Environmentalism Makes Money - How the Dutch Do It.


Outside Magazine, June 2003, by Florence Williams - adapted by Andrew Leslie Phillips

With their nifty new windmills, tidy techno-homes enviro-crusading queen, the Dutch are busy creating the cutest little ecotopia on earth – while stoking a booming hypercapitalist economy. What does tiny Holland know that America is too big and dumb to figure out?

Queen Beatrix of Holland, better known as “Trix“, stirred the Dutch into action in her Christmas address to her nation in 1988.

“At Christmas, the joyous anniversary of Jesus’ birth, Beatrix began, “light breaks through in a world darkened by man’s egotism and lust for domination over his fellow man and nature”.

“We feel the darkness today in all its frightening gloom, as the future of creation itself is at stake.” She called her subjects to task and told them it was high time “the position was reviewed and our way of life adjusted accordingly.”

Everyone in Holland remembers that speech and a radical 25 year plan was enacted that would in a decade and half later, turn Holland into a world model for environmental and economic sustainability. By 1999, the country had spent $66 billion on the effort.

Today North Sea winds spin turbines to make electricity, toilets are flushed with rainwater and everything from dead cars to manure gets recycled. In one of the biggest national makeovers in history, this boggy, industrialized country has become one of the greenest societies on earth.

When Parliament passed a sweeping National Environmental Policy Plan, a.k.a. the Green Plan, in 1989 its stated task was to create, in one generation, a society of negligable risk for humans and ecosystems. Holland is meeting most of its toxic-reducing, energy-saving, and land-use goals, on schedule. More impressive, it’s doing so without harming a gross domestic product that totaled $419 billion in 2002.

Since 1989, industry has reduced its waste output by 60 percent, sulphur dioxide emissions have declined by 70 percent and pollution from volatile organic compounds like dioxin has been halved. Holland has almost completely phased out ozone-depleting chemicals, and 20 percent of its households use green-power, largely solar, wind and biomass. That’s more than anywhere in Europe, and far more than in the U.S., where 1 percent of households use renewable energy, excluding large-scale hydropower.

The Dutch are easily on target to meet, by 2012, their Kyoto Protocol (1998) obligation of a 6 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, relative to 1990. By comparism, under the Bush Climate Change Initiative, the U.S. will increase emissions by 32 percent over the same period.

While most of the world ratified the Kyoto accord in spring 2004, the U.S. said no. The Bush administration says the U.S. opted out to protect the economy, because compliance would be too expensive and trampled on competitive enterprise.

Holland’s environmental gains in the 1990’s were achieved while the economy grew 3.5 percent a year, the highest rate in Europe. Holland has had the lowest unemployment on the continent, and personal incomes continue to rise despite hefty eco-taxes on transportation, conventional energy, and waste disposal – which make up on quarter of the tax burden. Meanwhile, Dutch industries now lead the world in clean technologies and super-efficient manufacturing.

Denmark and the U.K. have announced similar climate-saving plans. The European Union is basing much of its emissions-reduction policy on the Dutch model. New Zealand, China and even New Jersey are mimicking parts of the blueprint.

How does a country dispose of manure, an increasing problem in the U.S.?

The Dutch carefully regulate manure, dry it and burn it as biofuel.

Holland 16 million population is the most dense in Europe. It’s the world’s third larger exporter of agricultural goods. The Dutch make money by being green, exporting their innovative environmental technologies a round the globe.

The Dutch are a Calvinist society and have an extensive social welfare system and yet still give 1 percent of GNP in aid to developing nations , a figure rivaled on my Norway and Denmark. Dutch military spending is at 2 percent (the U.S is 3.5 percent)

Almost all of Holland is below sea level so rising sea levels are a problem.

Both conservative and liberal governments have supported more enlightened and profitable environmental platforms. To fulfill the post-Kyoto Accords the Dutch have created the most widely used climate-modeling software in the world, the Integrated Model to Assess the Global Environment

They’ve pioneered an interlinking system of computer models to apply economic factor to environmental problems, calculating the cost of pollution in terms of sick days, disability and adjusted life expectancy.