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Beyond Polderen: Exposing the Voids of Environmental Justice in the Netherlands by Claudia Rot

Within the discourse of environmental justice, burnout manifests itself as the burden of externalities of environmental problems and climate change on marginalised communities. Environmental justice advocates for the equitable distribution of environmental risks and benefits. Since its theoretical conception in the United States, environmental justice has been adopted in many countries, predominantly in the Global South. Shockingly, there is no term for environmental justice in the Dutch language. The notion of sustainability in the Netherlands is limited to finding technocratic solutions, ignoring the intersectionality of environmental problems, and the societal aspect of sustainability. This notion has resulted in a paradox in which on one side there exists the international reputation of the Netherlands as an environmentally friendly country, while on the other side, the country continues to exacerbate fossil fuel capitalism.

During my Fellowship I will start to dismantle this paradox by exploring and exposing the historical, societal, and spatial contexts of this linguistic void of environmental justice. I will do this by using a radically participatory and intersectional approach to alternative epistemologies, focusing on the building and expanding of a Dutch framework for environmental justice and a network of environmental justice ‘accomplices’.

Jury comments

Beyond Polderen aims to unpack and challenge the Dutch notion of sustainability by addressing the absence of a term for environmental justice in the Dutch language. The proposal points out that the Dutch understanding of sustainability is limited to finding technocratic solutions, thereby ignoring the intersectionality of environmental problems and their societal aspects. The jury acknowledges Claudia’s precise, participatory and intersectional approach to dismantle the paradox that lies in the fact that, on the one hand, the Netherlands holds an international reputation for being an environmentally friendly country, while on the other hand the country continues to perpetuate fossil fuel capitalism. Interestingly, Claudia draws a parallel between this paradox and the way in which the Netherlands hides forms of structural racism behind a veil of supposed tolerance and progressiveness.

The jury recognises the ambition and urgency of the project, the need to expose the dichotomies between environmentally privileged and marginalised communities, and to connect the Netherlands’ colonial histories of land reclamation to contemporary practices of climate adaptation. The project has a strong potential for making interventions in the Dutch context, by combining theoretical analysis with a participatory environmental mapping project, at the intersection of social justice and environmentalism.

The jury supports the proposal’s critical engagement with the Dutch notion of ‘polderen’ and the ‘poldermodel’ in order to look into the fragmentation of social and environmental organisations, and to contribute to the re-politicisation of sustainability practices in the Netherlands. Finally, the jury invites Claudia to develop further the proposed methodologies, and specify possible levels of intervention that are at stake in the proposal, with the aim to foster strategic and sustainable alliances. 

Delany Boutkan, Marten Kuijpers, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Setareh Noorani
Alex Walker