Bureaucrats and fools

Forget about subsidence, rising sea levels and flash flooding. An even greater danger is now threatening the dikes in the Netherlands: Dutch Celebrities. Four of them recently voiced their dissent against the work being done on the Markermeer Dike in Noord-Holland. This primary flood defence protects 1.2 million people in the Netherlands from getting their feet wet feet, or worse. Since 2006, however, almost 50 kilometres of the dike have been officially declared unsafe. More than half of this length (33 km) must be strengthened before 2021. The plans are not yet definitive. Still it is very likely that the 800-year-old barrierwill be undergoing major work. Weak peat soil, listed villages and Natura 2000 are not making the job any easier. Another challenge of a perhaps even greater magnitude is overcoming opposition against the procedure. Project leader Fons Elders, Professor Emeritus in philosophy, found four residents of the dike area who are willing to lend a mediagenic face to his endeavour: astronaut André Kuipers, actress Katja Schuurman, actor Michiel Huisman and the charming professional blowhard Jort Kelder. Schuurman and Huisman are easily brought to tears: wearing a gaze that would be perfect for a fund-raising spot for three-legged puppies with cataracts, they plead to leave the dike alone: ‘Once we tear it down, the dike will be destroyed irreparably.’ Kelder and Elders like to play on people’s sentiments. Kelder refers to the planners as ‘a bunch of bureaucrats’. Elders censures their approach: residents are being ‘misled and cheated’ with ‘fallacies’ and ‘half truths that add up to lies’.

Kuipers adds a bit of scientific flavour to the effort. He has studied the TU Delft satellite images. They allegedly prove that the dike is extremely stable. According to Kuipers, the data on which the plans are based – and thus the plans themselves – are outdated. He argues that other solutions are much better, smarter and less expensive.Moreover, he considers the thousand-year storm scenario against which the dike must legally be calculated is highly improbable and a gross exaggeration: ‘No scenario can eliminate every single risk. A rock might fall out of space.’

In summary, for anyone wishing to start an opposition group: deny the problem, reject solutions as old hat and demand ‘new’ technology that is much less expensive and that – presto – has no disadvantages. Don’t forget to discredit your opponents. Argue that engineers keep resorting to old, expensive and outdated technology, even though new, inexpensive options are there for the taking. This will implicitly disqualify them as a bunch of fools.

God help us if the debate on dike safety gets hijacked by celebrities – whom I seriously would expect to see in the telephone panel for a television fund-raiser ‘Help Noord-Holland’ if, as a result of their lobbying efforts, the dike is not strengthened and eventually succumbs in a most picturesque manner. So let’s kneel down and thank our Lord for graciously giving us these ‘bureaucrats’ and ‘fools’ as well.

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