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The Climate Crisis: A Dutch Impression, Part I, by Tonny Willenborg

How it used to be.


I grew up in the Netherlands, in a beautiful village surrounded by a few farms with small fields, meadows with hedgerows, heath and forest.




The Netherlands has an area of 41,600 km2 and, with over 17 million inhabitants, is one of the most densely populated countries in the EU (European Union). It is one of the top 30 most populous countries in the world.


The Netherlands has 523 inhabitants per km2 (2022). The average population density in the US is 34 inhabitants per km2.


Our family lived in a beautiful street with ancient oak trees. We had a lovely garden with a beautiful lawn full of wildflowers and I remember the wonderful smells especially after a spring shower. But most of all I remember the thousands of buzzing and buzzing bees, butterflies and other insects.


Fifty years later, the picture has completely changed.



The oak trees in the street are gone. So are most farms, the small fields, the meadows, hedgerows, the heath and the forest. And the buzzing of the many bees, butterflies and other insects has also been considerably reduced.


Scarcity


Lack of and the distribution of space is a major problem in the Netherlands. The amount of land used for housing, industry and infrastructure has increased sharply in recent years.


The pressure on the living environment is increasing.


In the coming years, much more space will be needed for the construction of nearly 1 million homes, for the construction of wind turbines and solar panels and for the necessary expansion of the nature network (connecting areas of natural land) and the planting of trees. This is for the purpose of strengthening nature, restoring biodiversity and achieving climate goals, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).


Nitrogen


Dutch nitrogen emissions are the highest in Europe: we emit about 4 times as much per hectare as the EU average. It suffocates nature, pollutes the soil, water and air. The responsibility for this lies with industry, including Tata Steel, road traffic and Schiphol Airport, but also to a large extent with the intensive livestock industry (with 115 million live livestock animals); the livestock density in the Netherlands is the largest in the world. This is a threat to nature and to our health. The nitrogen problem has been ignored by the Netherlands for decades. In May 2019, the Council of State, the highest administrative court in the Netherlands, determined that the solution devised by the politicians’ Nitrogen Program (PAS) from 2015 does not work and does not adequately protect nature. That is why the Netherlands is now allowed to emit almost no extra nitrogen.


Energy crisis


Partly as a result of the war in Ukraine and Russia's stopping of gas supplies to Europe, gas supplies ran out and energy prices shot up. There is energy poverty. If the Netherlands had invested in clean energy earlier, the damage would have been considerably less. Meanwhile, large-scale efforts are being made to stimulate insulation measures, solar panels, heat pumps and wind farms (particularly in the North Sea).


Manure crisis


Due to the large herd of livestock destined for export, there is a surplus of manure. The farmers cannot get rid of this manure. In early 2023, under pressure from the European Commission, the Dutch government instructed farmers to drastically reduce the spreading of manure on the land in order to prevent the pollution of ground and surface water. Among other things, manure-free buffer zones must be maintained along the ditches.


Water crisis


Dutch waters are seriously polluted by too many pesticides, manure, chemicals and waste. In addition, there is a water shortage in Europe due to climate change and droughts. Traditionally, Dutch water management has focused on the rapid channeling of (rain) water instead of retaining it. That has to change!


The Dutch government is not doing enough to achieve the climate goals and curb the crises.


Based on the Paris Agreement of 12 December 2015, the EU must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 to curb global warming. The EU wants to be climate neutral by 2050. That means a balance between the emission and the absorption of greenhouse gases.


Only about 4 years later, on June 28, 2019, did the Dutch cabinet present the “Climate Accord”. This accord contains more than 600 policies for all sectors of society, including the agricultural sector, infrastructure and transportation, industry and construction. An amount of 35 billion euros has now been reserved with which the Netherlands wants to spend to be a leader in Europe in combating global warming.


The implementation of these plans hardly gets off the ground.


The Netherlands is politically divided and the majority is conservative. The House of Representatives has 17 parties. The Netherlands has traditionally had a polder culture*, but the Netherlands seems to be polarizing. The public and political debate seems to be hardening.


The Climate billions are paid from taxes. The Dutch citizen pays a lot of tax compared to the US, on average almost 40% income tax. This in addition to wealth tax of approximately 2% per year on average. On the other hand, the Netherlands has favorable tax rules for international companies. It is ironic that large polluting companies emit a lot of CO2, make a lot of profit and apply for billions of euros in subsidies to become greener. The subsidy is paid from tax money.


*This is consensus negotiation by all parties, practiced in the Netherlands since the Middle Ages.


Interest groups, organizations and private initiatives.


Some parties are particularly committed to the environment at national and regional levels. These include the Party for the Animals and the Green Left. The Second Chamber has 150 seats. Party for the Animals has 6 seats and Green Left has 8 seats. The remaining seats are divided between the remaining political parties.


In addition, several large environmental organizations and numerous smaller organizations are active. Examples include World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and Milieudefensie (Environmental Defense.)


Milieudefensie


In May 2021, at the initiative of Milieudefensie, the District Court of The Hague ordered Shell (headquartered in the Netherlands) to reduce its global CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2019 levels.


Instead of taking this verdict seriously, Shell appealed and Shell plans to drill for oil and gas in more than 750 places worldwide (from the Wadden Sea to Argentina).


Under the name 'Action Against Gas', Milieudefensie has announced that it will hold Shell's board members personally liable for the disastrous consequences of Shell's policy for the lives of millions of people worldwide.


In addition, Milieudefensie asked the board during Shell's annual shareholders' meeting in London at the end of May whether Shell is prepared to implement the judgment in the climate case. Shell did not want to respond with a yes or no! See www.milieudefensie.nl.


Greenpeace.


Greenpeace has been very active for many years, including actions in the Netherlands.

On June 24, 2023, hundreds of activists invaded the territory of Tata Steel and demanded a stop to the toxic pollution of the steel factory.


Calculations by Greenpeace show that between 2008 and 2022 intensive livestock farming has cost society more than 100 billion euros. Rabobank, the main financier of the livestock business, is held responsible for 3.14 percent of this damage. See www.greenpeace.org.



Urgenda

Another important and tough organization in the Netherlands is Urgenda.


Urgenda produced a report, "The Netherlands on 100% sustainable energy in 2030. It's possible if you want." It outlines a concrete action plan involving projects in the field of sustainable construction, infrastructure and transportation, energy and circular economy in collaboration with companies, governments, social organizations and private individuals.


An important achievement of Urgenda is a successful suit against the Dutch State.

Quote website Urgenda:

“The Urgenda Climate Case against the Dutch Government was the first in the world in which citizens established that their government has a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change. On 24 June 2015, the District Court of The Hague ruled the government must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 (compared to 1990 levels). The ruling required the government to immediately take more effective action on climate change.” See www.urgenda.nl

The organization Mobilization for the Environment (MOB)

MOB is committed to preserving the environment and conducts thousands of often successful lawsuits against polluting companies and governments that fail to take action against pollution. Targets are Schiphol, Tata Steel and the dairy industry. See www.mobilisation.nl

To be continued


Tonny lives in the Netherlands and visits her son and family in the Rochester area.

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