Values in Landscape Transition
|Date:||30 September 2021|
With climate change being one of the main hot topics of this day, there is an increasing sense among the Dutch public that something needs to be done in order to put a halt to this change. Yet, although there seems to be a consensus on the fact that the climate is changing, there is no agreement on how we must react to this challenge. More and more often reports about local resistance against plans for a wind farm or solar park appear in the media. And whereas this resistance is oftentimes framed as a “Not in My Backyard” problem, it appears to be the case that there are more fundamental concerns that give rise to such forms of resistance. These can be found in how people relate to and value the world around them. As long as such concerns will not be taken for what they are, Dutch society is far from finding a durable and efficient solution in which everyone feels heard.
De Rosmalense en Nulandse Polder in the province of Noord-Brabant has been a topic of heated debate between the municipality of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and the local citizens’ initiative GROEN inZICHT. Being tasked with the responsibility of a durable energy transition, the municipality of ‘s-Hertogenbosch announced its plans to build a large wind farm in this polder back in 2018. Based on environmental visions, the municipality deemed the polder less valuable in terms of ecology and cultural history than other landscapes and therefore designated it as an area of transition. However, citizens in the surrounding area did not seem to agree with this new destination for the polder, and formed, in reaction to these plans, the local initiative GROEN inZICHT. Arguing that unique characteristics of the landscape, such as its open character and its function to host a variety of birds, would be lost if the transition were to proceed, GROEN inZICHT resisted the coming of a wind farm and urged for another place to be chosen for the needed energy transition. Three years later no solution has been found and the municipality and the citizens find themselves at a crossroad.
In both the media and politics, opposition of this kind is often framed as a “Not in My Backyard” problem, suggesting that the opposition of the surrounding population is merely existent because it affects their personal space. Framing it this way, the opposition is understood as a selfish attitude on the part of the local citizens, making that their concerns are discredited. Consequently, arguments about the value that a landscape can have for citizens living close by are ignored by both local Dutch governments and the central government of the Netherlands.
This can also be seen in the various vision documents that have been created by the Dutch government. In an attempt to put forward objective and scientific measures in order to decide which landscapes should be used for energy transition and which ones are free of a such a big intervention, the Dutch government has tried to categorize Dutch landscapes based on the interests that they can serve to the country as a whole. Hereby, landscapes that reflect the Dutch national story or are of major importance to the country’s biodiversity are prioritized at the expense of other landscapes such as the Rosmalense and Nulandse Polder. Instead of taking into account the values that local citizens attach to their surrounding landscapes, national identification is thus prioritized above personal identification with a landscape.
This difference in perspective between the Dutch government and local citizens of how they value the landscapes around them can be explained in two ways. First of all it points to the different relationships that one can have with nature. Mirjam de Groot, Martin Drenthen and Wouter de Groot have found that there are four dominant kinds of relationship. And whereas many Dutch citizens would describe their relationship with the surrounding environment as a partnership, it seems to be the case that the Dutch government approaches nature through a more functionalist lens. Dutch policy is still mostly focused on nature as an instrument: areas should have a clear ecological or historical value, otherwise they can be used for other ends such as the needed energy transition or agriculture. This means that the open character of the Rosmalense en Nulandse Polder which is so appreciated by local citizens, becomes undervalued by Dutch policy makers.
Furthermore, this difference points to the dominant position of positivism within Dutch policy. Because of the idea that local values are open to interpretation, as is also suggested by the “Not in My Backyard” discourse, the Dutch government is preoccupied with determining “interests” in order to ensure a fair and rational-decision-making process. This means that objective measures such as the ecological and historical value of a landscape, but also the benefits that it can have for health and tourism, come to determine the value of a landscape. In this process, local values are often overlooked, a tendency that risks missing the potential that these local values could have in finding a solution to the challenges faced by climate change.
The neglect of local value judgements and the preoccupation with positivist and scientific approaches has caused a stalemate in many of the energy conflicts that play at a local level. Feeling that true intentions with regards to how one values the landscape around are not taken seriously, the dialogue has shifted. Instead of merely focusing on the intrinsic value of the Rosmalense and Nulandse Polder, GROEN inZICHT has brought forward several other, more “objective” reasons for their opposition such as noise disturbance, health effects, light pollution, and, also, the culture-historical value of the polder. Yet by focusing on these other concerns, the deeper-lying issue of the relationship that one has with a certain area, such as the highly valued open character of the Rosmalense en Nulandse Polder, remains unaddressed. This causes a situation in which Dutch governments react to “objective” concerns, yet never realising a satisfying solution on the part of the citizens since their concerns regarding the value that the landscape exhibits are never met.
To come to a durable solution for the climate change in which everyone feels heard, it will be needed to expand our understanding of the different relationships that one can have with nature. This variety in relationships causes a difference in the valuation of a certain landscape. Taking value concerns into account will allow Dutch policy makers to better understand local resistance against plans for energy transition and to communicate on the same terms. And although the inclusion of how a landscape is being valued by local citizens might still not create a satisfying solution for all sides, these benefits make it worth to at least try walking this path in order to find a better solution for the needed energy transition.
This post was written as part of the research project Invoking the Sacred: Towards Alternative Strategies Against Climate Conflicts led by Dr. Joram Tarusarira.
 Gemeente ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Visie Energielandschap (Deel A), July 2020, 24.
 Maarten Wolsink, “Wind power implementation: The nature of public attitudes: Equity and fairness instead of ‘backyard motives’,” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 11 (2007): 1199.
 Maarten Wolsink, “Invalid theory impedes our understanding: a critique on the persistence of the language of NIMBY,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 31, no. 1 (2006): 87-88.
 Examples include Gemeente ’s-Hertogenbosch, Visie Energielandschap (Deel A); Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Nationale Omgevingsvisie (NOVI): Duurzaam perspectief voor onze leefomgeving, Den Haag, September 2020.
 Mirjam de Groot, Martin Drenthen, and Wouter T. de Groot, “Public Visions of the Human/Nature Relationship and their Implications for Environmental Ethics,” Environmental Ethics 33 (Spring 2011): 25-44.
 Riyan J.G. van den Bron, Rob H.J. Lenders, Wouter T. de Groot, and Ellen Huijsman, “The new biophilia: an exploration of visions of nature in Western countries,” Environmental Conservation 28, no. 1 (March 2001): 72.
 Jozef Keulartz, Henny van der Windt, and Jacques Swart, “Concepts of nature as Communicative Devices: The Case of Dutch Nature Policy,” Environmental Values 13, no. 1 (February 2004): 95.
 Martin Pasqualetti, Paul Gipe, and Robert Righter, Wind power in View: Energy Landscapes in a Crowded World (San Diego: Academic Press, 2002), 178.
 GROEN inZICHT, De LEEFBARE polder: Duurzaam, Gezond en Eerlijk, 15.