The Netherlands Would Be a Pretty Nice Future

The Washington Post today has a fascinating article about what would seem to be a dull topic: Netherlands Agriculture Technology. It notes that tiny little Holland, with the land area of Maryland and only 17M people, is the second largest agricultural exporter in the world, after the US. They do it by using vertical farming, immense numbers of greenhouses, and humane treatment of animals.

Kipster hydroponic tomato operation, credit Wpost

They have systematically optimized this. They have massive seed banks for genetic building blocks. They cross-breed everything to improve disease resistance and taste. They tune the growing with respect to lighting, nutrients, and water, and avoid herbicides and pesticides by growing things under glass. They automate most of the handling. They use the waste from all food processing as feed for animals or nutrients for vegetables. They’re about to power it all with offshore wind farms, since Russian gas is, to put it mildly, no longer a reliable supply.

Now they export not only the product itself, but the tech that goes into it – they’re setting up grow operations all over the world. The country has become a classic magnet center for innovation. It’s not for boring stuff like social media software in Silicon Valley, but for the most crucial product of all, food. They do it with good middle-class jobs instead of oppressed immigrants. They’re actually ready for a climate-damaged future.

Well, not if there’s 5 meters of sea level rise. Then they’re screwed, but they can handle a meter or two with more dykes and more pumping. So they can probably handle the loss of Greenland, but the collapse of West Antarctic Ice Sheet would be dicey, and the melting of the East Antarctic Sheet would do them in. They’re living the future that Kim Stanley Robinson talks about in his cli-fi novels, but not in his typical anarchist co-ops. Instead, they’re straight-up capitalists. The Netherlands is actually where capitalism was born in the late 1600s, and they’re well aware of its failure modes.

This may all sound utopian. Kim Stanley Robinson has written about those too, with upbeat novels of the near future like Pacific Edge (1990) and Sixty Days and Counting (2007). Unfortunately, they’re dull. That’s true of most utopian fiction, actually, since we want conflict in our stories. That’s not a problem for real life, though. What we’re seeing in the Netherlands is a welcome economic alternative to the desert dystopias full of armed fundie gangs that has been all over SF and YA for the last decades. This could be a cleaner, richer, more positive future than the ones we obsessively dread.

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