On top and at the bottom

05 Oct 2016 - 15:32
Source: Tom Roeleveld/flickr

A popular pastime of Dutchmen is to compare their country with other countries. We know that we are not among the leading countries in Europe and the world. We have grudgingly accepted that we are not a member of the G20, but we are eagerly looking for signs that we are not just one of the many small countries, but a country that in many respects can compete with the larger ones.

That is why the Dutch public is so interested in reports on the place of the Netherlands on European and global rankings. We are proud that we have the best health care of Europe, that we are number two at the World Press Freedom Index and number five on the Human Development Index.

We also like to know that all thirteen Dutch universities are counted among the 200 best universities of the world, that Wageningen University is considered to be the world ´s best in the field of agriculture and that the Netherlands is the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products, after the USA.

However, there is a downside to this good news and to the intensive use we make of our land, water and air. This downside is reflected in rankings that make us ashamed.

In an overview of the state of conservation of habitats in the European Union, published by the European Environment Agency in the State of nature in the EU, the Netherlands is on the bottom of the list (see fig. 3.1 in Balans van de Leefomgeving). Only 3.8% of our natural habitats is in a good shape. In 96.2% of the cases the situation is unfavourable. In a few of these cases (9.6%) the status is improving, but in 26.9 % the trend is further decline (State of nature in the EU – Annexes p. 25).

These figures are baffling and evoke the question: is the Netherlands destroying its nature for short term profit? And what if other countries follow our example? Should we worry?

In Half-Earth, Our Planet’s Fight for Life the American biologist Edward Wilson argues that we should worry. We should worry, not because we know what will happen, but because we do not know what will happen if we continue to destroy our natural habitat, eradicating wild plants and animals at about 1000 times the usual rate. The last time the world experienced a mass extinction, it took the world ten million years to recover.