Finally. We are almost ‘free’, to meet one another again and to enjoy greater freedom of movement. Nevertheless, I have grave concerns. At the start of the pandemic, we often talked of the (refreshing) insights that came with the virus – such as clean air, less time spent in traffic jams, holidays in our own country and supporting local initiatives – but there is another side to the story.
I am afraid that the insights the pandemic has given us will quickly be forgotten as short-term gains are again allowed to prevail above long-term action. Or in the language of the financial markets, we are going short. The required greening of our living environment is being neglected because we are not transforming the insights gained into actions that will make us climate neutral by 2050, as agreed in the European Green Deal. It is already clear that the greening of the Netherlands is slowing down, and it remains to be seen whether the topic will be given sufficient attention during the coalition negotiations to form the new government.
The pleasure of going short will only be temporary. An irreparably damaged living environment awaits the next generation. It appears that ancient forests in Poland will be felled, despite a ruling by the European Court of Justice, and the world is still highly addicted to fossil fuels. And closer to home, things aren't going smoothly either. There is much discussion about the use of biomass, and even about wind and solar energy. The construction industry and agriculture await political decisions about how (new) homes are to be made more sustainable and emissions of nitrogen and greenhouse gases reduced. It would seem that nothing happens by itself.
This means we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. We have done so with our TAUW's position paper on the European Soil Strategy, a plea for sustainable soil management. And in our projects, we transform words into action by offering practical advice about improving soil functions and biodiversity. Of course we can't do this alone. It is heartening to see that more and more civil society organisations, shareholders and multinationals, and even the central bank, are joining this discussion.
If the past year has made one thing clear, it is that we cannot neglect our living environment. Now that we can look forward to greater freedom of moment and taking part in numerous activities in the short term, we must not lose sight of the slightly more distant future.
To continue the metaphor of the financial markets: we must invest in long-term returns. We can only care about – and for – our living environment if it remains a top priority on our “to do list”!