3 february 2019

Belgian kids march against climate change – why don't ours, ask Dutch

Some put lack of action down to fundamental differences between the two countries

Daniel Boffey, The Guardian, Sun 3 Feb 2019

It started with a solo protest outside Sweden’s parliament by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg and has snowballed across the globe.

Schoolchildren demanding action on climate change have played truant and taken to the streets in Australia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and, in their greatest numbers, in Belgium, where 35,000 made their voices heard in Brussels a week ago and a further 12,500 marched on Thursday.

But in the Netherlands, where half the country is below sea level and awareness of global warming is high, there have been no such demonstrations. And for the first march, planned for Thursday in The Hague, organisers say they hope for a rather modest turnout of about 3,000.

“The commitment of Belgian youth seems to be greater than that of Dutch young people,” said the Dutch newspaper Trouw on Friday. “Why?”

Certainly the attitude of the Dutch government has not been particularly welcoming of the truancy movement. The country’s education minister, Arie Slob, while welcoming the enthusiasm for saving the world, suggested those who wished to make their point should do so on the weekend.

“Education is education and we are not going to give way to truancy,” he told the current affairs show Nieuwsuur this week.

Fearing the prospect of mass truancy, some schools have also taken a hard line. Heleen Klootwijk at Herbert Vissers College in Nieuw-Vennep spoke for many by warning that students who went to The Hague demonstration next Thursday would be listed as truanting “with accompanying consequences”.

But while encouraging students to make their voices heard, the Dutch MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld suggested there may be a cultural reason for Dutch teenagers’ apparent reticence. In report after report, the Netherlands tops OECD countries for high life satisfaction among its young people, partly because they already have the ear of their elders.

“It’s a different tradition, I suppose,” In ‘t Veld said. “It doesn’t always work but there is a relationship between the government and the social partners. The government could reform the pensions today from above but they won’t. They will talk with the stakeholders. The children live with that different experience. In Belgium and France it is more top down – and people turn to the streets.”

The difference in approach has certainly been notable in the attitudes of some senior politicians in Flanders, where the Youth for Climate movement first emerged in Belgium.

Bart De Wever, the chairman of the Flemish nationalist party the New Flemish Alliance, which was until recently in government as part of a coalition, urged the young protesters “not to believe in the apocalypse” but to go back to their books and have “confidence in the future and in the power of innovation”. “We will not solve anything with green taxes and making people feel guilty,” he said.

His colleague, the former secretary of state for migration Theo Francken, tweeted: “Dad, where’s my cell phone? Gone! When are we going to ski? Never again. Where will we go this summer? Home. Is the power on? … Put on sweater. Are you taking me to football? Pack your bike. Dad, why are you doing this? Sorry kid, you convinced me that it should be different.”

But this week the Belgian students launched an online platform to collect ideas for tackling global warming, and they say they will keep on skipping school until their message is heard.

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