Daily Archives: May 4, 2021

For or against?

Since about thirteen years, my wife and I have now lived to our great satisfaction in Zeewolde, a place with more than 22,000 inhabitants in the Flevopolder. This polder came into being when, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, dikes were built around an area of water of some 1,000 square kilometers before this land could be drained. Zeewolde was the last residential center to be built in the early 1980s in this piece of land, that lies several meters below sea level. It has a very central location in the Netherlands and is extremely spacious. Less than ten kilometers away is the “old land”, with the historic Hanseatic town of Harderwijk, and it a takes just forty-five minutes to drive to Amsterdam!

Yet, Zeewolde has more history than many people might think, because before the IJsselmeer (which has now been largely reclaimed), was formed, there was a wooded area where people lived. The name Zeewolde is therefore derived from Seaeuuald or Seuuuald, a name that first appears in documents from 793, for a village near present-day Zeewolde. (Uuald stands for ‘wold” and means ‘swampy forest’. Sew means ‘sea’ or ‘lake’). However, besides a past, Zeewolde certainly has a future, even though there are some questions about some developments in and around “our” our place.

A new airport has been built between Zeewolde and neighboring Lelystad. It is intended to relieve Schiphol, which is far too busy and has no space to grow. Lelystad Airport is intended to handle a lot of holiday traffic. Everything has now been ready for about two years, but not a single passenger plane has taken off or landed on the brand new 2700 meter runway and the arrival and departure halls have not seen a single passenger yet. If it were up to all sorts of action groups, it will stay that way.

I assume that sooner or later ‘Lelystad’ will open and will not remain empty and useless.
For me, Lelystad Airport, less than 15 kilometers from our home, is a kind of symbol for the ambivalence of living in the 21st century. I can understand the resistance of a large part of the population when they protest against the noise pollution that will certainly result from this airport in our immediate vicinity, and against the amount of traffic that will also certainly increase. But, on the other hand, I do like to travel and hope soon to be able to regularly board a plane, and I understand that new airports have to be built somewhere.

The ‘uncanny’ feeling that my habitat and way of life are made possible by technological and infrastructural developments on the one hand, but that these threaten our space, tranquillity and enjoyment of life on the other hand, is greatly reinforced by the fact that there are advanced plans to build one of the largest data centers in Europe on the outskirts of our village, where the industrial estate borders on extensive farmland. There is still a great deal of secrecy surrounding which data giant will be coming to Zeewolde. Will it be Apple, Facebook, Google or perhaps Amazon, which does not yet have a data center in the Netherlands? Of course, all sorts of administrative procedures are still ongoing, but it is generally expected that this digital supertanker has been set in motion and that the “shore” will not be able to turn the “ship”. 166 hectares have been reserved for a cluster of enormous oblong buildings. The Zeewolde administrators are trying to reassure the population that the problems of energy supply, water consumption, cooling, safety, etc. are not as worrisome as they seem, and that the arrival of this company will bring huge economic benefits.

Well, am I for or against the arrival of this datacenter? It will not be pleasant to see enormous blocks of steel and concrete on the edge of our village, and one may well ask whether the advantages are not being presented in too rosy a light and the problems trivialized. But I understand the need for datacenters. I spend, on average, five to six hours a day at my laptop. The data I produce and consume are “in the cloud.” But that “cloud” does not hang invisibly in the thin air above us, but consists of endless rows of servers, which have to be housed somewhere. Perhaps in Zeewolde as well…. ?

It is all part of our time. It is a process that will continue as long as this earth has not given way to the promised “new earth”. Nevertheless, in the meantime we must keep a critical eye on everything that happens and continually ask ourselves whether our way of life, from a Christian perspective, does not need to be drastically adjusted in order to keep things under control. For, as the authors of the famous “Report of Rome” said fifty years ago: There are “limits to growth.”