A sustainable future is neither feasible nor affordable

It was Sustainable Tuesday last week. This sustainability ‘Budget Day’ has brought together politicians and innovators for 23 years in a drive to join forces. This year, Deputy Minister Steven van Weyenberg of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management received a suitcase filled with 414 innovative ideas from all corners of society. And Werner Schouten, the number 1 of Trouw’s Sustainable 100 and chairman of the Young Climate Movement, read the ‘Sustainable Speech from the throne’. In the audience were social entrepreneurs, politicians, policy makers, representatives from large corporates, civil society organisations and the media. A festive occasion – until Werner started reading his speech. Because Werner was angry.

Feasible and affordable

He started his speech with the words: “I expect I’ll still be around in 2100. Can you imagine what life will be like then?” Those two short sentences really hit home with the audience. Most of those present had read the IPCC report, or the summary at least, and – combined with the examples given by Werner, such as heat waves, war and mass migration by climate refugees – it was clear that this wasn’t something to look forward to. Werner demanded generational justice so that we can prevent this disastrous scenario from materialising. A liveable future for young generations, he explained “is a non-negotiable principle for policy-making.” His criticism was aimed mainly at the fact that politicians see sustainability as an option ‘only if feasible and affordable’, rather than as a necessary precondition for any policy.

414 initiatives in search of support

The question when something is feasible and affordable kept going around in my mind. Even when

various innovative and promising initiatives, such as Dutch-grown tea, banana bread made from , a green wall that collects water and offers cool relief, and , were given a stage. All these initiatives contribute to a sustainable society with less waste, less CO2 emissions, less plastic, or climate-proof cities, and therefore have a positive impact on society. But were they ‘feasible and affordable’? An analysis of these initiatives showed that almost everyone was in search of publicity, donations or investments to further develop their idea, so perhaps the answer is: not yet now.

Enabling sustainable breakthroughs

Deputy Minister Steven van Weyenberg accepted the suitcase filled with initiatives and praised the initiators’ mentality, their drive to take action, force breakthroughs and bring about systemic change. He shared with the audience that he can’t stand the terms feasible and affordable and that the government should indeed create the conditions needed to help the initiators enable sustainable breakthroughs. And so I went home in high spirits after all.


Thousands of signatures

I again saw Steven van Weyenberg a few days later. This time, he was presented with thousands of signatures from children, teachers and other educators by Tinga made a 300-kilometre tour through the Netherlands on a SUP board (Stand up Paddling) to collect these signatures and force a breakthrough – to separate waste at schools. Surprisingly, this is not (yet) allowed by law. Here too, Van Weyenberg didn’t mince his words. “He was simply going to make this happen.” And again I went home in high spirits.

Too politically sensitive

That lasted until, later that afternoon, I read the news that the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy – in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality – had scrapped an appeal to eat less meat from a public campaign designed to make people more climate-conscious. Why? Because eating less meat was too politically sensitive. I thought again of Werner Schouten’s words. Eating less meat may be a precondition for a liveable planet for future generations, but apparently it is not ‘feasible and affordable’. Despite politicians’ fine words and against their better judgement, many political choices are still about short-term interests and returns at the expense of future generations. Werner – and many with him – will have to fight a fierce battle for generational justice in order to be able to lead a normal life in 2100.