Monday, May 20, 2024

‘The End We Start From’: Could London Ever Really Face Deadly Floods?

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The new apocalyptic film ‘The End We Start From’ imagines a version of London that is battling extreme and dangerous levels of flooding. But is this vision that far from reality if the world doesn’t change course?

English summers are usually varied. Drizzle and clouds are not uncommon, and neither are relatively warm days, with average temperatures usually sitting in the high 60s and early 70s. Heatwaves are not unusual either, though; sometimes temperatures can soar to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But in 2022, for the first time ever, Londoners had to live through temperatures of over 104°F. It was a searing warning of a climate crisis that is already starting to unfold in the U.K.

Experts agreed that, much like the rest of the world, the heatwave could be linked to emissions-driven global warming. And the likelihood is, in the not-too-distant future, it will do more than incite dangerous temperatures. Rainfall patterns are also changing dramatically. That’s why extreme floods in London are the setting for The End We Start From, a new independent movie adapted from the best-selling book of the same name, directed by Mahalia Belo and starring Jodie Comer, with Benedict Cumberbatch, Katherine Waterston starring Joel Fry. It builds on a number of recent climate film projects like Netflix’s 2021 comedy/thriller Don’t Look Up, and the forthcoming Tarfaya, from filmmaker Sofia Alaoui.

The real threat of flooding in London

The End We Start From, which was released at the end of 2023, follows a character simply known as Woman, as she fights to keep her new baby safe from biblical-level floods in her home city.

“I had this idea to write a story about a woman giving birth in the future. It seemed inevitable to me that she would be facing a climate disaster,” author Megan Hunter, whose best-selling book provides the plot of the new film, recently told the Guardian.

“I wrote about a dystopian future. But it feels like it’s become more of a book about the present moment – more and more contemporary, and more and more relevant, unfortunately,” she added.

All over the world, floods are undoubtedly becoming more common because of the climate crisis. In the same year that London battled colossal temperatures, millions of people in Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Pakistan faced some of the worst flooding they’d ever seen.

In the U.K., London is one of the most at-risk places for dangerous flooding. It is currently protected by the Thames Barrier, one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world, but as sea levels rise, it may become less and less efficient at keeping the water out of the city.

“The Thames Barrier was designed at a time when sea level rise projections were far lower than projections today,” Professor Jonathan Bamber, director of the Bristol Glaciology Centre, told the Guardian last year. “Since then, sea level rise has been accelerating, and parts of London will be at risk if flood defenses are not invested in very soon.”

Women and the climate crisis

The End We Start From imagines just how dangerous London could become if flood defenses aren’t ready for rising sea levels. But it also explores how people would cope with such extreme weather events in the U.K.

“Comer’s character doesn’t always know what to do: she’s confused, she’s terrified,” added Hunter. “People are losing loved ones in senseless ways. It’s chaotic. There’s not a clean heroic arc to it all. But at the same time, she’s surviving, she’s looking after her baby.”

london city of the future
Could London face extreme flooding? | Photo courtesy Ugur Akdemir

At the beginning of the film, Woman is supported by her partner, R, who is played by Fry (Cruella). But they are soon separated, and she is left to cope alone. This is a true story for women all over the world, right now. Multiple studies suggest that they are the most vulnerable to climate crisis events. 

One 2020 study, for example, on the coastal region of Ilaje in Nigeria concluded that the responsibility of taking care of everyone and keeping on top of food, clean water, and fuel supplies often falls to women and girls, leaving them with very little time or access to education. 

“Women and girls are already more likely to face hardships, and climate change simply adds another layer or dimension to it,” Dr. Priti Parikh, an Associate Professor in the Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction, told UCL.

Hunter hopes that The End We Start From will be a wake-up call to anyone who sees the climate crisis as a faraway threat. She said: “If it becomes one of the most important things in the world to all of us, we’ll be able to make the changes we need to.”

The End We Start From is showing in select movie theaters across the U.S. and cinemas across the U.K. now.

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