Why are Dutch farmers and builders angry and why have I started tweeting in Dutch? The Dutch nitrogen crisis.

You might have seen it in the news: Dutch farmers ravaging cities with their tractors. But this week also builders, contractors, dredgers, and gardeners have protested in The Hague, where our government is based. They are angry, because a lot of their activities and projects have been halted, and farmers in the vicinity of protected natural (Natura 2000) areas might have to move or be bought out.

Why? Because of the Programma Aanpak Stikstof (PAS), a programme designed to reduce nitrogen deposition in Natura 2000 (a European network of protected natural areas) areas while still allowing economic growth and development. Cleverly, this programme allowed nitrogen-emitting activities in the vicinity of these areas if there were planned compensating measures to reduce future emissions, as well as future measures to reduce the degradation of Natura 2000 areas. So, essentially, taking a mortgage on future compensating measures. But on the 29thof May 2019, the Council of State judged that the PAS could no longer be used to allow nitrogen-emitting activities, because this is challenging European law.

So now, according to some people, The Netherlands is in lock-down. Building projects have been halted, and Dutch livestock numbers need to be reduced. Of course it is understandable that builders and farmers are upset; they are just trying to protect their livelihood. Continue reading

Maar in Nederland hebben vrouwen toch al láng gelijke kansen?

Ik heb veel nagedacht over de reacties deze week op het bericht dat de TU Eindhoven alle vacatures een half jaar lang alleen maar voor vrouwen openstelt. Die reacties zijn grofweg onder te verdelen in drie types:

  1. De witte mannen die dit discriminatie vinden. “Je moet gewoon de beste kandidaat aannemen, wat er tussen je benen zit doet er niet toe”, en “Dus we moeten discriminatie oplossen met discriminatie?”, tot “Dit is ook gewoon discriminatie voor vrouwen”
  2. De vrouwen die geen ‘excuustruus’ willen zijn. “Ja maar, je wilt toch niet aangenomen worden als tweede keus?!” Dit argument hoor ik ook vaak bij mannen, die bezorgd zijn over deze vrouwen die als tweede keus aangenomen worden, en zelf nóóóit zo aangenomen zouden willen worden.

Linda Duits heeft over deze reacties al een zeer sterk artikel geschreven in Folia. Kort samengevat: in de wetenschap moeten vrouwen bijna tweemaal zo hard werken als mannen voor dezelfde baan of hetzelfde salaris, vanwege allerlei structurele (maar grotendeels impliciete) obstakels. Ik zal hier nog een aantal concrete, recente voorbeelden geven:

Dit is slechts een greep uit de lange lijst van voorbeelden waaruit blijkt dat de wetenschap, nog steeds, een zelf-instandhoudend mannenbolwerk is. Continue reading

Do we need quota for men in science?

Last week, I spoke at the L’Oreal Foundation’s breakfast debate curated by the New York Times. This was an Oxford Style debate, with two teams of three – one of the teams argued against, and one of the teams argued for the motion “This house believes that there should be quota for men in science”. I was on Team For, together with Stephen Frost and Marina Kvaskoff; Kaisa Snellman, Emma Liu and Rose Mutiso were Team Against.

It was a fantastic and empowering event (and I got to go to Paris, wear nice clothes, and eat nice food). The purpose of the debate was not so much the debate itself, but rather keeping this conversation going and coming up with creative solutions of how to increase the representation of women in science – something we all agreed on is necessary. Continue reading

An extremely dry summer in Manchester

Right at the end of the extremely dry period we had this summer I decided to do a little experiment: I started taking a photo of the patch of grass in my street in Manchester, in the North West of England, every couple of days. I study the effects of drought on ecosystems (see my previous posts about the effects of drought belowground here and here) and I thought it would be nice to show how the grass in my street would bounce back after the rain had started.

Only… it didn’t. The rain did not come as intensely as I expected, and the grass did not bounce back as quickly as I expected. The first (top left) photo was taken on the 12thof July, the last (bottom right) on the 20thof August. And still you can see bare soil and brown patches! This patch of grass would look a lot lusher and greener during a normal Manchester summer.

Manchester grass

The grass in my street in Manchester this summer. 

But, more importantly, while aboveground plant growth seems mostly recovered, the composition of the community has changed (which you can’t see in these photos), and as I’ve shown in my research, this might continue to affect belowground communities and the processes they perform.

Of course, this little patch of grass in Manchester is not that important for the functioning of our ecosystems. But it is a nice illustration of the impacts of an extremely dry summer on grassland and how long it takes for these fast-growing plants to regain their biomass!

What is the current weather doing to our soils?

There has been plenty of media coverage of the current extremely hot and dry weather. The drought is revealing archaeological features, (see also here), and we can even see the browning of our landscape from space. But this drought is not good news for our ecosystems at all, and one example of that are the recent wildfires in the Peak District. These fires are not just bad news for the plants and animals that live there, but also they make large amounts of carbon that have been sequestered over many years go up in the air as CO2, and this can amplify climate change. Drought also affects our ecosystems more subtly than that, but the long-term consequences might be as severe.

We can all see the effect the drought is having on plants: lawns are turning yellow, corn leaves are rolling, and in extreme cases, trees even lose their leaves. They become inactive, and can even die. This is not just bad news for the plants, it is also bad news for the soil. When plants stop growing, they are not photosynthesing, and when they are not photosynthesising, they are not removing CO2from the atmosphere. A large part of this photosynthesised COgoes straight into the soil to fuel the activities of microbes, which carry out important functions such as the decomposition of plant litter and the release of nutrients for plant growth. Continue reading

Your child might choke

When I read this column on the Dutch newspaper NRC’s website, I felt this was so accurate and recognisable that it deserved a translation into English. When I said this in a tweet, author and microbiologist Rosanne Hertzberger responded that she would love a translation. So, here you go:

We bought an inflatable paddling pool for our eldest. It’s a miracle he survived. On the blue plastic warnings were printed in 27 different languages. ‘Without adult supervision, your child’s life is in danger’ and ‘Children have drowned in portable swimming pools’. This is the tone manufacturers use when talking to parents. ‘Just use some common sense’ isn’t cutting it anymore. Similar to images of cancerous lungs being printed on cigarette packs, paddling pools are covered in obituaries of drowned children. There were other warnings printed on the pool: children might swallow small parts. And older children might get paralysed if they decide to dive into the 7-inch-deep pool. ‘Inflate your fun’ was the product slogan. Continue reading

The reality of maternity leave.

It has been very quiet here again, because I’ve been on maternity leave for the past six months. And I have struggled to get any work done, let alone write a blog post.

Which is why is wasn’t particularly amused when I read this article in The Guardian, which compares maternity leave with a sabbatical, and gives the impression that you can catch up with the literature and do some deep thinking, while your perfect baby either sleeps or quietly plays on the floor.

So, let me tell you something about how I experienced my maternity leave, and how I feel about maternity leave in general. Continue reading