At Schiphol Airport – otherwise known as Amsterdam Airport – there was a problem with geese.
I don’t need to tell you that a decent sized flock of geese in the air can present a real danger to planes landing and taking off.
And I suppose I don’t need to add that Schiphol is one of the busiest airports in the world.
What I probably do need to tell you is that The Netherlands is a paradise for geese.
You’d almost think that centuries ago, when the Dutch began reclaiming their country from the waters, they did so in order to create a Goose Paradise.
Yep, geese love this country.
Water, grass, flat; water lying in pools on grassy ground; water in canals and lakes.
Water the geese can gather upon to keep safe from enemies. Watery grass they can eat.
The best, the richest, the greenest grass in the world which feeds the cows which provide the milk which becomes the best cheese in the world.
The cows love the grass but so do the geese.
The Netherlands: think windmills, dykes, cheese, Rembrandt, Vermeer….and geese.
Grey geese, snow geese, Nile geese, Canadian geese….to name a few.
In the geese paradise, there are inevitably problems with overpopulation. Big geese make little geese and when everything looks good, like it does in paradise, then the big geese tend to make a lot of little geese. In the past, the farmers used to shoot them. Good sport and all that. This has been banned for a long time now. These days, if a farmer has a problem with the geese, for example hundreds of them descending on his property and eating the grass which is meant for his cows, then he is compensated by the government for his potential losses. This is also incurably Dutch. A bureaucrat visits the property, assesses the numbers of geese resident on the property (how are such calculations made? With a goose-ometer?) and on this basis decides the amount of the compensation.
When it comes to the geese overpopulation problem however at Schiphol Airport, compensation doesn’t enter the picture. Removal is the only option.
The land surrounding Schiphol Airport and its runways is flat, watery, grass rich and swampy after a good rain. The geese love it. They don’t care too much about the noise.
A few years ago, a point came when the Schiphol Airport authorities decided to cull their numbers. Research revealed that netting and gassing the geese was the most humane way of doing this.
Hey but not so fast!
Kill thousands of geese?
The animal liberationists raised their collective voice – and loud!
Too many geese in The Netherlands? What about the human beings? Too many of them!
Ok said the government, you find some other way to get them away from Schiphol Airport.
They tried, the animal liberationists.
They tried lots of things.
Plastic replicas of hawks and other birds of prey were set in place in order to scare them away.
Then real birds of prey were brought in and released.
Maybe the geese figured that there was safety in numbers.
Buddhist monks appeared and issued incantations. That must have been an interesting spectacle, especially with the constant roar of jet planes in the background.
Other things were tried but I forget what they were.
All I know is that everything failed.
So the geese were trapped inside movable mesh fences – and gassed.
I was surprised at the numbers: tens of thousands of them.
Even though I am a frequent flyer and don’t relish the idea of being on a plane whose engines are choked with geese and is forced to make a crash landing (I’ve seen all the episodes of ‘Air Crash Investigation’ on the Discovery Channel), I was moved by the fate of the Schipol Geese.
I love geese and have watched them in many different parts of the world through a pair of binoculars. Anya and I see them every day in our local park and often during our bike rides.
They’re a wonderful bird, but……
The Schiphol geese were gassed. Problem solved.
No, one problem solved – another problem created.
What to do with the dead geese?
An answer was found after considerable discussion. The Dutch way:
‘We has a discussion.’
The meat would be donated to charities, in particular: the food banks, accessed by people on unemployment benefits – and the shelters for the homeless.
A very Dutch solution: equity, charity and social justice.
Helping those at the bottom of the socio-economic shake-down.
The thing about The Netherlands was that when you delved into class and inequality, you found yourself amongst people who weren’t Dutch – or at the least, Dutch only on the surface. You found yourself in the underbelly areas of the big cities, like where I live in Rotterdam (in an area called ‘Rotterdam Zuidwijk’) where most people are immigrants – or to put it in the sanitized terms of the politically correct (who live in the white flight suburbs): ‘people who belong to a foreign culture’.
10-15 minutes bike ride away from my apartment there is a food bank, a homeless shelter and an unemployment benefits office. I’ve visited these places. I know people working there. The overwhelming majority of the clients at these three places are people ‘belonging to a foreign culture’. They come from many different countries. They come to the nations of north-west Europe because these are prosperous, egalitarian welfare states; countries which subscribe to charity, social justice and helping the less fortunate. The immigrants do not head to the less prosperous nations of Europe. The nations of north-west Europe are far more preferable than those of southern or eastern Europe.
The world’s immigrants and refugees choose which countries to flee to.
If you or I were living in a village in Turkey or Morocco, never mind a hell- hole on earth like Syria or Iraq or Libya, we would make the same decision. Make the same rational calculations.
Schiphol Geese: a symbol of our globalised world.
Schiphol Geese: a symbol of a whole plethora of politically loaded issues, controversies, debates and arguments.
Where to the welfare state?
Designed to help the ordinary working people when they could no longer work, it is now a safety net for the world’s poor.
Is this multiculturalism?
Or a costly form of third world subsidy?
Welcome to Europe!
Schiphol Geese: at one end of a small country the arrival and departure every day of 250,000 people from all over the world, a great coming-and-going, arrival and departure – at the other end of the Schiphol food chain the declining relevance of borders and the magnetism of a welfare state for the world’s dispossessed – an oasis of generosity where every human being, irrespective of their origins, has basic rights – including the right to have goose meat added to their diet.
Schiphol Geese: an innocuous bird trapped inside mesh fences, caught in a chain of human made complexities, of a surrealistic world where the skies are filled with metal birds and the ground is filled with human beings.
And somewhere in this mesh of cause and effect, of issues and controversies, is our local park smack bang in the midst of a busy city: a haven for geese.
See following link for photos of geese at Schiphol:
Also New York Times:
Geese in our local park:
If you interested in European multiculturalism and its attendant issues, try these blogs:
”Missing Person” (category: The Netherlands)
‘The Shameful Murder of a Shopkeeper” (category U.K.)
‘Where to Germany?’ (category Germany)