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Why Greenhouses Are Not That Great Nor Sustainable

This post is a reply to this article written by Free From Harm.

Free From Harm seems to be an organization advocating for the well-being of animals, but in the article, I have read, it seems the writer is confused about greenhouses and the harm it does.

The article reasons that we need more greenhouses to grow more plant-based food. Using the Netherlands, one of the biggest greenhouse producers in the world as an example.

I also care about the well-being of animals, but this article kind of triggered me because I lived in the Netherlands for over 20 years and I have worked in such greenhouses and the reality is not at all how it is portrayed in the article.
While I do care about animal welfare, I care a lot more for the ecosystems of the planet which includes all wildlife, insects, microorganisms, all plant life; and the human beings dependent on these ecosystems.

The title of the article is “It’s Time to Replace Slaughterhouses With Greenhouses.” My response to that is: “No, we do not need greenhouses, we need stable self-sufficient ecosystems”.

The article reasons that greenhouses are good (in the Netherlands) because the Netherlands can not grow its own food because of climatic conditions. This is factually wrong.
People in the Netherlands eco-region which would also include Belgium and some parts of Germany have lived and survived there since the stone age. Food was never a problem.

If greenhouses can only supply food to the Netherlands then nobody would have lived there before the 1950s when petro-chemical farming started.
It also mentions a few cases of greenhouses in the arctic regions. I personally do not know much about the arctic so I can not write too much on things I do not know.

I do know that people have also lived in the arctic since the stone age when the glaciers started melting after the ice age. And although they mostly hunted animals for their food because plant biodiversity in the arctic is fairly low – they did so without causing too much damage to their ecosystems – that is until the Vikings started deforesting the landscape.

I think on a reasonable scale it would be good to do greenhouses in the arctic, but if one has to cut down forests to make space for greenhouses it does not seem like a great idea.
Maybe a greenhouse supported by the surrounding forest would be a good idea. I have heard some people manage greenhouses in an eco-friendly way by for example making compost inside a greenhouse to generate heat.

Coming back to greenhouses in the Netherlands… The article states that “The greenhouses are beautiful”. They are in fact not at all. They are a big eyesore to the landscape. People in villages and towns living around greenhouses are even petitioning and pleading to remove greenhouses, especially when a new one is being built; because it spoils the beauty of the landscape.

Greenhouses are also affecting the wildlife around them. At night the giant bright lights can be as illuminating as the sun. All forms of wildlife from birds to night predators, to insects get confused about the lights, thinking it’s daytime while it’s nighttime; resulting in the ecosystem becoming unbalanced and is called “Light pollution”. Even trees in surrounding forests can get affected and show retarded growth. But that’s not all…

People who live nearby greenhouses often report sleepless nights and depression from the overpowering lights. The lights can be seen from 10+ kilometers away. The Netherlands is one of the biggest light polluters in the world, definitely in Europe – all because of greenhouses. Stargazing in the Netherlands is almost impossible, one has to go to the darkest isolated forests to even be able to see a beautiful night sky, but even then the glare of distant greenhouses can be seen.

In recent times the government made news laws restricting the light coming off greenhouses, but the law is almost never followed nor implemented. Even the few greenhouses that added light-blocking panels to prevent light from coming out of the greenhouses still have a lot of light coming out so it does not seem to be so effective.

Greenhouses also consume huge amounts of electricity for powering the lights and heating, which comes from fossil fuels. The article does mention that there are greenhouses with solar panels that can generate their own electricity, but in reality, the amount of greenhouses that do this is extremely small.

I have been all over the Netherlands and have never seen a solar-powered greenhouse because such cases are very rare. Even if all the greenhouses were powered by solar panels.. think about this… How are solar panels produced? They are made using fossil fuels and resources mined in China and Africa; these mines are extremely destructive to the local ecosystems.

Greenhouses can not grow trees, they can only produce shallow-rooted vegetables. Most fruit from trees in the Netherlands is imported. Even apples and pears which can be easily grown in the Netherlands are largely imported. Trees are the guardians of ecosystems (except in grasslands). Advocating for more greenhouses is the same to me as advocating for deforestation.

I have seen forests in the Netherlands being cut down to make room for greenhouses. I also know a case in Asia where a food forest that produced over 20 different types of food with no fertilizers, no pesticides, and no irrigation was destroyed and replaced by a greenhouse that consumed large amounts of electricity to produce a mono-crop of lettuce with chemical fertilizers.

One might say: “We can convert open spaces or old buildings to greenhouses instead of using forest land”. To that, I would respond: Why not convert open spaces and destroy old buildings to grow more forests? How wonderful would that be? Those places were probably forests, to begin with, before the slaughterhouses were built on it.

Furthermore, greenhouses are horrible to work in. Greenhouses offer one of the lowest salaries possible for the most tedious, boring, soul-breaking work, the owners of greenhouses have only profits in mind and care not about their workers nor the environment. They hire cheap labor from Poland and other poor European countries.

The greenhouses often also apply numerous pesticides which are not only harmful to the workers it is also harmful to the consumers who eat the plants.
I know of a case where a greenhouse would grow seedlings, then send the seedlings on huge ships sent to Africa. Then in Africa, the seedlings would grow further until nearly mature. The mature plants are then sent back to the Netherlands and the plants harvested. Simply because labor is cheaper in Africa.

The amount of unnecessary pollution and consumption of fossil fuels to send the plants back and forth is just astounding. I know of cases where the same is being done with China. Seedlings send from the Netherlands to China and then back to the Netherlands again.

Nobody wants to be in a greenhouse, or even near it. It is a hot head-ache inducing artificial place. Yet everyone loves forests. Well maybe not everyone wants to live permanently in a forest, but it is hard to find people who do not enjoy having long walks and hikes in forests or parks. Now how beautiful would it be if forests and parks also produce food.

Nobody wants to be in a greenhouse, or even near it. It is a hot head-ache inducing artificial place. Yet everyone loves forests.

As a disclaimer, I would like to remind you that in this case, I am arguing against large-scale commercial greenhouses. The simple greenhouses people have in their gardens are harmless as they do not consume large amounts of energy; do not take up a lot of space, and do not create light pollution.

If you have read this article I hope I have convinced you that greenhouses are not at all environmentally friendly. Especially in the Netherlands greenhouses are not a beautiful good thing, but just awful.

Greenhouses are not the only bad thing about agriculture in the Netherlands. Even tho everyone praises Dutch agriculture for its high production of food. I would claim that the Netherlands is not a very good role model for agriculture. Tho I only covered greenhouses in this post.. Dutch agriculture: From Dutch cow farming to tulips and flowers, to traditional plowed fields, to greenhouses… It’s all bad.

Just because you are eating plants and not eating animals, does not mean you are not harming animals. There many ways of growing plants that harm and destroy ecosystems, and there are a few ways of growing plants that not only do not harm the ecosystem but improve the ecosystem faster than it could do on its own. Such a way of growing plants is Natural Farming and the way of farming I promote on this blog.

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