Scientists, policy makers: get out of the ivory towers and engage in dialogue with society | notice
If we can learn one thing from the election results, it’s that we need to talk to the people of our country, says Arjan Otten. “Engage in dialogue!
D The voter has spoken and democracy has done its job. The BBB won a resounding victory. The inverted flags are being raised again, but that doesn’t solve the crises we’re in. On the contrary.
What the election results have highlighted is not only great social discontent with current politics. But also the huge gap between policy makers and scientists on one side and citizens on the other. Crises will not be solved with more politics or more scientific publications. This is why the call: come out of the provincial houses, come out of the ivory towers of science and enter into a dialogue with society.
An example. Last week I was on a course in IJsselstein. During the lunch break, we walked around the historic center of the city with the course leader. We talked about politics, elections and of course the weather. It was quite cold and the course leader casually said he wouldn’t mind if it was 3 degrees warmer in the Netherlands. He nodded slightly in agreement.
Dangerous tipping points
No one seemed to realize what 3 degrees of global warming means. It is not for nothing that scientists point out the major risks for our security of existence on earth in the event of warming of more than 1 to 1.5 degrees. The risk of reaching dangerous tipping points in the system then increases sharply.
Examples of tipping points are the thawing of permafrost areas in Siberia, for example, the disappearance of coral reefs and rainforests and the melting of ice caps. Not only does this accelerate climate change, but it also makes it irreversible and uncontrollable. With disastrous consequences.
The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are huge and if they lose just 10% of their ice, global sea levels will rise by more than 6 metres.
It is estimated that we can still cope with a sea level rise of 2 meters in our country by raising our dikes and our pumping capacity. If it gets more, we will probably have to give up IJsselstein.
Then the nitrogen crisis. An overwhelming body of scientific evidence has been accumulated over the past fifty years on the causes of biodiversity decline. Nitrogen emissions from agriculture are undoubtedly an important cause. It has to do with how we started to use land, soil and water.
The intensification and scaling up of agriculture have been major driving forces behind this for decades. The biodiverse fields and grasslands of yesteryear have given way to monocultures of corn and perennial ryegrass. It has long been clear that this system is reaching the limits of its existence.
Quite cynically, it took a judgment of the Council of State to confirm it. The broken balance between agriculture and nature must be restored. This task remains, even now that the BBB is in charge. The only question is how? Not by expropriating farmers, if it’s up to the BBB.
Large scale transition
But how? The rural world is on the eve of a large-scale transition. At least that is the intention of the National Rural Area Program (NPLG). It is about much more than nitrogen. There are also major challenges in the areas of climate, energy, water and biodiversity. The provinces are responsible for developing and implementing the program.
Now, it’s true that transitions and system changes don’t usually happen overnight. And the government’s ambition to complete the entire program by 2030 is also very ambitious. It is understandable that there is social resistance.
With the BBB at the helm, it is expected that it will take at least a lot longer for the NPLG goals to be achieved. But it also provides opportunities to strike up a conversation with each other.
The story behind the crises
Because if we can learn one thing from the election results, it’s that we need to talk to the people of our country. To tell the story behind the crises. And to hear what citizens think. It is above all a task for our elected representatives of the people. But I also call on policy makers and scientists to engage in dialogue with society.
Not that it’s not happening now, but far too little. This should become a core task of governments and scientific institutions. The gap between government and science on the one hand and society – at least a significant part of society – on the other hand is far, far too wide. And it has also become a breeding ground for mistrust.
Scientists and policy makers are often annoyed by all the nonsense circulating on social media about climate, nitrogen and nature. But unfortunately, many people are affected by this misinformation and fake news. And not once, but every day. By “intelligent” algorithms, which increasingly isolate us in our social bubble. Arjen Lubach’s famous fairy trap.
Wake up to BBB being the biggest
Until we woke up one morning to find that the BBB won the Provincial Council elections and became by far the largest political party in our country.
It’s time to get out of our bubbles. To close the gap and regain trust, scientists and policy makers need to visit the farm much more often. At discussion meetings with, for example, agricultural study clubs, guest lectures at schools, and lectures at community centers or Rotary clubs… Let’s go!
Arjan Otten is an environmental scientist and town planner and strategic adviser to the province of Overijssel. He wrote this article in a personal capacity.
“Food expert. Unapologetic bacon maven. Beer enthusiast. Pop cultureaholic. General travel scholar. Total internet buff.”