The Netherlands is a relatively small country, with less than half the population of California, but it punches above its weight economically: It is the world’s No. 2 exporter of agricultural products, behind only the United States, sending out nearly $120 billion in produce annually — about $7,000 in farm exports per capita every year.
And that’s not tulips: It’s mainly meat, dairy, and eggs — which means a lot of nitrogen emissions.
When we talk about climate change, we talk most often about carbon dioxide, but there are other more powerful greenhouse gasses, too — nitrogen (here meaning mostly nitrous oxide) is hundreds of times more potent as a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide. The government of the Netherlands has been trying to reduce the trotter print of the pork industry in the national economy, at first as a matter of aesthetics (pig farms stink) but then also as part of a climate-change program. They went about this in the most direct way — by offering to pay pig-farmers to do something else for a living. But there was only limited interest in that. Dutch farmers want to farm.
More aggressive measures are in the works, and Dutch farmers are resisting and protesting. Some have even gone so far as to move their operations across the border into Germany, which has a friendlier regulatory climate.
The Dutch are among the world’s great conformists and rule-followers, a people whose national motto is Doe normaal! “Act normal!” But they are not sitting still for disruptive climate rules handed down from on high.
American progressives who believe that a more Western European model of government and politics will get them what they want should pay more attention to the news. Because the kinds of disruptive and radical Green New Deal policies they would like to try to impose on disorderly and borderline ungovernable Americans are not being met with adulation, or even cooperation, in much of Western Europe. As I wrote earlier this week, progressives are at some point going to have to deal with the fact that their climate agenda has been exposed time and again to the acid test of actual democracy and has, for the most part, failed.
The Dutch aren’t going to tank their farmers — or their manufacturers, or their transportation sector — in the service of a climate crusade that offers only limited and uncertain benefits at some point in the future in exchange for disruption and impoverishment in the present. Neither are Americans, including the leadership of the Democratic Party: President Joe Biden is out there begging OPEC to ramp up oil production because he is unwilling to risk paying a political price for modestly higher gasoline prices.
You can blame Big Oil, but the obstacle is Big Democracy.