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Know the West

Lessons from the Netherlands

  In response to Geneen Marie Haugen’s essay (HCN, 11/8/04: American — and proud of it): I’m sorry those Dutch were rude. As a Dutch-American woman, I know that being confronted with the Dutch sense of righteousness can be disconcerting. The population is well known for its ever-wagging "Little Dutch finger."

However, Holland — in fact the larger coastal part of the entire Netherlands — contains one of the highest population densities in the world, and is mostly below sea level. Without the United States committing to reducing carbon dioxide and other emissions, the Dutch have a real reason to resent President Bush and U.S. environmental policies (or lack thereof) in the face of rising ocean waters.

I suggest the Dutch can offer the United States two historical lessons. One: This small country’s stubborn righteousness was also the reason it waged an 80-year war with the Holy Roman Empire during the 1500s and 1600s, insisting on religious freedom. The Netherlands won the war against an empire on this issue, and with it, its very sovereignty. Lesson: Religion is so important to people that it should be left to the individual only, never the state.

Second: the Netherlands was once the site of coastal redwood forests, enormous wetlands rich in biodiversity; its Waddenzee is to this day identified by the United Nations as one of the most important wetlands on the planet. Currently, the Dutch are very active with restoration ecology to rehabilitate what they can. Near Rotterdam, the beavers are back. Lesson: The United States still has some of the most intact ecosystems on the planet. With far-thinking policy-making, we have an opportunity to ensure we do not lose our wildlands as the Dutch have.

Jessica Clement
Fort Collins, Colorado