Visitors to the Tidal Basin on Sept. 22 might have spotted an unexpected sight: a seemingly half-submerged house could be spotted floating in the water.
Extinction Rebellion D.C. (XRDC), an environmental activism organization, launched the floating house into the Tidal Basin as a demonstration of what would happen if immediate action is not taken to address climate change. The protest aimed to push politicians to approve legislation that would protect the environment, including the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill stalled in Congress.
The floating house was constructed to look similar to housing in Washington, D.C., because low-income people would be impacted most rapidly and most significantly by the effects of climate change, according to Andy Miller, a member of XRDC.
“That house was made to look as close as possible to a D.C. row house, and especially to a low-income D.C. row house,” Miller said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “The government and institutions of power need to tell the truth about the urgency. It relates definitely to our ‘act now’ demand, which is to do everything within each of those institutions’ powers to reduce emissions, increase resilience and protect the most vulnerable communities.”
Sea levels in the District are rising twice as fast as the national average, according to a 2018 Nature Briefing report, putting predominantly low-income neighborhoods in Wards 7 and 8 at increased risk of flooding caused by climate change because of their location along the Anacostia River. By the year 2100, rising sea levels due to climate change could raise rivers in the District by up to 11 feet, putting neighborhoods and infrastructure underwater, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a congressionally mandated report that assesses climate risks to the United States.
XRDC chose to place the floating house in the Tidal Basin because it is a man-made structure that is being impacted by rising water levels, just as the natural sea levels are also rising, according to Miller.
“The Tidal Basin is a man-made thing, and it symbolizes to me that nature is so powerful, and we have to respect it. This man-made creation is settling, so it’s sinking down, and the water’s rising, and it’s actually going to be unusable within a couple decades and within our lifetime,” Miller said. “One really important message is that it’s never too late, because our actions will always be affecting the now and the future.”
Recent estimates have shown that areas around the Tidal Basin could be submerged in as much as three feet of water by 2040, according to NPR. In response to the issue, the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab, a partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Trust for the National Mall and National Park Services, solicited plans from five landscape architecture firms to address the sinking.
One member of XRDC swam in the Tidal Basin with the floating house and was charged after being arrested for operating a vessel in an area operated by the National Park Service without a permit.
This is not the first time XRDC has staged an unconventional climate protest. The group placed wheelbarrows full of cow manure in front of the White House in April as a protest against President Biden’s climate plan, which they claimed did not achieve net-zero emissions fast enough.
Unconventional demonstrations will force more people to take notice and choose to do something about the future of the planet, Miller said.
“We do actions that disrupt business as usual in some way because that makes people have to decide are they for a just, livable future or are they against it,” Miller said. “Basically almost everyone will be for it, so the disruptive nature of our actions gets people to have to say one way or another.”
The floating house protest is a jarring demonstration of what will happen to the District and the world if climate change continues to go unchecked, according to Miller.
“We want this to hit home for D.C. residents and the nation at large,” Miller said. “This is going to be us, this already is us in some parts of the U.S.”