Green politicians have an exemplary role

This is a subject which kept me busy years ago, but which I’d still like to discuss now. Several years ago the party leader of the local GroenLinks party (the green party of the Netherlands) in The Hague wrote on his weblog that he had been on holiday to Japan. This was and is contrary to the environmentalist political positions espoused by GroenLinks, which include reducing air traffic at Schiphol Airport and not opening Lelystad Airport. No one agrees with every political position of their party, but it’s disturbing when leading GroenLinks politicians make choices which go against the party line regarding this issue. Environmentalism is one of the founding principles of GroenLinks and air traffic contributes disproportionately to climate change. GroenLinks politicians (should) know this.

When I asked this party leader during a meeting how he dealt with this inconsistency, he bluntly replied that he considered this a personal choice. Shortly after a leadership election had been held by GroenLinks The Hague I asked the new party leader what her stance on this issue was in January 2022. Ideally I had asked this question during the debates of the leadership election, but I could not attend these due to my agenda.

This new party leader also thought it was a personal choice and argued that we shouldn’t judge others for using holiday flights. She didn’t say whether she used holiday flights herself. I ascertained that we disagreed on this matter, but that I would still vote for her in the municipal elections. There was more which connected us than what separated us, after all. However, if I had been able to ask the question during the leadership election debate and I didnn’t like the answer, I might have voted for a different candidate than the one who won the election.

I object to the opinion that this is a ‘personal choice’. It may be one in name, but not in substance. It is not personal because the choice will disadvantage others. The kerosene burnt by aircraft engines ends up the air which we all breathe. We all suffer from the dangerous climate change caused by the combustion of kerosene. The local residents around Schiphol Airport live suffer from noise pollution and health risks due to higher concentrations of particulate matter there. If you choose a flight, you choose for others as well.

In a different sense the choice is not personal because it will have electoral effects for GroenLinks. What would happen if the party leader of the orthodox Protestant SGP turned out to be Catholic? Or if the party leader of the Islam-oriented party DENK would not adhere to the rules of the Ramadan? Or if the party leader of the Party for the Animals would eat meat? Outrage would follow and those party leader would probably have to step down or would not be reelected.

Boarding a holiday flight is apparently not considered such a grave error by environmentalist political parties. Even so, when even the national GroenLinks party leader Jesse Klaver uses a flight, this news is picked up by a Dutch right-wing populist weblog like GeenStijl. Klaver is reported to have taken a flight to Barcelona, particularly a journey which could have been done by train within one day from the Netherlands. It is no surprise that Klaver is accused of hypocrisy and that this is electorally damaging to GroenLinks. Potential voters could be discouraged from voting for GroenLinks after reading such reporting. This is how the party’s interest can be damaged from a ‘personal choice’ by a GroenLinks politician.

Likewise the D66 party leader Rob Jetten, who took pride in being considered a ‘klimaatdrammer’ (climate nagger) by his opponents, was criticized in the House of Representatives over his use of flights by the right-wing PVV party leader Geert Wilders. Jetten acknowledges that he uses flights because he sometimes has no alternatives, plays down his frequency of use and then says that higher taxes on flights could solve the problem. Wilders unsurprisingly counters that Jetten can easily pay the extra taxes while this is harder for the ordinary Dutch citizen. Here many will identify with Wilders’ argument that Jetten is a hypocrite. I’m not convinced at all that Jetten sometimes doesn’t have alternatives: many of his flights were for holidays far away and not for business. Holidays can easily be enjoyed closer to home with the train. And those business flights can easily be replaced by phone or video calls.

I’m not perfect myself. In 2015 I took a holiday flight for the last time, to Turkey. Since then it became clear to me that I could not justify flights any longer due to climate change. Because of this I resolved to never set foor in an aircraft again. This may mean that a holiday to India or Indonesia is practically impossible, but that is something I have to live with. Other holiday destinations in Europe are fine too and can be reached easily by train. We have to learn to be satisfied with less.

I usually don’t criticize others when they tell me they used flight to get to their holiday destination. If they ask me about my choice for holidays with the train I explain them my position, without judging. I don’t think you should expect activism from the average person because flying has become so normal and the government facilitates this by not levying taxes over kerosene.

I hold GroenLinks politicians to higher standards. Especially they should realize they have an exemplary role. Why should the average person fly less when they see that even Jesse Klaver flies? When you have this exemplary role you have to be willing to make sacrifices. You have to able to let the interests of the climate and your party prevail over your personal preferences.

In the future I will continue scrutinizing GroenLinks politicians over this subject in internal elections. I will weigh their position on this issue in my voting behavior. If more GroenLinks members care about this it will possibly bring about change.

The Dutch response to the Russian gas cutoff is too late and too weak

On Monday 20 June the Dutch cabinet decided to turn op the coal power plants because we might face gas shortages in the winter now that Russia stopped its gas deliveries. While this may have been partially inevitable on the short term, the cabinet made the wrong choices and has been very naive.

First a short timeline. On 24 February the Russian invasion of Ukraine started. On 1 April the director of Gasunie Transport Service said that the Russian threats to halt gas deliveries were taken seriously. If Russia would stop deliveries there would be no escape from cutting off Dutch industry from gas, he said. On 8 april research agency Kalavasta revealed that The Netherlands pays approximately € 30 million for Russian gas on a daily basis. Meanwhile all kinds of sanctions had been imposed on Russia by the EU (with Dutch approval), but gas was still excluded. On 27 April Poland and Bulgaria were cut off from Russian gas. The Netherlands followed on 31 May.

Instead of making the choice to stop buying Russian gas ourselves, Russia made it easy and made that choice for us. It’s embarassing that the Russians were one step ahead of us and we didn’t make a conscious choice to do so ourselves. We should have made that choice already when Russia annexed the Crimea in 2014, or at least in the first days after the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Everyone with some common sense should have seen it coming that Russia would start blackmailing us with our dependency on their gas if we would support Ukraine. It’s also clear that by buying Russian gas we financed the Russian invasion of Ukraine indirectly. But the cabinet did nothing.

Instead of firing up coal power plants the cabinet could have decided to implement painful measures to strongly reduce gas consumption directly after the invasion. Then our gas storages would have been filled at higher levels and increasing supply from coal power plants may not have been necessary. On 19 April a motion was filed by the Dutch political party GroenLinks which requested the government to ban the use of gas in greenhouses for floriculture. With the war and climate crisis the use of valuable gas for floriculture couldn’t be justified, according to the motion. Unfortunately the motion was rejected by the House of Representatives.

The answer of the lobby was predictable. Glastuinbouw Nederland gave arguments which are hard to follow, such as that the green transition is impossible without floriculture and that floriculture is necessary for innovation in the greenhouse sector. How do you advance the green transition by consuming gas and why can’t you innovate in the greenhouse sector with just vegetables and fruits? One of these floriculture lobbyists doesn’t shy from exaggerating, arguing that flowers and plants supplied by floriculture are essential to our mental health. There’s no doubt that our ancestors who had no floriculture must have all been severely depressed during the winters, when they couldn’t buy flowers at all.

This is illustrative for the actions of this cabinet and a large part of the Dutch population. Total unwillingness to deal with even the slightest of painful measures. ‘Painful’ is actually a misnomer, it’s more appropriate to speak of reducing our self-indulgence. Next to giving up on floriculture there are many other easy measures to devise for quickly reducing gas consumption.

We should stop with floriculture and use those greenhouses to cultivate vegetables or fruits without fossil fuels. Ban patio heaters and ban heated shops with permanently opened doors. Ban artificial ice rinks and let those who want to go ice skating take train to colder places in Europe where they can do so outdoors. Rebuild heated swimming pools to outdoor swimming pools where water will warm up naturally for five months of the year. If you insist on swimming in the winter, just use a wetsuit. While such choices are hard and will face resistance, they would deliver. An obligation to replace domestic gas boilers with (hybrid) heat pumps from 2026 onwards is not going to help us right now.

There are of course many people who have difficulties with paying their energy bill. We have to support this group financially of course. But on the matters I’ve discussed above it is possible to give up on. Because while we here are worrying about our floriculture, the Ukrainian people are being robbed of their land and butchered.

New lows in the Russo-Ukrainian War

It never occurred to me that I could be shot randomly on the street. While I’m riding my bicycle to work, or after buying a bag of potatoes at my supermarket. The dead men on the photos of the Bucha massacre apparently couldn’t imagine this either. I saw those photos of Ukrainians lying dead next to their bicycles and their groceries. They are just some of the victims of the Russian military which didn’t have the luxury of ending up in a mass grave. This enraged me.

It doesn’t really come a surprise, after all the news that the Russians are regularly shelling hospitals and childcare centers. After the news of looting and the rape of Ukrainian minors. The Russians aren’t liberators, but a pillaging band of savages. They are far from liberating the Ukrainians from a Nazi regime, they are behaving like the Nazis themselves.

While the Russian war crimes anger me, so does the Western reluctance to come to the aid of Ukraine. It’s astounding that there still isn’t a ban on buying Russian gas, oil and coal. Yes, especially Germany could be hit hard by a ban on Russian gas. There might be discussion on how hard, whether it’s manageable or crushing, but I’m sure it’s incomparable to the devastation Ukraine has suffered. Ukraine sustained $100 billion in damages just to infrastructure in less than a month after the Russian invasion. That’s more than half of Ukraine’s GDP. We have to be willing to share in the economic pain in this war. That ban should have already been in place weeks ago because the dependence on Russian gas is holding us back from serious aid to Ukraine. With serious aid I don’t mean sanctions and supplying arms to Ukraine while we stand by and look on.

We supposedly live in a world order in which we solve conflicts peacefully and denounce wars of aggression. The first article of the Charter of the United Nations reads as follows:

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

The UN has failed terribly in this regard. Russia was able to invade Ukraine under international protest, but only the Western UN members have enacted serious sanctions against Russia. If the UN doesn’t enforce its Charter, if it does nothing to stop this blatant war of aggression and the war crimes, it’s obvious that aggressors can just ignore the UN.

The UN should be reformed to be more effective. Obviously the UN Security Council with its veto powers needs to be abolished. If we take the UN Charter seriously any war of aggression should result in an automatic declaration of war by all UN members on the aggressor. Somewhat similar to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty which is the basis of NATO. I know this is problematic because there have been precedents. The USA ignored the UN as well when it started the Iraq War, for example. Of course the non-aggression principle should apply to everyone, including the West. Perhaps only the UN should be able to authorize invasions in special cases such as genocide, as it happened in Rwanda or Yugoslavia for example.

The UN doesn’t do its job and NATO isn’t able to intervene because Ukraine is not a NATO member. The individual states of the West and the USA in particular is our last hope. If a world order based on non-aggression isn’t worth defending, then what is? We shouldn’t be waiting for more destruction in Ukraine before we intervene. The fact that Russia invaded Ukraine without any provocation is sufficient reason for Western military intervention on behalf of Ukraine. Anything else is cowardice and selfishness. Russian threats of using nuclear weapons should not be an excuse for non-intervention; we are lost if Russia can get away with everything under threats of deploying them. We have nuclear weapons too. We should not rest until we have routed all of those filthy Russian child murderers from Ukrainian soil and the country is restored to its pre-2014 borders.

Now that we are discussing arms shipments to Ukraine, can we also send them some cruise missiles? I’d love to see them used against the 19 kilometers long Crimean Bridge, which was built by the Russians after their annexation of the Crimea. It cost the Russians $3.7 billion to construct, so it would settle the score somewhat regarding the damages to infrastructure and would be a blow to Russian prestige. Just give some advance warning so no one gets hurt when they pass over the bridge.

To stop Russia, the West needs to raise the stakes

Two days ago Russia sent troops to the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics on Ukraine’s eastern border. Russia has threatened Ukraine with military conflict for months already. It accused the West of fearmongering when Western leaders said a Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent. Meanwhile it assured us that it didn’t seek a military conflict with Ukraine and that it was pulling back its troops. Unsurprisingly, the Russian leadership was full of lies again.

I’ve written about how the West dealt with Russia before, around April last year. Back then Russia intimidated Ukraine with a massive build-up of troops on Ukraine’s border for several weeks, but ultimately decided to pull back. Back then I already wrote that the West was being too soft on Russia. This time West is responding more severely and stated that sanctions will be tougher. Canceling the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and cutting Russia off from the SWIFT financial transaction system for banks is no joke. Arms were shipped to Ukraine as well to make an invasion more costly for Russia. However, the message of the West was still that if Ukraine was invaded, it’s on its own.

That refusal to aid Ukraine militarily is cowardice. Russia’s dictator Putin isn’t impressed by the sanctions I just mentioned, even if they are more harsh than before. His calculation is that he can deal with them and that it will blow over, just like it did after the invasion of Crimea. Even if Russia gets cut off from SWIFT and Nord Stream 2 gets canceled, Europe will still want to buy Russian gas. Putin has never been seriously opposed by the West and he can escalate tensions as much as he wants. If de-escalation doesn’t work on him, the West must start escalating itself. Any action taken by the West must threaten Putin with significant negative outcomes. If the West wants peace, it needs to prepare for war; si vis pacem, para bellum.

Here’s what I would do. First of all, the West should station military forces on Ukraine’s territory. Just tell the Russians that it’s for a military exercise and that they don’t need to worry. It’s the same as the Russians have been telling us all the time when they were building up forces near the Ukrainian border. The goal is not to start a military conflict, but to deter Russia from invading Ukraine any further. If Russia would do so, it would risk a big war with the West. That’s not something Putin would be willing to risk. I’m tired of hearing this excuse that direct military support can’t be given because Ukraine is not a NATO-member; nothing is holding back Western states from offering direct military support to Ukraine on an individual basis instead of via NATO.

Next, the West should abandon its reluctance to offer NATO-membership to Ukraine in spite of the Russian occupation of parts of its territory. Threaten Russia that Ukraine will be invited to join if Russia doesn’t back down. Ukrainian NATO membership is exactly what Russia wants to avoid.

Then, threaten Russia with two absolutely crushing sanctions: closing off the Bosporus and the Danish straits for all shipping to and from Russia. Because Russia’s largest ports and naval bases are all situated in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, it would be devastating for its economy and navy. These measures are feasible because even the Øresund between Denmark and Sweden is no wider than four kilometers at its narrowest point. Sure, it would require shelving the Montreux Convention and the Copenhagen Convention which made these straits international waterways open to all. But both Turkey and Denmark are NATO-members which are not on good terms with Russia. Only Sweden isn’t, but perhaps they could be persuaded.

Of course the West should entice Russia to back down by proposing an attractive compromise so Russia can save face. This compromise would require Russia to abandon the lands it occupies in Ukraine and Georgia. In return, Russia is promised that Ukraine and Georgia will not become NATO-members. Russia also gets a free lease of its naval base in Sevastopol (in the Crimea) for something like fifty years. It already leased the Sevastopol naval base before the pro-Western revolution in Ukraine. Of course more detailed agreements about arms control and troop deployments on the borders of NATO members and Russia should be included as well. The aforementioned threats to compel Russia to accept this compromise should be discussed behind closed doors so that Russia is not humiliated publicly. Russia could then present its gains from the compromise with its head held high.

Population exchange and trading territory as a solution for Bosnia and Herzogovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina is close to falling apart because the Serbian part of the country is moving towards secession. The Serbs have already withdrawn from the federal parliament and now threaten to withdrawn their troops from the federal army as well, in order to form their own army. They want complete autonomy in their part of the country.

When the Bosnian War was ended with the Dayton Treaty in 1992 the country was transformed into a federal state. It was divided in two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the Islamic Bosniaks and Catholic Croats and the Republika Srpska for the Orthodox Serbs. I don’t get why they thought back then that this would work out. A federal state like Belgium already has difficulty in functioning properly while its two populations are still able to work together. It was easy to predict that a federal state with three population groups which hate each other is especially disfunctional. Sometimes we have to acknowledge that the fires of nationalism burn too hot and that we can’t impose a multi-ethnic state.

That’s why it would be best if both entities became independent and would exchange some populations and trade some territories. This has been done before in the past, such as between Greece and Turkey in 1923 after the Greco-Turkish War. Turkey and Greece agreed on a forced population exchange, which moved Christians from Turkey to Greece and Muslims from Greece to Turkey. In modern eyes this was a violation of human rights, but it was effective in preventing ethnic conflict.

To respect human rights this could be done with referenda today. First, both entities should agree on organizing a referendum on independence. This would only be possible if the sovereignty over the Brčko District, which is currently shared by both entities, would be transferred to the Republic. Otherwise that state would be split in two and wouldn’t have a continuous landmass. North of the Brčko District lies the Posavina Canton, which is part of the Federation. We should prevent this Canton from becoming an exclave of the Federation after the independence of the Republic. To do so, the inhabitants should be allowed to vote in a referendum on whether they want to be part of Croatia or the Republic. The majority of inhabitants of this Canton are Croats after all.

To reach agreement on referenda the Republic could make a concession to the Federation to trade the districts south of Banja Luka for the aforementioned territories. These districts currently form a large salient in the territory of the Federation. Trading these territories would smoothen the borders. These districts have Serb majorities, but are sparsely populated with just a few ten thousands of inhabitants. The Serb inhabitants can decide voluntarily to move to the Republic and receive financial compensation if they do so. Vice versa the same counts for Bosniaks and Croats, even if they don’t live in territories to be traded.

The Bosniaks and Croats seem to be able to get along with each other better. Still it would be a good idea to organize referenda in the municipalities in the south and southwest of the Federation and allow the inhabitants to decide on joining Croatia or remaining in the Federation. These municipalities have Croatian majorities. Note that the southern border of Bosnia and Herzegovina with Croatia is quite suboptimal. Currently the Croatian shoreline is interrupted by the municipality of Neum, which is part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This municipality has a large majority of Croats however.

At the same time there is also unrest in Kosovo on Serbs which want secession. There are Serb majorities in a few municipalities in the north of Kosovo. Give them the option to vote in a referendum on joining Serbia as well. In exchange, Kosovo can demand that Serbia will finally recognize its statehood, which Serbia is still refusing.

In the magazine Politico they write that we should send a NATO-force to prevent further escalation by the Republic and Serbia, but I don’t see how this can be a structural solution. We have to acknowledge that the Dayton Treaty was a mistake and that we can’t simply smother nationalist desires for independence. You can’t impose a multi-ethnic state on peoples who don’t want to work together. The Republic and Serbia may be irresponsible and escalating the matter, but the nationalist desire for a nation state (one state for one people) isn’t unreasonable. Ethnic conflict in multi-ethnic state has always been the red thread in history. Nationalism and the formation of nation states has often been a good solution for that. See for example the Italian Unification, the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the dissolution of Austria-Hungary and the Soviet Union. We don’t judge these events negatively. In the first three cases it was accomplished with war, so let’s strive to realize it by democratic means. Just let me sit at the negotiation table as a diplomat!

Do reasonable vaccine refusers exist?

Last Friday there was a Dutch news item reporting that the amount of hospital beds occupied with COVID19-patients is rising rapidly. Of this group, about 80 percent is not vaccinated. We read that this leads to frustration with hospital personnel. After all, if those patients did have vaccinations their chance of ending up in a hospital would have been much smaller. If they would have gotten a vaccination, the hospital personnel wouldn’t have been so exhausted. Nor would it have been necessary to postpone so many surgical procedures because of the COVID19-patients which keep the Intensive Care beds occupied.

In the same news item is a video report on two vaccine refusers. They present themselves as reasonable people with principal objections, not anti-vaxxers with conspiracy theories. But are there arguments so reasonable? Let’s evaluate them:

  1. I don’t trust the long-term side effects because they are unknown.
  2. Vaccines have been tested on healthy people, while I have heart- and lung issues. That’s why I want more about the side effects first.

Even more arguments from another news item:

  1. I see COVID19 as comparable with the Mexican flu and I survived that disease. I don’t take an ordinary flu vaccine either and I’m afraid to combine the vaccine with my rheumatism medication.
  2. I’ve had bad experiences with medication in the past, side effects of vaccines are unclear and after a vaccination I’m still vulnerable for COVID19.
  3. I’m 44 years old and healthy. I think that there’s a minimal risk of COVID19 being dangerous for me. After all, I step into my car each day as well with the minimal risk of a deadly car accident.
  4. I’ve already had COVID19 and was okay again after a week without entering a hospital. I think vaccines have been developed to quickly and that there still is too much uncertainty over the side effects.

The unknown side effects on the long term are minimal. The vaccine was also tested on and judged to be safe for those with underlying medical conditions, including those with heart- and lung diseases. Especially that group of people is at a greater risk of severe illness from COVID19, so they have much more to gain from a vaccine. Same for the person with the rheumatism medication. While the vaccine doesn’t protect from infection completely, it does slow the spread of COVID19. Those who have already lived through an infection still benefit from a vaccine because it’s unclear how much resistance they’ve built up after a first infection.

Let’s take a look at the 44 years old man who compared COVID19 with a car accident. In 2020 there were 60 men in the age group of 40 to 50 years who died of COVID19. The amount of male traffic deaths in 2020 in the same age group was 38 however. If we consider that merely a third of all people who died in traffic that year was inside a car, you end up with 12 deaths in that age group as a consequence of a car accident. Probably the 60 male COVID19 victims would have already been in bad health as opposed to the healthy 44 year old, but on the whole COVID19 is a factor four more lethal for these man than driving in a car. While it was interesting to investigate the statistics, it’s irrelevant. My objection to this argument is that it’s a bad comparison. Dying of COVID19 is mostly preventable by taking a vaccine, which gives almost no side effects. Using a car is unavoidable for many people who need to get to work.

The arguments of vaccine refusers seem to originate from a lack of information on the one hand. If have doubts on medical care I consult my general practitioner and don’t make all kinds of wild assumptions myself. On the other hand they seem arrogant to me. How do they know for certain that there hasn’t been enough research on side effects of vaccines? They didn’t have any relevant education like medicine, epidemiology or virology and have no expert knowledge on the subject. If you do not have that, you trust on the knowledge and ability of a specialist.

Then there’s a special category of vaccine refusers with strong religious convictions. Especially in the municipality of Staphorst the vaccination coverage is, except for Urk, the lowest in The Netherlands with just 48%. Not surprisingly the infections in this municipality are rising the fastest and the neighboring hospital in Zwolle has to deal with a huge influx of COVID19 patients. What are their arguments?

The deeply religious Protestants from Staphorst which were interviewed by RTV Oost explain this. It all comes down to trust in God according to the vaccine refusers. He decides whether we get ill or not. Taking a vaccine to prevent us from getting ill is therefore a violation of that trust in God. For the same reason they don’t like insurance in Staphorst. But medical treatment and taking medication is okay, because treating an illness is different from preventing an illness.

I think this strict interpretation of God’s will goes very far. There’s nothing in the Bible about vaccines being undesirable. In some way I can understand their reasoning, but I still think it’s a weak argument. It doesn’t make clear why medical treatment doesn’t violate trust in God, while a vaccine would be in violation. But none of this is relevant because the Bible demands the faithful to love their neighbors. Love for the health care heroes which become ever more exhausted by the influx of vaccine refusers at the Intensive Care unit. Love for other patients who see their surgeries postponed again and again. The question for those living in Staphorst is what comes first: trust in God or love for thy neighbor, or the other way around?

The vaccine refusers already receive a lot of criticism from people who think they’re antisocial. Sometimes others are simply right about the consequences of your stubborn and antisocial behavior. It’s great that vaccine refusers can be so principled in this country. The pulmonary physicians are on the losing end however, with mountains of unpaid overtime in the evening and on their days off.

If vaccine refusers want to be so pricipled and refuse a vaccine, they should also be consequential and refuse health care for COVID19. But when push comes to shove these people are cowards and don’t have the backbone. Let’s help them to remain loyal to their principles by no longer admitting anyone who refused a vaccine to the Intensive Care unit for COVID19. No more life-saving treatment for them, just palliative care to sedate them when they bite the dust in the terminal phase of COVID19. I think the group of vaccine refusers would disappear like snow before the sun with such a prospect.

High-speed rail in France should be faster

In my previous post I wrote about my holiday in Biarritz, but I would like to reflect on the high-speed train I used to travel there separately.

First I used the tram and metro to travel from The Hague to Rotterdam. In Rotterdam I used the Thalys high-speed train to travel through Antwerp and Brussels to Paris, stopping at Gare du Nord. Not surprisingly, this station lies north of the center of Paris. Then it was necessary to travel with metro line 4 from Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse, which lies southwest of the center of Paris. There I used the TGV high-speed train to travel through Bordeaux, Dax and Bayonne before exiting the train at Biarritz.

Travel times are as follows:

  1. The leg between Rotterdam and Gare du Nord took 2:37 hours on the outward journey and 3:05 on the return journey.
  2. The transfer and waiting in Paris required 1:12 hours on the outward journey and 2:14 on the return journey.
  3. The leg between Gare Montparnasse and Biarritz took 4:16 hours on the outward journey and 4:13 on the return journey.

I noticed several things. The journey time between Rotterdam and Gare du Nord varies quite a bit. For some reason Google Maps suggests a trip which combines a different metro line with a bus, rather than just using metro line 4. The transfer with metro line 4 actually requires no more than 20 minutes for the metro itself and 20 minutes to get from the metro to the train stations. Especially on the return journey, a lot of time was wasted on the transfer. Unlike the TGV Euroduplex, the Thalys is not a double-deck train, so boarding is less efficient. Because the train is so long the passengers need more time to walk to their wagon on the platforms.

According to The Train Line, the distance between Rotterdam and Gare du Nord is 370 kilometers and the distance from Gare Montparnasse to Biarritz is 668 kilometers. The maximum speed of the TGV Euroduplex (on normal commercial routes) is 320 kilometers per hour, which the train did actually reach (it’s shown on the monitors in the train) between Paris and Bordeaux. The distance between Paris and Bordeaux is 499 kilometers and it takes the TGV Euroduplex on average 2:20 hours to cross this distance.

So with this information we can do some calculations on the average speed:

  1. Rotterdam to Paris: 141 km/h (assuming 2:37 travel time)
  2. Paris to Bordeaux: 214 km/h
  3. Bordeaux to Biarritz: 90 km/h (assuming 1:53 travel time)

It makes sense that Rotterdam to Paris is slower than Paris to Bordeaux because the former route has stops in Antwerp and Brussels, while the latter has none. But it doesn’t explain the entire difference. On the route, I noticed that the Thalys slows down significantly at certain parts in Belgium, not just the part of the route where it drives through Antwerp and Brussels where it might cause noise disturbance. The part between Bordeaux and Biarritz is pitifully slow, but that’s because the TGV is driving over ordinary rail there, not dedicated high speed rail.

The journey from Paris to Bordeaux is fast, but the entire journey is way too slow. If we want to reach our climate goals and convince the airline passengers to take the train, things have to be improved.

My improvement plan would look like this:

  1. Dump the Thalys and have a TGV Euroduplex (by the time this hypothetical plan is implemented more likely its successor, the Avelia Horizon) drive all the way from Amsterdam to destinations in France and further.
  2. Build a new TGV station for all TGV trains heading to Paris, so that a transfer to a different train station in Paris will no longer be necessary. This is already the case in Madrid, where a tunnel was constructed to connect the Chamartin and Atocha railway stations for high-speed trains. Such a dedicated TGV station should obviously be located on the outskirts of Paris and would necessarily require more time for passengers to transfer to the center of Paris in favor of faster TGV traffic around the city.
  3. Start with building high speed rail track from Bordeaux to the Spanish border sooner. Spain is already much closer to completing their high speed rail track to the French border (2023 compared to 2032). Progress on the the LGV Montpellier–Perpignan is even slower. That is the last gap of 150 kilometers on the Mediterranean side of France’s network to the Spanish border. It will be operational by 2040, which is downright shameful.
  4. Reduce the amount of stops after Bordeaux by removing the stop at Dax, which is just a small village with a population of little more than 20,000. Remove the stop at Biarritz as well, because Bayonne is larger and is very close to Biarritz anyway. These extra stops at small towns slow down the journey too much for little gain.

Let’s assume that all these measures are realized and that it’s possible to maintain an average speed of 200 km/h with the stops included. Assuming the distance between Amsterdam to Madrid on the rail network roughly equals their distance of 1.800 kilometers on the road network, travel by high-speed train could take just nine hours. It will surely be expensive, but it’s a matter of political will. Spain has already shown that it’s feasible because its high-speed rail network is much more extensive. Spain’s network is still being expanded significantly and swiftly, while France is lagging behind. If we want to be serious about excellent high-speed rail in France which can compete with air travel, it’s essential that these improvements are implemented.

Why we should stop the Chinese lust for territory

China has been busy during the recent years with occupying the land of its neighbors. In May this year there was news that China secretly built three villages in a remote valley in Bhutan. This fits in a pattern, because last year China also made a claim out of nowhere on the Sakteng nature reserve in Bhutan. In the past this land was even shown on a Chinese map from 2014 to belong to Bhutan. Apparently this is all part of China’s plan to obstruct India, which has border disputes with China for a long time already. Bhutan is located between China and India and is an ally of the latter.

But China doesn’t limit itself to that border. The South China Sea isn’t safe for China’s unfounded territorial claims either. China is repeatedly violating the Exclusive Economic Zone (where only the state owner has rights for fishing and other economic activities) of the Philippines. Even though an international court declined the Chinese claims, China continues its behavior. The Filipino president Duterte at first tried to compromise with China and didn’t enforce the court ruling, but he seems to have lost patience with China now. Next to the Philippines, Malaysia complained about Chinese violation of its airspace in the South China Sea. The United States stated that it would come to the aid of the Philippines as its ally in case of Chinese aggression.

More alarming is the threat of war that China made to Taiwan in case it would declare its independence. China considers Taiwan to be part of China, but that’s twisting history. The Chinese Communist Party came to power only after it had driven out the Republic of China to Taiwan. It’s actually China which was part of Taiwan. The USA responded calmly, with a message that tensions over Taiwan do not need to lead to a confrontation.

Even though the USA push back, this still reminds me too much of the ‘appeasement’ of Nazi Germany in the prelude to the Second World War. To appease Nazi Germany it received a part of Czechoslovakia in the Treaty of Munich. This time nothing is given away formally, but in fact we do allow it to happen: China occupies foreign territory and doesn’t go away. It ignores the complaints of its neighbors and continues on its current footing. China already went too far with its genocide of the Uyghur people, but occupying the territory of other states should be a red line. It’s scandalous that Russia could get away with the annexation of the Crimea, but if the even more powerful China is allowed to go on with this we’re doomed.

The only way to deal with is more assertiveness. We want to avoid an armed conflict, but there’s much more we can do with sanctions. Serious sanctions which hurt Chinese exports severely are seemingly the only thing to make China listen. And that will only work if everyone joins: next to the USA also the neighboring countries of China and the EU. If China occupies land, we could target foreign Chinese property for confiscation, like the harbor of Piraeus near Athens for example. On Taiwan the USA, at the request of Taiwan of course, could build a military base. This is no different from what the USA has done in South Korea and Japan in order to protect its allies. The relation with China would drop to a new low, but it would deter China from a possible invasion of Taiwan.

Too much misinformation in Seaspiracy

Several weeks ago I watched Seaspiracy on Netflix. The documentary manages to engage its viewers well, shocking them with its portrayal of fishing industry. But by the end of the documentary, which concludes that eating fish is unsustainable and advises us to stop doing so, I was already having doubts. What about the mussels we produce in The Netherlands for example? I know mussels are molluscs and not fish, but the documentary also covered shrimp, which are crustaceans. I just want to take care to avoid the word seafood, because that would also include seaweed, which is not under discussion here.

It turns out that mussels feed on plankton already present in seawater, so their production requires no feed and is very sustainable. I went on to read several responses to the film, such as those on the Wageningen University blog, the Sustainable Fisheries website of the University of Washington, Otter Strategies and one published on Inverse. I suggest you read those for yourself because it’s a lot of information to summarize here, but I’ll highlight some of the most important criticisms here.

It turns out that the seas won’t be empty by 2048 and many fisheries are sustainable. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) uses third-party assessors to certify fisheries rather than doing so itself. I still think it’s unfortunate that the MSC didn’t have an interview with the makers of the documentary though. Seaspiracy criticizes aquaculture for it’s use of fish meal as feed for the farmed fish. It turns out that the proportion of fish meal in the diet of farmed fish has already been strongly reduced over the years. Also, it can and likely will be replaced entirely by other more sustainable feed sources, such as insects. In some places in Southeast Asia, freshwater fish are already farmed sustainably without fish meal.

Perhaps the most unnerving image of the whole documentary was a salmon slowly being flayed and eaten alive by sea lice. It appears sea lice are indeed a problem, but they also affect wild salmon. Since a sea lice infection makes salmon unmarketable, fish farmers have a clear incentive to prevent that from happening. I felt Seaspiracy was weak at this point, because all it did was shock the viewer. There was no discussion on statistics or scientific studies on sea lice infections at all.

While the responses to Seaspiracy often point out errors in the ratio of discarded plastic fishing nets and plastic straws claimed in the documentary, they seem to ignore the core of the problem. Why is plastic being used in fishing nets in the first place, I wonder? Fishing nets have been made for thousands of years before the invention of plastic. Since it’s impossible for law enforcement to monitor the deliberate discarding or accidental loss of those fishing nets far out at sea, it seems easier to to make legislation for the production of fishing nets. I hope legislation will be made banning the use of any material which is not biodegradable in fishing nets, such as plastics.

Elsewhere on the Sustainable Fisheries website, there is an interesting comparison based on scientific literature which compares greenhouse gas emissions for several different foods. Beef and aquaculture catfish turn out to be the worst offenders, but the Impossible Burger 2.0 and aquaculture salmon create far less emissions. The winners in terms of emissions however, are captured small pelagic fish, captured whitefish and aquaculture mollusks. They also point out that fish are more nutritious than the Impossible Burger, which contains a large amount of saturated fat.

Small pelagic fish are apparently fish such as anchovies, sardines, mackerel and herring, exactly the kind of fish I like to eat. I also use tuna (with MSC certification), primarily on pizza. I only eat a small amount of fish once or twice a week and considering that these fish species can or could be caught or farmed sustainably, I see no reason to change my behavior.

I do think we should all consult the guides on which fish is sustainable, such as the VISwijzer for those in the Netherlands (also available in English). For example, what surprises me is that the capture critically endangered species like the European eel is still allowed. I know governments have taken some preservation for the eel already, but it looks like they’re not doing enough. This shows that not only our government has a responsibility, but that consumers should also educate themselves on what kind of fish they are buying as long as the government doesn’t get this right.

The West should no longer allow itself to be intimidated by Russia

On 22 April Russia announced that it would pull back a large part of its troops near the eastern border of Ukraine. Earlier this year Russia had built up a military force of 100,000 there, apparently with the goal to intimidate Ukraine. The self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics are located on the eastern border of Ukraine, which rebelled against Ukraine several years ago. We know that Russia provided military support to these rebels (which Russia continues to deny) and enthusiastically provided the inhabitants there with Russian passports. Now Russia’s argument is that it wants to protect its citizens in these rebellious provinces of Ukraine. Russia threatens Ukraine with war if Ukraine would attempt to bring these provinces back under control or if the West gets involved in the situation.

When Russia provided military support to its ally Syria during the Syrian Civil War in 2015, things were different. The West complained that Russia was aiding an authoritarian regime which was violating human rights on a large scale, but implicitly recognized that Russia had a right to help her ally. The West didn’t issue threats that Russian aid to Syria would lead to war between the West and Russia. And now the West does allow itself to be intimidated by Russia if it wants to aid her ally Ukraine? And it doesn’t respond to Russia’s closure of the Strait of Kerch for foreign navy vessels, so that Ukraine’s navy is denied access to its own territorial waters in the Sea of Azov?

Russia can’t have it both ways. If Russia thought it could help Syria, there should be no problem if the West would send military aid to Ukraine to put down the revolt in Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia closes the Strait of Kerch for ships of foreign navies? Then NATO-member Turkey can close the Bosporus for the Russian navy. The West could have done so sooner, as part of more serious sanctions to force Russia to end its occupation of the Crimea. Let Germany stop with building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, for example. We seem to have forgotten that Russia simply conquered the Crimea from Ukraine and that there was never any strong response with sanctions from the West. The sanctions that were implemented did not impress Russia.

An invasion of Donetsk and Luhansk can be justified because Russia continues to claim that it was not involved with those uprisings, but the Crimea was occupied by Russia itself. Because military action against the Crimea can lead to a large military conflict with Russia it seems better to choose the route of sanctions there. Even if that military conflict would come, Russia would be at a disadvantage against the combined military forces of the EU-member states, if we are to believe Binkov’s Battlegrounds. And that doesn’t even include the USA yet, which would of course come to the aid of the EU in such a conflict. Hopefully such a war would remain a conventional conflict without nuclear weapons, but the bottom line is that the West is the one which should be intimidating Russia rather than the other way around.