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Dutch peasant protests garner populist support – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

The violent protests by Dutch farmers against the government’s climate plans have caused a stir at home and abroad. Populists around the world have jumped on the bandwagon, and even former US President Donald Trump has backed them.

“We accept any support we can get,” says Jaap Kok, a 62-year-old cattle farmer, standing in a meadow full of cows near Barneveld in the central Netherlands’ agricultural belt.

The farmers have wreaked havoc for weeks, dumping liquid manure and rubbish on the highways, blocking supermarket warehouses with tractors and demonstrating noisily in front of politicians’ houses.

They reject plans to reduce nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands – the world’s second largest agricultural exporter after the United States – by reducing livestock and closing some farms.

While a small group has been blamed for much of the unrest, there have also been large protests involving thousands of tractors.

As the protests made headlines around the world, right-wing officials were quick to pledge their support. In addition to Trump, they include French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Dutch far-right politicians Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet.

“I would have preferred support to come from the left, but it’s fine from the right too,” said Kok, whose own operation is at risk of closure.

“Farmers are always the scapegoats.”

– ‘Very angry’ –

The tiny Netherlands produces huge amounts of food thanks to industrialized agriculture – but at the expense of one of Europe’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters.

This is especially true for nitrogen, much of which is attributed to ammonia-based fertilizers and cattle manure. Agriculture is responsible for 16 percent of all Dutch emissions.

Nitrogen gases play an important role in global climate change. Nitrous oxide is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, as it traps heat in the atmosphere more than 300 times more effectively than carbon dioxide.

The flat landscape of the Netherlands, which is just above sea level, makes it prone to extreme weather conditions.

In July, the Netherlands recorded its third-highest temperature on record – 39.4C in the southern city of Maastricht.

Nitrogen-containing substances are also blamed for damage to plant and animal habitats.

Following a 2019 court ruling that the Netherlands was not doing enough to protect its natural areas from nitrogen pollution, the Dutch government said in June that the only way to meet the 2030 climate targets would be “radical” cuts in agriculture.

In particular, this would reduce the Dutch herd of around four million cows by around 30 percent.

The government has offered around €25 billion to help farmers adapt – but has also warned some closures are possible.

“The farmers are very angry,” said Jos Ubels, vice president of the Farmers Defense Force (FDF), one of the groups coordinating the demonstrations.

“In history, every time there’s a problem with a minority, they have to shout really loud to be heard, so that’s what we’re doing.”

Ubels said his group was not responsible for the roadblocks, saying it was “only organized by local farmers – they are very angry because they are being played with”.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte recently called the protests “life-threatening,” but there is an outpouring of support.

– “Climate Tyranny” –

Upside down Dutch flags – a symbol of the peasant movement – hang from many houses, lamp posts and road bridges.

The Farmers Citizens Movement (BBB), a centre-right party formed in 2019, would increase its current seat in Parliament to 19, according to recent opinion polls.

But her campaign also goes global.

FDF’s Ubels was in Warsaw last week for talks with Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk of Poland’s right-wing populist Law and Justice party-led government.

“I will support the position of Dutch farmers in maintaining production… and I hope their government changes their minds,” Kowalczyk said in a statement.

Trump’s endorsement was also a boost.

“Farmers in the Netherlands, of all people, are bravely standing up to the Dutch government’s climate tyranny,” Trump said at a rally in Florida in July.

In the Netherlands, a recent peasant demonstration in Amsterdam also attracted many conspiracy theorists and Covid skeptics.

British comedian-turned-youtuber Russell Brand recently told his 5.8 million followers that the Dutch farm plan was part of the “Great Reset” – a conspiracy theory that claims world leaders orchestrated the pandemic.

The support “says a lot” and shows that the government’s “absurd” plans “do not hold water,” says Wim Brouwer, a farmer in Barneveld and local president of the main Dutch farming union, the LTO.

Brouwer acknowledged farmers needed to do more to cut emissions but said their sacrifices had already far exceeded those of industry and the transport sector.

“The biggest problem is that we’ve been innovating in agriculture for years, but it’s never enough,” he sighed.

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