The Netherlands – country of the future

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Several years ago, we traveled through the Netherlands for about 10 days with our friends, Henk and Marianne Berbee, who grew up there. They were wonderful travel guides showing us their hometowns, where the tulips grow and beautiful Amsterdam. Finally we saw the southern tip of the country.
Holland is known for tulips, wooden shoes, windmills and beautiful Delft china. Of course, we saw all that and then I recently came across some information about how progressive this small country is.
The Dutch are smart, too, and have tackled several big problems, the first of which is stray dogs. Obviously in the U.S., there are way too many dogs that don’t have a home. Doesn’t every dog deserve a warm bed, good food and a loving home?
My source says the Netherlands is the only country that has no stray dog problem. Their effort began more than 200 years ago. In the 1800s, most households had many dogs and as their population increased the unwanted ones were just put out on the street. With that event came rabies and other diseases, so the country decided it had to do something quickly.
Ideas changed and soon the actual appearance of a family dog reflected back on the family.  The perception was the animal should look well cared for. There are strict laws now against animal abuse. These laws were passed to obstruct mistreatment of animals. Those found guilty can go to prison for three years with a fine of up to 16,000 euros.
Now an entire political party in the Dutch Parliament promotes animal welfare as its core value. It is suggested that at least 70 percent of the animals in the Netherlands are sterilized to prevent overpopulation, allowing the Dutch to view their animals the way many of us do, as family members, not unwanted animals put out on the street.
Our own family dogs were little poodles. We even shared our bed with them. In fact they just thought they were entitled to sleep there and we didn’t have the nerve to tell them no.
So, it’s the attitude about pets, not just taking them for granted, but showing people they need to truly be loved and cared for that has brought about this very nice condition in the Netherlands.
Now, for a totally modern thing, the Netherlands has the world’s first solar powered bike path. It’s tough to make cycling any greener, but the Dutch have done just that with a bike lane that powers street lights and even houses.
The bike path opened officially two years ago in Krommenie, a town northwest of Amsterdam. Inexpensive solar panels were used. They were sandwiched between layers of glass, silicone rubber and concrete. Experimentation continues on different top coatings in an attempt to protect the solar panels in the best way and still allow electricity to be made.
Riders hop on one end and then, after a few seconds of pedaling, dismount at the other. Because it is a pilot project, the lane is only 328 feet long. In just the first six months, over 70 kilowatt hours were earned and that is enough electricity to run one single house for a whole year in the Netherlands.
The panel-covered road is achieving at the top level of expectations and now the Dutch government is considering putting panels on buses and trains. In time, solar power from the road will be used for practical applications in street lighting, traffic systems, electric cars (which drive on the surface) and households.
Visually, the SolaRoad kind of looks like the glassy cooking element on an electric stove. It’s outfitted with a friction-granting surface, though, so riders won’t careen around on it like pinballs.
The green pathway has its drawbacks. Because it can’t be angled toward the sun, it’s less efficient than solar panels. And it’s hugely expensive to create at an expected cost of $3.7 million. But as the technology advances these problems might diminish.
Solar roads could eventually be used to power the electric vehicles that use them.
By the way, in the Netherlands, electric vehicles are on the rise, but are not really a substitute for gas engines yet until the electricity they use is generated in a sustainable way. Their roads of the future can generate power right where it is needed.
Also in the Netherlands, unlike in the U.S., there are charging points for electric cars every 15 kilometers. This will be really important because a proposal has been made by several members of a political party in the Netherlands, which would ban gas and diesel powered vehicles by the year 2025. Of course, this would be a really bold move. We’ll see how that goes.
More forward thinking by the Dutch includes a truly wonderful way students are helping those around them. Dutch college students are living in care homes for the elderly. They keep the residents company 30 hours a week and in return they don’t pay rent. They teach them technology skills such as social media and Skype. The idea is to reduce loneliness and dementia symptoms among the aged. It also improves life expectancy and a sense of well-being in the elderly. I would suspect these college students are getting a lot out of this in addition to their room and board.
So here’s a look into present day Netherlands, a beautiful but small and very progressive country.
(Melanie Behrens – melb@marysvillejt.com)



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