As a municipality, do not strive for growth that will increase your problems. Such was my central thesis of an opinion article in a regional newsppaper last week. But of course it applies more generally, which is why I repeat it here though in an adapted manner.
We live in one of the most densely populated countries in the world. And part of our land is also at risk of being lost to sealevel rise due to climate change. In that light, how we deal with growth deserves some attention. Growth in different ways: in GDP, growth in energy and material impact, including impacts beyond our borders, growth in population, growth in prosperity. And especially the role of government in this, nationally, regionally and at municipally level, by the city council.
For what is the importance of government in growth? Government is there primarily to serve the interests of the people living in the country or municipality. That is the plan for housing facilities, health care, security, and yes, also employment if needed, and perhaps “prosperity,” though the latter depends on the definition.
But what if that population in general is among the most prosperous in the world, if employment is close to 100 pct, and at the same time environmental burden must be reduced and nature area increased?
In that case it is not the primary task of government to stimulate and cooperate in creating further growth, with by definition a greater burden on land, nature, resources. And certainly not if there are not even people available as labour for those new activities. After all, everyone has work and income. And yes, that is not always well distributed, we run short in education, care, justice, and police among others, but that can be solved in the first place internally, redistributing people and shifting jobs, through wage or tax measures. There is money enough for that, as it the government shows again and again, since there is money to support growth that can be used for that.
If everyone has work, how is it that both national and municipal governments still strive for growth? Growth of mainly non-essential or commercial and private companies, which do not necessarily contribute to the essential services , or eliminate the imbalance therein? The government is handing out billions to all kinds of regions and projects to facilitate that growth.
In fact, the growth of those commercial activities is going to increase that imbalance, because those companies don’t take or have any responsibility for the basic services, which come with growth and more people. The community has to solve those, even after that community has already put a lot of its money into facilitating those companies, via e.g. investments in infrastructure, for more jobs. For which then there are no people, who therefore have to come from abroad, but for which then there are no houses? For which then more people have to come from abroad, to build those houses?
And if not ‘importing people’, to support construction of houses, then it will be more goods and products needed to supply to prefabricate the houses. Because the Netherlands not only doesn’t have the people, it doesn’t have the raw materials either. We don’t have much more as sand and gravel here. ( I leave out gas and coal for a moment , as you can understand)
After all, our main business here is to import raw materials away from all over the world, for next to nothing, in order to make a big profit with them here (without minding the damage elsewhere). And if we would grow and import even more raw materials, we will need again to bring the people here, because we can’t handle it ourselves. People from abroad to do more work, here, from countries from which most likely we imported the materials as well: how smart is that…?
And we will soon have to bring in people to care for us as well, to wipe our asses , since we ourselves all work here for big money in commercial business instead of in essential professions. And we all know what those essential businesses are, since Corona.
Look, I have nothing against foreigners (and we will continue to help asylum seekers), and I have nothing against growing companies, I am a realist. It’s however all about where the responsibilities lie. And as a governement of city council those responsibilities lie first and foremost with making sure that the basic services are carefully provided and maintained for the people who are already there. Not for people who are not needed, and are not even here. If a company wants to grow, that’s fine, that company should take care of its own needs.
That some things have grown askew the past decades is obvious by now. Energy supply, for example, should never have been privatized, of course. That can rightly be called a basic utility of the community. Now that is almost completely out of our hands. Who will be responsible if the power goes down? How will municipalities then facilitate their residents, take care of primary amenities? The same regarding water, or food. There are great uncertainties coming our way, and most important are security of supply, of energy, water food and some material. This has also become clear last year, that dependence on import has its drawbacks. How is a country or city going to help its residents in the event of power infarcts, distribution problems of food, or shortages of water ensure that everyone can at least survive? More growth now implies less security, and less prosperity per capita later.
As I also argued in previous two articles, we are constantly being misinformed: An example of such a report in the press, but there are countless daily , is: : “Business climate Eindhoven at risk due to shortage of business sites”, Huh? Who comes up with a phrase like that, with what agenda? ( a journalist) But it had better read: “residential climate of own residents in danger by growth of business”, and thus increasing climate damage, environmental damage, rising house prices etc.. But you don’t read anything like that, journalists are brainwashed as well.
It is time for sobriety to prevail again, and responsibilities clearly defined and separated: It may well be that in times of great poverty and unemployment, the government intervenes, helping to provide jobs and thus a livelihood for its residents. But that is different from helping commercial businesses grow, where that is not a necessity for the existing interests of already existing residents.
Especially in these times, when we know we will have to make do with less: consume less, produce less, exhaust less material, pollute less, take less land from nature etc etc.
Let’s face it, we’re not going to stay below two degrees warming, especially here in the Netherlands. We are also not going to be able to extract inexhaustible material, the concentrations in mines have been decreasing for years, and cost more and more energy for the same amount. Pollution is not decreasing for the time being either, be it nitrogen, plastic in the sea, ( and in beer), pfas, carcinogens around industrial sites etc..
The first thing is to put money into solving the problems we already have, and secondly, into things that absorb and soften the blows to unavoidable come: that we make a soft landing, and can survive, instead of a hard landing with all its consequences. But certainly not invest in the growth of more things that are not necessary and will increase the problems. Certainly not as a community itself.
It is urgent time that governments start preparing themselves for problems that are coming, instead of investing and facilitating to make those problems even bigger.