There is quite a lot of things that we have postponed, and that we now have to do. In France they can talk about it. Successive presidents have been trying to reform the pension system since 1995. Now it’s Macron’s turn. We have no choice, he says, we are getting older, so we have to work more. You wouldn’t think to get a pin in between. That did not go well. The pension plan has met with resistance from the start. Last week it was pushed through parliament without a vote. We have seen the result all over France: strikes, battles with the police, burning garbage bags.
In the Netherlands we also have such a lingering problem. It’s called nitrogen. Successive governments have passed on the hot potato for decades. Postponing was no longer possible, said Minister Christianne van der Wal (Nature and Nitrogen, VVD) on election night on 15 March. It was “a sour conclusion”, but there was no other way. Here, too, quite a few people thought otherwise. The BoerBurgerBeweging, which wants the current nitrogen plans off the table, became the largest in all provinces.
The world as such also has such a delayed problem. This is called the climate crisis and last week the United Nations Scientific Climate Agency (IPCC) presented a synthesis of the last six reports it has issued since 2018. In a calm tone, the consequences of man-made global warming are once again explained. A well-known refrain: due to the amount of CO2 that still sends humans into the atmosphere in shockingly high quantities, temperatures are rising, sea levels are rising, and extreme weather is occurring in many places: heat waves, storms, heavy rainfall. Lives of millions of people are at stake; ecosystems are damaged beyond repair.
The policy formulated by the IPCC still assumes a warming of 1.5 degrees, although no climate scientist actually thinks this is still feasible. “Technically, I can still imagine paths that will keep us below 1.5 degrees,” he said Detlef van Vuuren, one of the thirty lead authors of the report, against last week The Correspondent. “Economically too, that is fine to do. The main question is: how do you get it done politically?”
The nitrogen issue is so interesting because it shows in miniature what lies ahead with the much larger climate crisis. A kind of dress rehearsal really, with scientific reports that don’t lie, vested interests that don’t give in easily, identities, political games and radical alternatives. But above all: a presented necessity that is not necessarily experienced as such by the voter. BBB’s electoral victory is the clearest example of this.
Some 50,000 farmers are active in the Netherlands, a fraction of the total number of voters who voted for Caroline van der Plas’s party – an indication that it is about more than farmers’ interests. I read that it is mainly a recognition issue, of not feeling seen in the province. Or that the hammering on European regulations and judicial decisions, in other words on the must, had turned against the coalition. Formulate it better in terms of wanting, and tell us what you want, why you want it, how you intend to achieve it, and what it will bring you.
All true. It is more problematic that the nitrogen dossier, and by extension: the approach to the climate crisis, is supported by a coalition that only half believes in its seriousness. The VVD and CDA are late converts at best. Anyone who wants to convince as a politician, Machiavelli already knew, does not necessarily have to believe himself, he must at least make it appear that way.
Mary Kruk is a historian and journalist. Every other week he writes a column about politics and the imagination of the climate era.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of March 27, 2023
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