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You probably didn’t miss it last week. There is a problem with too much nitrogen in the Netherlands. A lot of people will have thought “where did that come from all of a sudden?” Have never heard of it and then all of a sudden there’s an awful commotion. The newspaper headlines weren’t joking. The whole of the Netherlands was shocked and brought to a standstill. Housing plans, road construction, growth of airports, expansions in the agricultural sector; no less than 18,000 projects are on hold. A few politicians tried to come up with a ploy. Yet slowly but surely, it is starting to sink in that there is no avoiding it. Smart choices have to be made. “Decisions must be made, not everything is possible,” the governmental Remkes Committee said.

Fast food for nature

The ” European rules ” were blamed in many articles. But I am afraid that we ourselves are guilty this time around. We have lived for years on credit and used child-like terms. We have repeatedly postponed tough choices. As a consequence, more and more nitrogen crept in at the expense of our beautiful, unique nature reserves. The quality of nature is deteriorating here in our region as well. Nitrogen is actually a fast food for nature; consequently many plants and animal species do not survive years of exposure to fast food. High time for a nitrogen diet for nature.

The whole situation reminds me of one of Lucebert’s most famous lines of poetry (Amsterdam, 1924 – Alkmaar, 1994), namely ‘everything of value is defenseless‘ from the 1974 Dutch poem ‘De zeer oude zingt’ (The very old one sings ).

The very old one sings:

there is not more with so little
nor is there less
still unsure what was
what will be, will be will-less
firstly if it is, it is serious
it recollects itself desperate
and is kept in great haste

everything of value is defenseless
made rich by its tangibility
and equal to everything

like the heart of time
like the heart of time


For the past 45 years since the publication of this poem, that one iconic phrase ‘everything of value is defenseless‘ has proved to be topical over and over again. But in 2019, the Dutch Council of State finally corrected what should have happened long ago. At long last – an end to defenselessness. After all these years, a brief, but hopeful new sentence may tentatively be made: everything of value is ageless.

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Floris Beemster, Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels en Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.