On 15 November, Annemarie Heite was awarded the Ubbo Emmius Badge in the Aula of the Academy Building. The UG alumna received the badge for her unique contribution to making a broad audience aware of the earthquake problems in and around the Groningen gas field due to gas production. The Ubbo Emmius Badge is presented by the Groningen University Fund (GUF) every five years to a person of special social or academic merit.
Heite received the badge for following in the footsteps of Ubbo Emmius himself, one of the founders of the University of Groningen and an advocate of the people's right to defy the government. Where the context was a religious and political one in Emmius’ day, it is now the economic and political context of gas extraction. Heite knows how to express, imagine and personalize the distress in Groningen like no other.
A personal approach to the earthquake problems was also Heite's answer to the question central of the symposium prior to the award ceremony, entitled Gaswinning, aardbevingen en wat nu
(‘Gas extraction, earthquakes, what to do?’). Her speech advocated for the adoption of a holistic approach, away from all the offices and intermediaries, to fill the gap between the people and the system. This approach calls for a combination of damage repairs, reinforcements, sustainability efforts and the offering of an economic future in order to create opportunities for Groningen. Heite showed herself to be not only critical but also assertive and optimistic. 'Optimism is a duty' says Heite, quoting philosopher Karl Popper.
The badge was presented by the new President of the Board of the University, Jouke de Vries. In his speech, he referred to the documentary entitled De Stille Beving ('the silent quake'), in which Heite's home and family play a central role. De Vries was touched by the image of the owl who had been living in Heite's barn for years but lost his home when most of the house had to be demolished. To De Vries, the owl symbolized wisdom and vigilance and, as such, academia itself. Has academia been vigilant enough when it comes to the earthquake issues, De Vries even wondered. And when the owl lost his home, had wisdom not left the discussion long before?
De Vries also praised Heite for her ability to voice the problem, also to the media, thus putting the earthquakes higher on the political agenda. The University of Groningen has awarded her this badge for her efforts to raise awareness of how much the Netherlands as a whole has benefited from its natural gas reserves while the population in the affected regions has mainly suffered the adverse consequences.
Annemarie Heite's speech can be found here (in Dutch).
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