Rudy van Diggelen / Professor

University of Antwerp / Biodiversity, restoration, ecology, hydrology

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The main problem I see is the over-use of available global resources. In my own field of expertise -wetland research- this includes drainage leading to large losses of biodiversity and to emission of huge amounts of greenhouse gasses. Flanders lost probably far more than 95% of its peatlands since Medieval time, we know for sure that 75% of the wetlands were lost since 1960. All organic matter from these peatlands has been emitted into the atmosphere as CO2.  Drained peatlands emit 5% of all global emissions. The problem is strongly enhanced by present-day agricultural practices (over-fertilisation, irrigation even in wet-Belgium!!, both of which lead to enhanced water losses and further decomposition)
I am actively engaged in wetland restoration, not only at the scientific level but also at policy level by stimulating policies for wetland restoration. At personal level I try to minimise my ecological footprint by moving close to my work (approx. 3 km one way for daily travelling), by adapting my remaining travelling: short distances (<20 km) by bike, mid-distances (<1000 km) by train, use a car only when it is full (>=3 pers.); by lowering my meat consumption (100 g/day) and eating as much organic and regional products. I use planes rarely and (almost) never for personal purposes.
Problems include problems to reach certain destinations without a car or with a huge delay. Buying organic and local food for a whole family may cost too much time. This situation is improving, though. At the institutional level there are no incentives to stop drainage while there are several that stimulate further drainage: agricultural subsidies and economic developments (increase of milk prices because of rising consumption in Asia, increasing wood prices so that forestry on drained wetlands becomes increasingly economic).
The only solution I see to counteract these developments is by making CO2 costly. A CO2 tax would stimulate the search for energy efficient solutions, make locally produced food cheaper than that from the other side of the globe, restrict further drainage of organic soils and stimulate rewetting of now drained ones. Moreover, prices and frequency of public transport must be made competitive with transport by car and plane: as long as fuel for planes is tax-free and costs per train km increase due to rising taxes for the use of national railroad networks, it is not difficult to understand why the majority of international travellers use a plane instead of a train.

Originally posted 2018-05-30 03:06:29.