October 4, 2013
While determining where I wanted to study abroad, I looked into—and also stumbled upon—many sources to help me find where I should travel to get the most “sustainable” experience as an Environmental Analysis major. I chose to study in the Netherlands based on what I had studied in my environmental science courses in high school and at Pitzer College. I had also read many newspaper and magazine articles about sustainability in Europe, and how Western Europe was “on the right track” in terms of environmental practices and viewpoints. Upon arriving and learning in Amsterdam, I noticed one main difference between what I was expecting to see here and what I have actually witnessed; the sustainability of the farmlands of the Netherlands that I have learned about is not represented in the city of Amsterdam. Environmental policies of the European Union are not a visible everyday concern in the inner city.
Two courses from the Claremont Colleges provided me with resources about environmental policy in the Netherlands before I travelled to Europe. In European Union Policy at Scripps, we studied the Renewable Energy Directive established by the EU in 2009. For an upper-level environmental economics class at Pomona, Energy Economics and Policy, I wrote a research paper on sustainability in the Netherlands. These courses and documents together gave me a compiled understanding that the Netherlands indeed is working towards less fossil fuel usage, more offshore windmills, and an increased support of second-generation biofuels. Wealthy countries of the EU—including the Netherlands—look to increase sustainability goals by 2020. The Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition is the program that focuses on the business behind sustainability in the Netherlands. The Netherlands plans to make big changes in favor of sustainability. Thinking of the Netherlands and Amsterdam as a white Western European country, it is easy to see how sustainability will be a priority successful here. However, taking immigrants into consideration, the inner city can stray from such goals.
As a student of the very sustainable Pitzer College, a girl from an environmentally responsible home, and now as a resident of the Netherlands, I was expecting to see ample recycling outlets, limited plastic bags, and few cars. While speaking to my professors about being “green” in Amsterdam, many said that the influx of tourists prevents many practices that rural Dutch towns can have. Tourists would throw away plastic bottles, as they might not recycle in their home country, and therefore trying to implement expensive recycling programs would be a waste of resources. It is hard to come by recycling bins around my neighborhood, despite it being in a quieter part of town.
While walking around the city, it is easy to recognize that cycling and walking are the primary modes of transportation in the Netherlands. However, cars and scooters are frequently used and still contribute to pollution. Boats in canals contribute to pollution as well. The Netherlands is an incredibly diverse city with immigrants coming from Eastern Europe, Italy, and the Middle East. As countries that either face economic strife or far larger problems than simply recycling, it is not a surprise that neighborhoods composed of a majority of these ethnicities wouldn’t have sustainability on their mind. In these neighborhoods, especially in East Amsterdam, one can see plenty of grocery stores supplying plastic bags to customers, mopeds racing up and down the streets, and trash along the sidewalks.
As an Environmental Policy major, I am frequently categorized as someone who believes change can be made in terms of sustainability, and that change is currently being made in places outside of the United States. My time in Amsterdam has proven that even places that seem like the ideal location for environmental change are struggling with funding for such issues and social support. Unfortunately, this is the truth that Environmental Analysis majors don’t enjoy thinking about, but still need to accept that this is a reality.