According to Knack’s editor, Dirk Draulans, the revocation of the environmental permit for the new Ineos plant is the result of the fact that the judges are finally applying the existing legal rules regarding nature that must be respected.
Is the destruction of the environmental permit for the ethane cracker of chemical giant Ineos in the port of Antwerp the fault of Flemish Environment Minister Zohal Demir (N-VA), who nonetheless granted the permit, or the Flemish Minister of Agriculture Jo Bruns (CD&V)? Is it the result of excessive concern about the harmful effect of nitrogen on our nature or the lack of a clear decree on how to address the nitrogen problem?
In Flemish political circles, some vigorous games of arm wrestling and black piet have been organized in recent days in order to shift the responsibility for the refusal to someone else. However, it is quite clear why three judges refused the permit. In recent decades, attention has been paid to preserving natural values, but this has mainly been a question of whether or not plans should be formally put to paper. After that, it is often forgotten to put it into practice. There were always other interests that got in the way, often at the expense of what should have been protected.
For example, of the 300,000 hectares of officially designated nature in Flanders, 80,000 hectares are still occupied by intensive agriculture—the monoculture of raising livestock, not the nature-friendly farming that is done here and there in nature reserves. Of our protected natural areas, no less than 86 percent are in poor condition – this is the European record, in the Netherlands, for example, “only” 50 percent. So we have some nature, but it often has little real “value”. The nitrogen nuisance is a case in point: it reduces nature to an ordinary overgrowth of blackberries and nettles.
Under pressure from Europe, interest in natural values has increased recently. European policy makers understand better than the Flemish, for example, how important natural values are, especially in the context of our increasingly painful confrontation with the consequences of global warming and chronic air pollution, which claim more and more lives and reduce the quality of life of more and more people.
In Flanders, more and more nature-conscious citizens are tired of having to constantly compete against governments who, whether or not they are pressured by lobbies, continue to devour what is left of nature. Whether or not they are backed by nature and environmental associations, they are increasingly turning to legal authorities to test ill-conceived schemes against the prevailing, but very little followed, legislation on nature. Increasingly, judges are doing what they are supposed to do with regard to normal values: applying legal rules.
Project developers and governments may complain that nowhere in the world are more citizens objecting to unfriendly plans than in Flanders, it is a simple consequence of the fact that nowhere in the world is there even a little bit of nature left here. The less natural, the more important the little that remains. So there should be more lawsuits than now against unfriendly intrusions into our landscapes. Governments often get away with a project that destroys nature because no citizen in the area wants to put in the effort — and the financial effort — to challenge their plans.
Distrust of the major players is running high, and rightfully so. Wealth in the world can often only be amassed by intruding on others. Colonial powers parasitized the colonies, white plantation owners parasitized black slaves, and rich industrialists parasitized the poor workers. They got away with it for centuries.
After World War II, we were able to increase our comfort of living by intruding on the Earth and its resources, including nature. But soon the realization arose that we had threatened to be shot in the foot. We have overlooked that nature can be beneficial for maintaining quality of life. This insight was neglected, mainly because those pulling the strings did not want to see it, because it was inconsistent with what was thoughtlessly promoted as permanent social progress.
We are now battling the harmful effects of chronic air and water pollution, with lifeless soils, with growing crop fertilization problems. For the first time in the so-called civilized countries, life expectancy is declining, as a result of obesity due to overeating and unhealthy diet, chronic bombardment with pesticides and other deadly chemicals that cause diseases such as cancer and depression and exhaustion also resulting from living in unnaturally crowded places. The pendulum of increased comfort swings at high speed, propelling us from our artificial, ivory tower into nature.
Distrust of players like Ineos is fueled by the observation that fossil fuel companies, for example, have known for half a century that they were playing with the future of the Earth, but have taken no significant action to do anything about it. Ineos may claim that the planned factory in Antwerp is the greenest factory the company has ever built, but why should we take the company’s word for it? If the extra environmental friendliness nonetheless leads to further inconvenience to our already destructive natural values, judges and governments must already take responsibility: trop too much.
Bat-friendly course lighting
There is also a great distrust of agriculture ministers who claim that their sector is really struggling. As long as agriculture ministers do not show in any way that they are far enough away from pressure groups that basically want business as usual, primarily to protect their own business interests, often at the expense of ‘poor’ farmers, a strong dose of suspicion about their intentions would still be desirable. See first, then believe.
As long as governments try to sell expensive engineering bureaucracies as valuable substitutes for protected natural values, they will expose themselves to objections from genuinely concerned citizens. There are white politicians who want to convince us and especially themselves that the Natura 2000 protected forests in Europe have less natural value than the road they want to build, because it will be surrounded by bat-friendly cycle path lighting and will be covered with a tree bridge for squirrels. With all this nonsense, you shouldn’t be surprised at the resistance of the citizens.
The revocation of Ineos’ permit, which incidentally could be reintroduced if the company can prove that the new plant does not have the catastrophic increase in nitrogen values found in northern nature reserves, is simply the result of a legal response to the decades-old concern in pursuit of sufficiently effective natural values in our living environment.
You may find this absurd, counterproductive, and anti-progressive, the result of the social subversive work of crypto-communist climate fanatics etc. The fact remains that more and more people are seeing the consequences of chronic unfriendliness of nature and making an effort to try and do something about it. Their interests are usually more noble than the short-term visions of the nature-destroyers among us.
There must therefore be no less resistance, but greater resistance against the almost self-accepted continuing deterioration of our residual modest natural values. Only in this way will we be able to achieve a sustainable change in thinking and, above all, in action. Not only will our descendants benefit from this, but so will the planning loan sharks who today are fiercely opposed to moving. They will thank us!
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