A Whole Lot Of Excitement For Not A Lot Of Progress

Print Friendly

“Did you know that spinning around an hour in the wind will take you from Utrecht to Groningen?” Roger van Boxtel, the president of Dutch Railways (NS), asked in Dutch. The question was posed in a video addressed to the nation late last December. As he spoke, large black straps were velcroed around his wrists and ankles. Two men tightened a large belt around his chest and waist, and with a thumbs-up from the NS president, he appears to be lifted up into the air, revealing he has been strapped onto a large windmill. He circles around the large contraption, shouting “Travel on the wind. I am completely blown away!”

The charade was to announce the now completed January 2017 plan to power all Netherlands electric trains by wind power. Environmentalists rejoiced. Global news outlets published articles of praise. Hoorah! Another big step for green energy.

Or is it?

The Netherlands is considered one of the leaders in renewable energy — that title earned in-part from the 1.2 Billion kWH of transportation electricity now being powered by wind. But the fanfare by officials and investors about the move is misleading. Green-powered electric trains have less of an impact than these promotions would like you to believe.  

Standing at the Maastricht train station, Stan Bakker, a Holland native, claimed to have noticed no difference since the transition to wind powered transportation, and was in fact unaware of the move by NS.

“I didn’t know they did that. They don’t look different. They still smell and look a bit dirty. I don’t know how much they help the pollution,” he shrugged, looking around at the approaching trains.

The majority of the wind energy that is suppose to be powering the Dutch railway doesn’t even come from the Netherlands, but rather from wind farms in Belgium and Finland. There is a hope to open farms in-country to sustain transportation efforts, but there is no concrete date set for when this will happen, according to The Woodbridge Citizen.

The move to green energy transportation must mean the Netherlands is at least more advanced than other countries with their environmental efforts…right?

Wrong.

In 2015, the Netherlands was ranked one of the lowest in use of renewable energy by the European Commission (EC). The EC noted that only 6% of the Netherland’s energy usage was being powered by renewable energy sources. Today, that number is thought to be more around 10%, which is still significantly lower than other countries such as Finland (39.5% in 2015) and Sweden (54.1% in 2015).

Stuart Clark is a Canadian student pursuing a Environmental Science major at the University of Toronto. During his visit to the Netherlands, he too noticed the lack of positive environmental change in the area.

“I think the Netherlands has a reputation for being really progressive when it comes to a lot of things, such as social rights and things, and awareness of sustainability is a part of that…But if you go to, say, Amsterdam, you’d think it’s like any other city.”

Clark visited several Netherlands cities in December before traveling to Budapest for a teaching program. One thing that stood out to him in particularly were the country’s windmills.

“I was walking around and I saw all these old windmills that were not doing anything and I didn’t know why they weren’t using them. They have these resources that they are ignoring and just letting rot…I think that the use of wind is a great step, is really great. But they can always do more. Everyone can always do more,” Stuart encouraged.

Some may argue that even though wind-powered transportation isn’t affecting the country’s carbon footprint as much as we’d hope, the move is still environmentally beneficial because it is taking away possible profits from the big, bad polluter companies such as Exxon and ConocoPhillips. But this is also false. These looming oil and methane companies are not ignorant to the world’s sudden interest in renewable energy. And so it would be ignorant for us to assume these companies would simply sit back and watch their industry crumble. In fact, many companies are actually turning to green energy to continue to make a profit that sustains their countering polluting acts, particularly in Europe.

In 2011, the French oil company Total purchased SunPower, a solar-panel company. In 2016, they also purchased Saft, a battery making company, in a deal estimated to be worth at least $1 billion, according to The Christian Science Monitor. These two purchases give Total the power to dominate solar power storage, which they can create another money-hungry market with, just like oil.

The interest in green energy by European oil companies is entirely economical and selfish, as noted by Darcy Harris, a native of Australia. She stopped in Amsterdam during her recent school break, which recently ended with a trip to Prague last week.

“The company wants to keep themselves alive so they can keep giving out oil and polluting the earth,” she said, striking her finger through the air. “They don’t want to loose their number one spot in the energy business.”

The purchasing or investment by oil companies into renewable energy, particularly in transport, is a marketing move to create a better image for companies who aren’t seen in the best light at the moment. Royal Dutch Shell announced in January that they will add electric car charging stations to locations in the U.K. and The Netherlands. But it is doubtful these companies will continue to make further steps to improve the environment.

Instead, the support of green energy is more of a show that doesn’t mean much.

Just like the move by NS.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *