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What's behind the farmers' revolt?
We're faced with an "environmental crisis" that appears to exist solely in the minds of our technocratic mandarins. Once again we are being ordered to "follow the science".
Farmer protests are roiling the Netherlands this week. For quick impression, the hashtag #boereninprotest on Twitter brings up clips of tractor convoys on the roads and blocking distribution centers, clips of farmers dumping manure on the steps of their town hall. And so on.
The Dutch government has decided to embark on a major reorganization of the agricultural sector, ostensibly to bring it inline with EU limits on nitrogen emissions. The sector is huge; 80% of the output is for export, generating on the order of €100 billion/year in revenues, a major contribution to the country’s massive trade surplus with the rest of the EU. This tiny country is an agricultural superpower.
Holland is densely populated however, ground use is highly fragmented, with lots and lots of tiny nature reserves interspersed throughout a patchwork of fields and pastures, and of course the polders. There is, according to environmental models, a certain amount of overflow of nitrogen from the farmlands into the nature reserves protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 framework. That requires action, or so we are told. The Dutch government, the only in Europe with this ambition, aims to cut nitrogen output in half by 2030, entailing draconian cuts: a third of our farmers, half of our livestock. This in a country which once saw itself, perhaps romantically, as a bastion of farmers and shopkeepers.
A short time ago I listened a segment of a popular current affairs podcast (Op z’n Kop). The summary, auto-translated:
Zwagerman & Van Velthuysen speak with Prof. Dr. Han Lindeboom, professor emeritus at the University of Wageningen. Lindeboom has a PhD in nitrogen and as an active D66 member founded the nitrogen focus group. He concluded that an integrated nitrogen policy does not require halving the number of livestock He also indicated that the RIVM model is incorrect. D66 Member of Parliament Tjeerd de Groot tried to block the focus group's publication, saying of their findings, "Don't tell anyone about this, because it's grist to Thierry Baudet's mill. When the D66 focus group on nitrogen sent the report on its own to all MPs in the Committee on Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, they were no longer allowed to use the name D66.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
(Notes: Thierry Baudet mentioned above is a leading “rightwing populist” who is as such ruthlessly vilified. The RIVM is the Dutch scientific advisory board, which also played a now highly controversial role in the pandemic response. D66 is the staunchly pro-EU, ostensibly “centrist” party, in fact fervently globalist.)
During the course of this interview, Prof Lindeboom described his PhD research, which involved studying the nitrogen output of a penguin colony in Antarctica. Most of the nitrogen the birds produced return to the soil via rainfall within a 500 meter radius or so. This could be seen in the improved vegetation, hence nitrogen is not per se a problem, only for certain vulnerable nature reserves. Among the many other interesting points he made was that nitrogen output can be reduced by changing the amino acid balance in animal feed.
I am not presenting the brief summary above of Prof Lindeboom’s take as the definitive scientific rebuttal in the current nitrogen reduction debate, but simply to point out that — here we go again — the “science” is not as conclusive as we are being told. It is clear there is no emergency; we are not on the cusp of environmental catastrophe. Three quarters of the public supports the farmers, three quarters of the Dutch Parliament supports the draconian nitrogen reduction policies. No emergency, no public support… but the government intends to ram the measures through nonetheless.
The politicization of science, dodgy mathematical models, authoritarian responses, a fabricated “emergency”, demonization of opponents (“farmer violence”), smearing of critics and skeptics (yes, “stikstofontkenner“, nitrogen-denier, is a thing), ideological rigidity. I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. Are we watching the sequel to Corona: The Pandemic?
As to the motives, a dive into Dutch Twitter turns up rampant speculation of not so theoretical conspiracies, that this WEF-coordinated assault on our food supply, shortages are the goal, it's all about deindustrialization and depopulation. Or, if you prefer, part of a plan to pave over our farmlands to build millions of homes to house immgrants. I don’t discount anything; I’m well aware there are people in our socities promoting profoundly misanthropic, Malthusian ideas and are actively waging economic war against our nation-states with vile and ugly tactics. They have way too much money, way too much influence.
But what the Corona crisis has (also) taught us is that so much of our current predicament is due to our lumbering, inflexible bureaucracies, what Jeffrey Tucker described in a super essay on Brownstown.org as the emergent adminstrative state. Thirty or forty years of quasi-religious belief in neoliberalism and technocracy has brought us to the point where are we are governed by self-serving entities actively hostile to democracy, hostile to the public, hostile to true debate, ideologically rigid and impervious to reality.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of current war on farmers is that it is happening at the very moment at which we are facing potential food shortages owing to the Ukraine crisis and the EU’s utterly misguided anti-Russia policies. The top priorities of European governments should be ensuring food security and reliable energy supplies, but instead our adminstrative states are pursuing ideological obsessions: a misguided and opportunistic “Green transition” and pathological Russophobia.
I cannot predict how the farmer protests will go, maybe the government will relent, maybe it will dig in its heels. Whatever the outcome is, we will in due time surely see horrific blowback; an anti-environmental movement that sets back many of our legitimate successes in protecting the natural world, and stymies those which are still needed. Whether their motives are malignant or naive, our feckless, fanatical Greens are playing with fire.