“Zijn er ook boerenMick Jagger shouted, in Dutch, into the microphone during a Rolling Stones concert in the Netherlands last week. “Are there any farmers in the house?”
Dutch farmers make an unlikely famous cause. For starters, most are conservatives, not liberals. And they fight versus stricter environmental regulations, not for them.
Yet they win over liberal-minded people like me who sympathize with the family farmers who provide us with our daily bread and yet receive so little respect from society’s ruling elites. And they are inspiring protests from other farmers across Europe, including in Germany, Poland and Italy.
I praised the current Dutch government for being sensitive on issues like climate change. Last year it embraced nuclear power, one of the first Western countries to do so since the 2011 Fukushima accident that scared the world.
But the mistreatment of its farmers by the government shocked me. The Prime Minister recently called the protesting farmers “– – holes” and snorted: “It is not acceptable to create dangerous situations. And yet it was a Dutch policeman, not a farmer, who inexplicably shot a 16-year-old boy driving a tractor. Fortunately, he was not injured.
While nitrogen pollution is making climate change worse, the government says its main motivation for reducing it is to protect its natural areas. Scientists say that in 118 of the 162 nature reserves in the Netherlands, nitrogen deposition is 50% higher than it should be.
Without a doubt, the Dutch should do more to protect their natural areas. The country produces four times more nitrogen pollution than the European average, due to its intensive livestock farming.
The Netherlands is the largest meat exporter in Europe and the second largest food exporter after the United States, a remarkable feat for a nation half the size of Indiana. Food exports generate more than $100 billion in revenue annually. Experts attribute the country’s success to its farmers’ adoption of technological innovation.
But even many on the political left say the government’s demands are too extreme, based on radical green fantasies and questionable science.
“It seems to be very fast,” said Wim de Vries, a Wageningen University and research professor who 10 years ago made alarmist statements about “planetary boundaries”.
The government is demanding a reduction in nitrogen pollution of 50% by 2030. This amount would require a reduction in livestock by a third or more and thus put many farmers out of business.
And farmers say the government’s pollution measurement model is inaccurate. They say measurements near seawater skew nitrogen calculations.
Data show that ammonia pollution from manure has already has fallen nearly 70% since 1990. And farmers say they will continue to reduce pollution by implementing cheap and sensible solutions, such as diluting manure with water, injecting it into the soil and wash barn floors more frequently.
The Netherlands is something of a model for the efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers in agriculture. Since the early 1960s, the Netherlands have doubled their yields while using the same amount of fertilizer. It is hard not to conclude that politics and green ideology, more than science and reason, guide the government’s decision.
The Netherlands has had a nitrogen pollution permit system in place since 2015, but this has not satisfied green groups, who want to see a significant drop in meat production. A left-wing green-looking party, the D66, joined the government coalition in January on the condition that the government halve the number of animals.
“There is a small group of left-wing people, many of whom are vegetarians, who for 35 years have made many arguments to reduce livestock,” said Jan Cees Volgelaar, former president of the national dairy farmers association.
Farmers suspect the government’s motivation is to reduce farmland so more housing can be built for the country’s growing immigrant population. They point to the statements of the Minister of Nature and Nitrogen, “We need speed because we need houses”, which were echoed by the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, many are flying the national flag upside down in solidarity with the farmers. A new poll released two days ago shows that if elections were held today, the ruling VVD party would lose 13 of its 34 seats in parliament and its allied party D66 would lose 11 of its 24 seats. By contrast, the farmers’ party, the “Peasant-Citizen Movement” or BBB, which formed just three years ago, would grow from just one seat to 20.
It is not too late for the government to change. She was a pioneer last year in her sensible embrace of nuclear power. He could be a trailblazer again, rejecting the demands of radical greens and taking a more progressive, science and technology-based approach to pollution.
After all, when you lost Mick Jagger, you lost the world.
Michael Shellenberger is the author of “Apocalypse Never” and a Time Magazine “Environmental Hero”.