The goals expressed by Pope Francis in the encyclical Laudato si’ are inspiring the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden to support an open letter to the Dutch government to stop the extraction of gas around the northern Dutch coast and islands. That coast and most of the islands fall under the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Other supporters of the letter include companies, social organisations, local government and the governments of the provinces of Groningen, Drenthe and Fryslân.
Bishop Ron van den Hout:
“Climate change, the emission of fossil fuels and the exhaustion of the earth reveal the limits of what the planet can handle. We are responsible for the effects on our way of life and economical choices. That is also true for the Wadden Sea and the northern Dutch coastline.”
In the province of Groningen the consequences of gas extraction on land have become painfully clear in recent years, with earthquakes damaging houses and infrastructures. Bishop van den Hout:
“The north has a lot of experience with gas extraction and its harmful consequences for people and their joy of living. In northern Groningen those problems are still a long way from being resolved. The north deserves serious care and attention from national politics.”
The Wadden Sea and the islands therein are a World Heritage Site, a Biosphere Reserve and, in the Netherlands, a natural monument. It is an important feeding ground for migrating birds and houses significant populations of seals, fish and shellfish. There are major gas deposits underneath it, as well as under the adjacent land areas, which are in part extracted and supported to a major extent the Dutch growth in welfare in the 20th century. In recent decades the emphasis has shifted to conservation and alternative sources of energy, with wind energy being the chief example.
Like Pope Francis, Bishop van den Hout emphases that, “Ecological and economical questions must be seen, more than ever, in relation to human behaviour and our unlimited desire for wealth.”