tinkling explained to be listened to across the waves when wintertime storms blow – and to the actuality that such legends are capturing our folk imagination anew.

Rees is also a singer-songwriter and would make many references to stirring songs in Sunken Lands – from Hawkwind’s We Took the Incorrect Step Years Back, to the blaring trumpets and rolling piano keys of New Orleans jazz. An album of Rees’s individual songs will accompany the guide, as very well as a Spotify playlist of his highway excursion songs. “Music and spoken term can attain people today in which literary assignments can appear to be a bit for the initiated,” he says.

Back again to that manifesto, and Rees desires to give the oil adult men two barrels of their have noxious extrusions. The large oil brigade, he tells me, “are the significant tobacco magnates of today”, funding partisan reviews, initiating new drilling projects in fragile wetlands, encouraging nations these kinds of as Guyana, wherever most of the populace life beneath sea amount, to extract seabed oil reserves and, just as risibly, peddling the idea of the “carbon footprint” to change the duty for weather alter on to people today like you and I, relatively than corporations or governments. “I really do not feel any person is inherently evil,” Rees claims of these fossilcrats, “though you do have to question what their simple program is: use the world’s means when I’m alive and enable all people burn off when I’m absent?”

In Rees’s see, major oil will come to be the baddies of stories whispered all-around campfires of the upcoming, with Greenpeace and Extinction Revolt the heroes of the tale fairly than figures of Celtic myths this kind of as Seithenyn and Mererid.

Sunken Lands concludes in Louisiana, a “hardcore industrial landscape” of gasoline-processing crops, drilling rigs and swampland, where the twisted tops of telegraph poles and leafless trees are all which is noticeable previously mentioned polluted, encroaching marshwaters. “Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana was the hardest minute for me,” Rees suggests of one particular of the Louisiana communities he frequented. “This was at the time a flourishing group, the place the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe lived with and on the watery land for generations, but it’s on the verge of disappearing off the map fully many thanks to oil companies’ drilling.” A weathered indicator at Isle de Jean Charles reads: “Isle de Jean Charles is not dead. Local weather alter sucks.”

In his guide, Rees recounts how he arrives a cropper in Louisiana in his use motor vehicle, and is thrown on to a raised shingle bank exactly where he briefly imagines he’ll be missing to the filthy floods. He laughs about this moment as we get into his battered Peugeot and depart Pett Level’s historical arboreal souvenirs and rockpooling households in peace. “It was definitely just a puddle, on the lookout back again.”

We are youngsters of the flood, but we’re youngsters who have to have hope, as well. In Sunken Lands, Rees dives into the abysses of our flooded worlds previous and current and emerges an optimist. Absent for Rees, these days, is all the “disaster-scrolling and paralysing weather terror”. He’s turned from catastrophising father to article-doomer and advises us to do so, too.

“As human beings we all have highly effective shared tales to explain to, of survival and solace,” he states, as a light-weight rain patters on the Peugeot windscreen, “and we all have the electric power to improve points for the better”.

Sunken Lands by Gareth E Rees is posted by Elliott & Thompson, £16.99 (guardianbookshop.com, £14.95)