In light of the recent Dutch election, where Dutch babyboomers voted in droves for a party set up by a marketing agency on behalf of a corporation that promises to reverse nitrogen rules, I feel like pointing something out. Something people generally don’t really seem to consciously realize, is that the ecological crisis, of which the climate crisis is just one aspect, is already here.
It’s easy to look towards the future and to say “by 2060 it will be too hot to grow food in Uganda, so people will die of hunger and their deaths are the crisis we must avert.” But human beings made it so far, because we anticipate changes. More often than not, our response to a change that we anticipate is the crisis itself. As an example you can look at the Silicon Valley bank, where fundamentally nothing bad was going on. Rather, people anticipated that something bad would likely happen to the bank and as a result produced a crisis through their own actions. You can similarly expect that long before the rising sea swallows the Netherlands, lenders will be unwilling to offer thirty year mortgages for those houses. So the economic devastation from sea level rise will happen before the sea level rise itself causes trouble.
Similarly, an intrinsic aspect of the climate crisis is that there’s a conflict of interest between people who have no interest in the future because they’re about to die and people who still have a life ahead of them. The latter will want to see societal changes that the prior demographic generally opposes. The crisis emerges when people who have the ability to think ahead anticipate that changes need to happen, which then causes a rift in society between people who are about to die and the people who have a stake in the future.
The latter group will generally be quite willing to embrace measures and dramatic lifestyle changes that are unthinkable for the prior, both because the prior have no direct interest in addressing the crisis and because the aging process left them with brains less capable of adjusting to societal changes. This triggers growing societal tensions. You can see an example of this on Twitter, where low status white males show off how they engage in their own inverted form of climate change activism, where they go to their local supermarket to damage plant based meat substitute packaging.
When your worldview is faced with a crisis incompatible with your worldview, the general human tendency seems to be to deny the legitimacy of the crisis. This requires ever greater mental olympics in the case of climate change, resulting in many low status white males and babyboomers imaging grand global conspiracies by elites who seek to kill us all. Sufficiently strong cognitive dissonance eventually results in a state resembling psychosis.
The argument is often made that addressing climate change is authoritarian, but this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can compare the state of climate change discourse from thirty years ago, to that of today. The general attitude was optimistic, after countries from around the world came together to solve the hole in the ozone layer, addressing climate change appeared like the next logical step.
The degree to which it would impact our economic system shocked the Americans however, with Bush famously declaring the American lifestyle to be non-negotiable. And so what happened was that conservatives created a self-fulfilling prophecy: We’re now facing the prospect of energy rationing, as we are still utterly dependent on fossil fuels.
The argument is often made that renewable energy is intermittent and thus can’t replace fossil fuels, but an economy can adjust to intermittent energy: Intermittent energy is exactly what we used before the industrial revolution, with grain being milled when the wind was available. This requires time however, as it requires migration of industries and people to places where energy is available.
The general habit in the Netherlands has been to ignore ecological problems, to cling onto business as usual as much as possible. You can think for example about the absurdity of the country having so much nitrogen that our nature begins to suffer under the impact. Here you have two maps of cows and pigs in our country:
This should be enough to end the discussion, but it’s not. And in fact, the discussion should not have existed in the first place, because the Dutch farmers being impacted by these rules were never economically viable on their own to begin with: They depend on massive agricultural subsidies.
Vegans often complain that almost all food contains “milk powder”. And there’s a reason for that: Farmers receive subsidy for the milk they produce, but society doesn’t really know what to do with it. We never ended the subsidies, because the farmers will stir up shit whenever you try to end the subsidies.
So from the late 50’s until the 70’s, the Dutch government came up with a solution: We’ll tell people to drink all this excess milk we don’t know what to do with. This led to the birth of “Joris Driepinter”, a product of the marketing industry:
This marketing campaign was funded by the Dutch government, which was stuck with an excess of subsidized milk. They invented the idea of convincing children to drink all this milk, through propaganda. This propaganda is what the babyboomer generation grew up with. The Dutch babyboomers would get special rewards like medals and insignia as children, for drinking three glasses of milk everyday. Here you can see some of those Dutch children wearing their insignia:
The Belgians saw this Dutch example and because they were also stuck with too much milk, they made their own version:
And if you think you’ve seen it all, wait until you hear their marching music, a song on a plate that Dutch kids received from their milkman:
If this is what Dutch babyboomers were exposed to in childhood, a kind of Hitlerjugend for milk, it goes a long way towards explaining the attitude they have today. Eventually society figured out an easier solution: Milk was going to be a filler material for food produced by giant corporations like Nestle and Unilever. You remove the water and now you have powder, which you can add to various cakes and candies people eat, a cheap source of protein with a bland taste.
I think it was Jacques Ellul who pointed out that propaganda only works when you don’t realize you’re subjected to it, so there is an arms race between the propaganda and the human mind subjected to it. And as a result, the propaganda of the past looks absurd and horrendous to us. Here children are told through some song that they’ll perform best in their class on tests if they drink a lot of milk, because the Dutch government needed some way to get rid of the excess milk the subsidized farmers were producing. I think North Korea looks so dystopian to us in the West, not because of the control the government has over the people, but because it uses outdated methods of control over the people, methods we have learned to recognize.
The point I wish to make, is that society had a choice: We could have chosen to subsidize a transition towards a sustainable method of food production. What we did instead was the opposite: We subsidized farmers, to enable them to continue with an unsustainable method of food production. Under “free market capitalism”, there would not be millions of pigs and cows in the Netherlands, because it would not make economic sense. It only makes sense because the farmers will riot when their subsidies are threatened, which makes politicians look bad in the polls.
If you were born in the Netherlands and knew something about our history, this would not be earth-shattering information to you. And if like me you have some understanding of the historical context, in which the government pushes unhealthy products on the public on behalf of for-profit corporations, what happened in 2021 probably did not come as a shock to you either.
But unfortunately my country is subject to millions of people, especially Americans, who have no idea whatsoever about this country, no idea of its history, no idea of the organized lobby groups and no idea of the biodiversity crisis we face, who insist on arguing there is now some sort of “communist plot” against Dutch farmers, because they saw a headline or a meme somewhere on social media. In reality it’s more akin to the opposite: There was some sort of bizarre North Korean style youth movement FOR THE FARMERS.
And the impact will be with us for generations. Milk is intended to turn a calf into an adult cow. When humans drink it, it gives them cancer. Many of the species that were hurt by all the nitrogen pollution are irreversibly harmed, the lost biodiversity can not be recovered. And the cows who have their babies taken away from them to be killed, cry out in anguish to this day.