Sustainability is not just a matter of science, engineering, design, and policy. As the ten Penn undergraduates participating in the Penn in Berlin & Rotterdam Program discovered, there are distinct cultural and national differences in the ways in which sustainability is implemented and practiced. In order to share our discoveries with a broader audience, we have created this travel journal. Follow us day by day as we meet with some of the leading figures in Dutch and German sustainability and climate change politics and visit important sites in the Netherlands and Germany. Through our observations, you’ll see the distinct cultural outlines of these two exemplary countries.
With extensive exposure of population and assets to the effects of sea level rise and climate change (around 26% of the country is below sea level, another 29% subject to flooding), the Netherlands are “all in” in a way that few other countries are. What struck us most is the remarkable buoyancy and optimism of the Dutch, their conviction that every problem is an opportunity and that multiple problems in combination actually
increase the possibilities for winning broad approval for innovative and substantial interventions. As the Dutch expand their sense of global responsibility from a tight focus on water management to designing sustainable cities, shifting to e-mobility, and achieving their own energy transition to renewables, the Netherlands will be a nation to watch.
Throughout the first decade and more of the twenty-first century, Germany led the way with its Energiewende, its ambitious, systematic turn to renewable energy for generating electricity, combined with a nuclear phase-out. The provision of feed-in-tariffs in the Renewable Energy Act created optimal conditions for rapid implementation of citizen-funded PV and wind turbines. This was energy democracy in action. Now, however, Germany’s Energiewende is losing momentum. The next steps (phasing out coal, de-carbonizing the transportation sector, achieving greater energy efficiencies, greening industrial agriculture) are clear and have broad public support, but are not being expressed in policy. Will German voters and social movements once again press politicians to stake out the future? It’s hard to say, but one thing is sure: when the energy history of the Early Anthropocene is written, Germany’s accomplishments to date will stand out.
Please join us on our journey. You will be amazed, as were we, by the level of engagement, innovation, commitment and enthusiasm with which people in the Netherlands and Germany embrace the opportunities and challenges of sustainability and work towards its carbon-neutral realization.