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I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.... People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.

~Alice Walker, The Color Purple, 1982
U.S. and the Netherlands: a comparison of attitude toward energy. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Andrea Canelos   
Sunday, December 23 2007



A Sea of Bicycles: Thousands of bikes parked at the Nijmegen train station. Think of the real estate, and economic and environmental impacts that would be required to accommodate an equal number of automobiles! 

This article was orignally published in July, 2001 in the Central Florida Sierran Newsletter by the Sierra Club, Central Florida Group. Writen just before the attacks on September 11th, it highlights an attitude toward transportation choices that go beyond which ROAD to travel, but instead with MODE to travel.


On a recent trip to the Netherlands, I had the opportunity to experience Dutch culture firsthand and to witness the obvious differences between Dutch and American people. The most striking contrast was seen in transportation and the many options available in the Netherlands, including biking, walking, trains, busses, taxis and cars. While these options exist in some US cities, the difference was in the supporting infrastructure, wide-spread use, and conveniences available.

In the Netherlands, bicycles have the unequivocal perch at the top of the totem pole due to their cost and convenience. Cars and pedestrians alike must yield to bikes, cities are connected together by a network of trails, and bicycle lanes (including traffic lights) provide safe passage in and around cities. Many bike racks were available, however there were so many bikes it was not uncommon to see several resting against the nearest building or fence. And there is the added benefit of fitness…the obesity rate among the Dutch appears to be very low.

Trains and busses are also popular because they are conveniently located within walking distance to business districts or downtown areas and they are very reliable.

The cars driven by the Dutch paint a striking contrast to the SUV(s) parked in many US garages. The cars are much smaller, which is a necessity because of narrower streets, limited (and very tight) parking, much higher gas prices (about $4/gallon) and high property taxes that are based on vehicle weight. There was also a good presence of hybrid vehicles.

Another contrast between American and European cultures is seen in the buildings and the layout of cities and towns. The buildings are built to last centuries, featuring quality building materials such as tile roofs. City centers often feature pedestrian-only areas that were hubs for shopping and dining. Due to tighter urban boundaries, lots and homes are smaller and many people live in condominiums. The small yards were typically well maintained, with the rest of the surrounding landscape left natural, farmed, or maintained as parks that can be enjoyed by everyone. I found this layout to be quite appealing because it promoted a sense of community and sharing as well as providing a foundation that can be supported by public transportation.

Such a large infrastructure requires help from the Dutch government, who has historically played an active roll in energy issues. The government agency for energy and the environment, called NOVEM (, promotes environmental improvement, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, and acts as a regulatory board for Long Term Agreements (LTA) with companies who agree to improve energy efficiency. A study by Utrecht University found that between 25-50% of energy efficiency improvements in industry were a result of LTA’s. And some of NOVEM’s public awareness campaigns have been very successful. One 1994 campaign strove to increase the purchases of energy-efficient light bulbs. The result was 2 million additional  bulbs purchased that year.

Quantifying the overall attitude of the Dutch people is more difficult. Like the United States, the Netherlands is a country where the people have a many personal freedoms, a good standard of living (including jobs, homes, schools and hospitals), and want what’s best for their families. But they look further into the future and recognize that their actions today, even minor ones such as turning off computer monitors at work, play a key role in the fate of their children’s children. They embrace public transportation as a way of life instead of looking negatively upon it; they use scythes instead of weedeaters; they value family time and down-time more than the toys they can buy if they were to work excessive hours.

And they are not letting America off the hook! I spoke with some Dutch people who were upset that the US continues to waste energy and buy more than our share of the world’s oil supply instead of conserving resources and spending money on alternative sources of energy. I couldn’t agree more. We can learn from the Dutch. They have successfully shown that making conservation efforts and investment in alternative energy sources a major part of an energy plan makes a big difference.

Last Updated ( Sunday, December 23 2007 )
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