November 21, 2019

Allegory of the bonfires

By Barend ter Haar.

Once upon a time there was a city by the sea with beautiful beaches. Every New Year was welcomed by two large bonfires on the beach that were built by inhabitants of two neighbourhoods that bordered the sea. 

The teams of both neighbourhoods competed to build the most large and impressive pyre. That went well for several years, until the teams started building the pile higher and higher, far beyond what was permitted and far beyond what was safe. The mayor of the city was faced by a dilemma. Should she enforce the rules, in view of the clear danger that the fire would get out of control, although this would probably evoke the anger of the people that were building the pile? Or should she tolerate the dangerous behaviour of these people and hope for the best? She decided to do nothing. 

She had no luck, because on New Year’s Eve a strong wind from sea blew sparks and embers over the city, causing fires and a lot of material damage. As a consequence she had to abdicate.

This city by the sea happens to be the seat of government of a small country by the sea, that is building its own dangerous bonfires. At first glance, the bonfires that the Netherlands (the country I am talking about, as you will have guessed) is building are very impressive. Thanks to its efficient economy, it is one of the richest countries and although its land area is small, it has become the second largest agricultural exporter in the world.

However, it has accomplished this by ignoring rules and endangering public health and well-being. Almost nowhere is the loss of biodiversity as dramatic. Of all the animals and plants that used to be indigenous, 85% has become extinct in the Netherlands. Most of the remaining natural reserves are endangered. Every year about 12000 people in the Netherlands die prematurely because of air pollution. 

A probably even more fatal danger for the Netherlands is climate change. If all the so-called “developing” countries would follow the Dutch example and would produce as much greenhouse gasses per capita, future generations of Dutchmen might literally get in a sea of trouble.

All this is no news, and the Netherlands is party to several international agreements that are aimed at protecting nature, fighting air pollution and preventing climate change. However, in practice the Dutch government has tolerated and sometimes even supported the building of a bonfire of unsustainable growth. 

The burning question is: Will the Dutch government follow the example of The Hague and give in to the short term interests of the builders of this bonfire? Or will it take its responsibility?

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