#MeToo and the need for safe spaces in academia by Brenda Rodríguez, Bruna Martinez and Vira Mistry

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Blame games won’t help us address the climate crisis by Lize Swartz

The climate crisis is forcing us to rethink our relationship with the world around us and the effect of our own actions (or inaction) on this massive collective action problem. Blame games are becoming a dangerous diversion tactic used to deny responsibility for our own role in the crisis by blaming others for causing it, writes Lize Swartz. Recent developments in the Netherlands and beyond reveal just how far we still have to go to acknowledge the climate crisis as a collective action problem and to rethink our own role as natural resource users in addressing the crisis.

Crises are often associated with the polarization of different interest groups through the politicization of crises and crisis responses due to the uncertainty they cause and the inevitability of change they come to signify. The global climate crisis is no different: it is arguably the biggest collective action dilemma we as humankind have had to face, generating massive uncertainty about the impacts of a changing climate, and making it clear that radical change is necessary. We now have to come to terms with the fact that we have a very limited time in which to reverse the effects of the damaging development trajectory we have collectively subscribed to over the last centuries on the climate—something we are very hesitant to do due to the implications of such radical change for our comfort and quality of life.

As a result, we have started trying to place the blame on each other in order to avoid having to take action ourselves due to the refusal to acknowledge the effect of our own actions on the creation and exacerbation of the crisis. The recent protests in The Hague highlighted cleavages in society resulting from polarizing discourses of who’s to blame that will undermine efforts to address the crisis. Over the past few months, The Hague has become a political battlefield as groups have marched to the political hub of the country to make their voices heard in the struggle to find solutions to the climate crisis on Dutch soil that seems to have paralyzed the country’s political leadership. When Dutch politicians suggested curbing agricultural and building activities to reduce nitrogen emissions, farmers first rolled in en masse on their tractors, followed by those working in the construction sector. Their message was clear: we will not be made scapegoats—others are equally or more guilty and should also have their activities limited. They felt victimized and proceeded to blame other parties for causing the crisis. The blame game seems to be a vicious cycle of receiving, denying and passing on blame.

Similarly, a recent article in a Dutch newspaper claimed that international universities are climate unfriendly because international students take intercontinental flights several times a year to visit their families. The author compared their travel patterns with those of European students, who ‘only’ took intracontinental flights to other European countries for the same reason. And the split between the ‘vegan’ and ‘meat lover’ camps, as if they are opponents in some figurative battle, is well known.

These examples make clear that the climate crisis is polarizing especially those societies discussing it. Through what has become somewhat of a herd mentality, it has become very easy to compare our own behaviour to that of others, finding ourselves superior (we recycle, we don’t own cars) and thus pressuring others to do the same, or simply refusing to acknowledge that our own behaviour is problematic and blaming others because we don’t want to change. The more pressing the problem becomes, and the more apparent the need for radical and immediate change becomes, the more demands seem to be placed on others to change their behaviour.

Collective action needs to move beyond global negotiations

Elinor Ostrom argued in 2010 that climate change is a collective action problem and that no single state should shoulder the burden of having to address it alone (Ostrom 2010). Collective action problems are defined as problems that require a collective effort to address them; individual responses based on individual interests undermine the ability of the collective to address the problem and have negative consequences (Ostrom 2010). The image of two donkeys tugging on a rope comes to mind. When the donkeys attempt to move in opposite directions, the rope becomes taut and neither of them can move. When they move in the same direction, alongside each other, there is no resistance and both can achieve their objective – to graze in peace.

We need the same kind of mentality when attempting to address the climate crisis, and recognizing that climate change is a collective action problem is a first step. Although a strong institutional response is necessary to lead international efforts to combat climate change, we should acknowledge the need for a combined institutional and individual response. Ostrom argued that states should collectively address the crisis, but we as consumers and producers are just as responsible for doing so.

Importantly, before blaming industry for emissions and states for failing to discipline industries, we need to better understand and acknowledge the way in which our own seemingly insatiable appetites for material products and consumables, including for food and water, are feeding our fossil fuel addiction and affecting increased production and emissions. The climate crisis, which fundamentally trails back to our relationship with the world around us and our problematic individual and collective claim on it, demands a different way of life. We will need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and our identity as consumers in order to understand our contribution to the crisis, and we will have to acknowledge this and then collectively define our respective roles in addressing the crisis together. The last thing we need is to stand divided instead of united.

Ostrom, E. (2010) ‘A multi-scale approach to coping with climate change and other collective action problems’, Solutions.

Image Credit: Andol on Wikimedia

16177487_1348685531818526_4418355730312549822_oAbout the author:

Lize Swartz is a PhD researcher at the ISS focusing on water user interactions with sustainability-climate crises in the water sector, in particular the role of water scarcity politics on crisis responses and adaptation processes.


Counter-terrorist legislation is threatening independent humanitarian relief, and is set to get worse today by Dorothea Hilhorst and Isabelle Desportes

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Venezuelan refugees on Curaçao have entered the Kingdom of the Netherlands! by Peter Heintze, Dorothea Hilhorst and Dennis Dijkzeul

“Reception of refugees in the region” is a central concept in the foreign policy of the Dutch government. It means that the Netherlands wants to financially support countries that accept refugees fleeing from a conflict in a neighboring region rather than enabling refugees to migrate onwards to Europe. Usually, the regions where refugees need to be sheltered are far away from the borders of our Kingdom. Suddenly, however, the Netherlands Kingdom has become the region itself.

Refugees from Venezuela are arriving in small but growing numbers on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. Curaçao is a remnant of colonial history, in that it is an independent country that continues to be part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The response to the fleeing Venezuelans now arriving on the island is highly inadequate and it is recognized that human rights are being violated on a large scale.

A recent report of Refugee International states that: “In displacement crises, the quality of services and assistance typically varies from one host country to another, but the fate of Venezuelans seeking refuge on the small island of Curaçao, only 40 miles from the coast of Venezuela, could very well be the worst in the Americas”. It is high time that the Netherlands, as the main country of the Kingdom, starts to make a serious effort to ensure that refugees are properly accommodated in their own region.


Curaçao, an island state with 160,000 inhabitants, is struggling with major problems. The exploitation of the Curaçao oil refinery by the Venezuelan oil company brought jobs and foreign currency. And so did wealthy Americans and Venezuelans who came to spend their money in the paradise-like tropical tourist resorts.

Now everything has changed. Due to American sanctions against Venezuela, the refinery has almost come to a standstill, hotels have closed their doors, and the Insel Air airline was declared bankrupt in February. Twenty-six percent of the population is unemployed. The crisis in Venezuela is deeply affecting the economy of Curaçao, and its public finances are running out. Meanwhile, in Venezuela, less than eighty kilometers away from Curaçao, a political, social and economic tragedy is taking place. The international community is preparing for the large-scale provision of humanitarian aid. Distraught Venezuelans are leaving the country.

And that’s how the problems arise on Curaçao. Under pressure from a complaining population, a faltering economy and declining government revenues, the government in Willemstad is trying to prevent the arrival of undocumented Venezuelan migrants. Instead of recognizing their desperate situation, the Venezuelan migrants are being portrayed as criminals.


For generations, people have travelled back and forth between the South American mainland and the Caribbean Islands off the coast. Boats brought fish, fruits and seasonal workers. This has always gone on openly, outside of official rules and without international supervision. Besides fish and fruit, the boats also bring drugs and weapons and facilitate human trafficking. Nowadays they also bring more and more refugees from Venezuela.

The Venezuelans, who could be entitled to international protection under international law, are suffering the consequences. They do not receive shelter or protection. Instead, they are treated as criminals who need to be expelled as soon as possible. The Curaçao government does not acknowledge that this entails grave human rights violations. The government is resorting to fear mongering and repeatedly states it needs to act against illegal migration in order to avoid a potential pull effect, which might cause the country to attract even more migrants.

The role of the Netherlands

Curaçao is an independent state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and is responsible for its own asylum policy and migration issues. However, the Statute of the Kingdom stipulates that the states have a duty of care for each other, especially in times of emergency. Moreover, foreign and defence policy is formally a responsibility of the Kingdom as a whole. If there are human rights violations within the Kingdom, the Kingdom is responsible. However, the Netherlands is currently failing to extend support to the forced migrants who are entitled to protection. Observers in Curaçao are advocating a more hands-on attitude on the part of the Netherlands: less distant and more in cognizance of the spirit of the Kingdom.

As early as July 2018, the Advisory Council for International Issues (Adviesraad voor Internationale Vraagstukken / IAV) warned of legal inequality within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and pointed out the importance of respect for human rights. The potential impact of the Venezuela crisis on Curaçao forces the Kingdom to take a pro-active stance to protect Venezuelan refugees. Everyone understands that in the current situation, Curaçao can neither handle the influx with its own resources nor uphold refugee law. It is time for civil servants from Curaçao and the Netherlands to jointly set up a functioning asylum procedure for Curaçao and make it work!

Protecting Venezuelan refugees is in the first place a responsibility of the state of Curaçao. Nonetheless, the Netherlands should step in and support the country to provide a decent level of care to the despair migrants from Venezuela. The Netherlands has always favoured reception of refugees in the region; it is time to walk the talk.

Image Credit: Cookie Nguyen. The image was cropped.

About the authors:

Peter Heintze 2016 01 19_048Peter Heintze is an independent researcher, as well as coordinator of the KUNO – platform for humanitarian knowledge exchange in the Netherlands.


TheaDorothea Hilhorst is Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is a regular author for Bliss. Read all her posts here


dennis finalDennis Dijkzeul is a Professor in Conflict and Organization Research at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany.