What the Dutch Can Teach Us About Clean Air

BY ON December 7, 2012

A bicycle in the Netherlands

When we think about the Netherlands, we imagine tulips, windmills…and bicycles. Not only does the Netherlands have the largest number of cyclists in the world, it is also the safest place to ride a bike — largely because of its well-planned, high quality bicycle infrastructure. The system enables families to pedal to almost any destination, enhancing their health and reducing vehicle emissions.

This infrastructure didn’t just spring up out of nowhere. The Dutch people demanded it (see video below). It resulted from mass public protests fueled by collective outrage over the intolerable number of traffic deaths; economic issues brought on by the 1973 oil crisis; and the political will of the country’s leadership to find solutions.

Call me crazy, but I see parallels to, and lessons from, what the Dutch did to create a bicycling culture that relate to today’s fight for clean air.

First, both of these battles are public health issues. In 1971 alone, traffic deaths of bicyclists in the Netherlands reached 3,300. More than 400 of those deaths were children under the age of 14.

Air pollution, which is worsened by our warming planet, aggravates asthma, one of the most common, serious diseases among children. There are more than 3,300 asthma deaths per year in the U.S. — matching the 1971 cyclist mortality rate in the Netherlands. And the death rate due to asthma for children under 19 years of age has risen 80% since 1980.

And if the asthma statistics aren’t enough, there is also the health threat caused by superstorms like Hurricane Sandy — another side effect of global warming — which took more than 100 lives in the U.S. alone.

We should be outraged!

Just as the oil crisis provided economic motivation for action in the Netherlands, so too should asthma, which carries an economic cost of $56 billion annually in medical costs from hospital stays, and in lost school and work days.

And, all by itself, Hurricane Sandy has racked up an estimated bill of $50 billion and counting.

We have outrage. We have economic motivation. We even have emergencies like Sandy that put climate change front and center. What we need more of is political will on the part of our leaders to go against the interests of corporate polluters, and act in our interests to protect our health.

Like the Dutch, we must keep our leaders’ feet to the fire. They won that brilliant bicycle infrastructure by protesting in large numbers, wielding signs that said “Stop the Child Murder!” Given the aforementioned asthma statistics, that message would be equally true if used in a demonstration demanding action on climate change.

Halting climate change is a bigger and more complex task than building bike paths, but we should take a lesson from the Dutch, and persistently demand the clean air we are entitled to.

Here at Moms Clean Air Force, we provide a number of ways you can take action. But we are always looking for more.

Tell us, how do you think can we make the fight for clean air into a movement that our leaders can’t ignore?


TOPICS: Activism, Asthma, Economics, Pollution