“I enjoy talking about the energy transition. But this is a rather strange setting,” says Dilan Yeşilgöz, who serves as a Member of Parliament and climate spokesperson for the VVD. She’s referring to the fact that the debate organised by In Duplo has been thrown off course by Thierry Baudet’s denial of human-caused climate change.

‘You want to hear arguments – a fair and open debate. Without TV stations becoming involved’

Former prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende

Despite previously telling the daily De Telegraaf that this is precisely why he had no desire to debate Baudet, transition professor Jan Rotmans nevertheless picked up the gauntlet. First, each of the three speakers was given 15 minutes to make their point, after an introduction by former Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende. After briefly explaining why this is such an urgent topic to reflect on (‘Ice sheets as large as Manhattan are melting. The Netherlands is trailing behind as a country – what’s our role, who will be solving it, and how?’), Balkenende addressed two students sitting almost at the front. “I’m curious to hear what you expect of this evening. You want to hear arguments – a fair and open debate. Without the TV stations becoming involved.” Moderator Steven van Eijck had made a similar point: by asking the live media to stay away, the organisers hoped the debate would centre on substance rather than spectacle.

Geopolitical

Rotmans shared this hope. He presented a clear case for the need to make the energy transition: the key motivating factors aren’t the environment, but rather changing geopolitical relationships and the economy. According to him, since Trump took office, there has never been so much investment in wind and solar power in the US. Another interesting fact: “In the Netherlands, 80 percent of our emissions come from companies. And within this group, 80 percent are actually released by a mere 10 companies.”

What’s his take on climate sceptics, a student wanted to know. “As if you’re fighting a boxing match in two different arenas. How could you even hit each other? You don’t put something like gravity up for discussion either.”

‘As if you’re fighting a boxing match in two different arenas. How could you even hit each other? You don’t put something like gravity up for discussion either’

Jan Rotmans

Baudet, modern-day 'Galileo'

In her contribution, MP Dilan Yeşilgöz’s (VVD) emphasised the economic impact of the climate transition, ‘which is going to make us a lot of money’. Which is why ‘we’ need to ‘do it the Dutch way’ and strive to operate at the forefront of innovation and new solutions. She concluded by remarking, “I know the moderator doesn’t want me to say it, but I feel like an intermezzo between two squabbling gentlemen.” She sat herself down with a grin amid enthusiastic applause.

When Baudet entered the arena, students pulled out their phones to take pictures. You could sense this is what people had come for. He kicked off with a story about the existential crisis that people have been plunged in after doing away with God. Climate change is a new religion – one that comes complete with a biblical flood. “I’ve been branded a heretic!” He compared himself to Galileo, who also went against the grain. The audience tittered.

A student asked him whether it made any sense to invest in education if you can reject scientific findings at whim. According to Baudet, it is far from certain that a majority of scientists agree on the causes of climate change.

‘Climate Mafia’

After this, it’s time for debate. Rotmans doesn’t mince words: “Everything you just said is incorrect. I believe this is dangerous, but I also find it irresponsible.” Baudet: “These are the familiar lies of the climate Mafia.” Yeşilgöz: “Thierry, attend a debate every now and then; read an article or two.”

According to Baudet, the energy transition won’t be as profitable as it’s made out to be. “It’s bullshit, plain and simple. Why would we need laws and subsidies otherwise?” Yeşilgöz: “A large number of companies are already earning millions in this sector.”

‘Ignoring evidence’

The debate remains a clash between substance and knowledge vs. denial tactics, according to the students we speak with after the event. Business Economics and Economics student Freek had expected more from Baudet. “He blatantly ignored scientific evidence. I expected his contribution to be more substantive than this. But of course, he’s a populist – he prefers to bend facts to his advantage.” Freek agrees with Yeşilgöz that in terms of knowledge, the Netherlands should work to once again become a frontrunner.

Economics and Fiscal Economics student Danique: “It turned out exactly as I expected. It’s a pity that they couldn’t really go into substantive issues. Terms like innovation were applied rather broadly. I did agree with inviting a climate denier – it gives you a chance to hear a range of opinions.” She gets why people are susceptible to Baudet’s act: “He’s a good talker. At that point it doesn’t matter whether the science is right – Trump is another example. Incidentally, Forum voor Democratie make good points too – although their position on climate change isn’t one of them.”

Three kisses for Balkenende

Indiscussio-4
Carmen, Marinka and Macy. Image credit: Geertje van Achterberg

Johan joins our group: “Baudet was just presented with the best counterarguments he ever had to deal with. It’s great that they’ve given this discussion a platform. I thought the debate was a huge success. In part because I was afraid the politicians would deflect everything, but instead they talked about concrete matters.”

Johan is flanked by Law and Business Administration students Carmen, Marinka and Macy. Macy: “I came here without any expectations, but it proved very educational.” Marinka is off to give Balkenende three kisses. Carmen says that despite everything, Baudet impressed her: “Not in terms of substance, but he does have charisma. It’s interesting to see how he works the crowd.”

‘Student organisations should not invite climate deniers to debate’

Forum for Democracy politician Thierry Baudet shouldn’t have been invited to the energy…

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