Ghosted by the Dutch welfare state

Frederique de Ridder

Doll hanging from a noose at a farmersprotest in Gouda, taken by Stephan Tellier, published in Algemeen Dagblad

Change has to come. In the Netherlands, this currently counts for climate activists, farmers and construction workers. More than ever, this action seems to be inevitably accompanied by sensation. The government subsequently shifts the attention to the irrelevances of these debates and closes the eyes to essences. This ongoing process is going at the expense of time, truth and our democratic values.  

If it bleeds it feeds 

One fundamental rule rules universally for all news articles, which is that lies are not allowed to be spread. A fundamental rule that unfortunately doesn’t necessarily support the ultimate universal journalists’ belief: “If it bleeds, it feeds”. What is a climate activist left to do, when it has become an inevitable phenomenon that climate protests are being portrayed as an aggressive initiative, in order to create stagnation rather than progress? This might sound like a tiring development, yet it is unfortunately real. Even though the emphasis of climate activists is supposed to be put on creating awareness in a peaceful, creative, and safe way, journalists still manage to grasp dramatic inappropriate incidentals. Within the media, these incidentals are used to invert the activists’ initial intentions, to subsequently profile the climate activists in an untrue, and therefore, in an unjust way. This is how people, who actually stand up for the prevention of the planet’s destruction, are portrayed as desperate, ignorant and begrudging. Journalists often consider emotional engagement as useful material, even though it does not represent initial intentions. In other words, it does not represent reality. In the meantime, the proliferation of both camps causes the friction to strengthen between them and paves the way for polarisation. 

Even though the perceived friction between the opposite camps is used as sensational material within the media, the media nonetheless tries, in a very particular manner, to publish “the truth”. To avoid the blame of bias, even quality newspapers such as New York Times and The Guardian limited the stage for climate scientists, and subsequently leave disproportionately more space open for the ‘contrarians’ to take their part within the climate debate. However, this hopeless aftermath in which the essence of the climate debate remains uncovered, is not only apparent in the media, but in national politics as well. It is not the first time in history that uncertainty among the population, channeled and therefore shaped by the media, is considered beneficial by politicians. Confusion amongst the population namely maintains the political indecision and progress remains far ahead when consensus is deliberately avoided. Especially when politicians keep upholding the idea that climate change does not require action at all. After all, what is scarier than an approaching tipping point? The answer: politicians and authorities condemning or denying the existence of that approaching tipping point. The extension of the climate debate causes the focus to divert from the central concern, the central concern about what action has to be taken, instead of whether action should be taken at all. To what extend should we seek comfort in closing our eyes to scary things? It is dangerously unfruitful to turn your back against the essential debate. As a consequence, solutions for the reduction of nitrogen precipitation and Co2 emissions in the Netherlands are kept out of reach. Authorities don’t take the responsibility during a stage in which the population need them to take the responsibility the most. “No hands on deck” is unfortunately the strategy which the Dutch government is currently opting. The government in the Netherlands is ghosting its population. That is something that should be considered as scary.  

Deceptive praise 

A phenomenon that belongs to upholding a selective reality within the media, is the idealization of the ‘hero’. While the portrayal of climate activists as desperate or even aggressive remains unavoidable within the media, a new trend became apparent amongst the contrarians. This trend implies the deceptive praise for the Dutch farmers. Tensions are increasing , so is the fear. For example, the fear that the Netherlands will lose its “traditional farmers”. The possibility is upheld that, future measures within the frame of air pollution reduction, will restrict the Dutch farming industry to the extent that Dutch bio-industry farms would maybe disappear. Especially amongst the contrarians, it is a popular belief to consider the Dutch farmers to be the people who provide the Dutch population with its food. If modern restrictions for climate change, would subsequently mean that farmers would lose their jobs, then who is going to provide the Dutch population with food? Since the bio-industry is the main contributor to the nitrogen precipitation in the Netherlands, does that mean that the Netherlands will be deprived of its traditional cheese?! As a matter of fact, there is not much traditionality left for Dutch farmers since the Dutch bio-industry is not focused on feeding its domestic population at all, but on international export instead, due to economic purposes. Europe is undergoing a nitrogen crisis which means that the Netherlands needs to lower its emissions. A high nitrogen content namely causes plants to  go extinct and habitats of birds and insects to disappear. Especially habitats such as the heathlands, raised bog and the dunes are vulnerable to erosion. A shortage of meatballs or cheese is a fear that is unfounded. The loss of Dutch landscapes on the other hand is a legit threat.  

Evil dilemmas rest on the shoulders of a few 

Politicians not only tend to turn their backs against the essential debate of climate change,  they also tend to feel comfortable with shifting their responsibility to people who are initially not responsible. The mayor of the Hague and the police share the task of maintaining the peace within the city. This means that intervention to a certain extent is necessary, in order to maintain the control. At the same time, nobody wants to abandon the freedom of the city in in which justice is being pursued. For this reason, there is liberty to protest on the Malieveld. However it is becoming slightly troublesome that people anticipate the fact that sensation is a gateway to gain publicity, and subsequently popularity. When protest and sensation are increasingly intertwining, people who take the liberty to make use of this platform to protest, increasingly go on the verge of abusing it, under the veil of standing up for democratic rights. It is up to the mayor of the Hague and the police whether to let events escalate or decide to intervene. It is definitely up to the police to decide what measures should be taken to control aggressive and destructive protests. However, intervening within the civic sphere, increasingly implies risking the threat of civic fury. In other words, evil dilemmas have to be faced by people who are initially not responsible for avoiding a civic fury.  

“Heroes” and their actions can be very inspiring. This time in a more regulated way, the construction workers of the Netherlands maneuvered themselves on the 30th of October onto the Malieveld in the Hague. It is clear that quest for sensation is a phenomenon that is being anticipated. Frankly, it was quite impressive to see hundreds of cranes, concrete mixers and excavators positioned on the field. They arrived there, before 6.00 AM because the police wanted traffic jams to be avoided this time, with a similar motivation as the farmers who stood there the 1st of October. Namely, that the governments’ “words should be turned into deeds”. The official part of the day is introduced by the deafening sound of the claxons of all vehicles to express their discontent. However, Stientje van Veldhoven speaks soothing words “This country is not going on lock”. It has been a long day for the protestors on the field, which is understandable, if the rule applied that they had to be present on the field before 6.00 am. The builders claimed to experience discomfort standing there, but it was necessary for the sake of justice. However, the joke hits and the manifestation on the field laughs out of disbelief, when Stientje continues “There won’t be put a halt on building as long as the nitrogen precipitation is zero”.  Shortly after this incident in which the demonstrators expressed their skepticism towards the national politics, Geert Wilders arrives and is welcomed as a problem solver. Wilders consequently takes the opportunity to “clown” himself over the fields of demonstrations for justice in the Hague, taking invitations to make selfies with the protestors. For the sake of political professionalism, Instagram accounts of politicians should not be legal. Notwithstanding that belief, preeminently Wilders, who is willing to feed sensation to the fullest, who closes his eyes to rational and safe measures for this society the most, is creepily widely embraced. At the end of the day it turns out that it is obviously impossible for the majority of Dutch civic society to maintain a proper perception of what is actually scary.  

Feeding an audience with bloody sensations doesn’t sound safe at all. Yet journalists tend not to attend to this possible danger, to the extent to which truth becomes a secondary issue. In fact, the publication of sensational articles and reports, hinders the progress of reaching actual solutions to real existing threats. Even politicians play their part in feeding the public with sensations, to subsequently profit from the polarization that is established within the society. The only thing that is being fed at this moment, is a vicious cycle. A vicious cycle will not protect us from drowning in the North sea. This attitude is silently but certainly drowning us. 

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