Foto: David Meulenbeld

Every day I think: ‘This world is screwed’

Marjolein de Jong22 May 2022

Every day, Vrije Universiteit alumnus and co-founder of True Price, Michel Scholte (35), examines the issue of how the economy should be changed to prevent the further destruction of the world.

The announcement for the Déjà VU Festival, where you will be speaking on 16 June, refers to you as a ‘positive change influencer’. Do you think that that description fits?

„As long as I don’t come across as a cuddly ‘everything’s going to be all right’ character. I’m not one for hope-washing. We are now heading for even more destruction. I would sooner refer to myself as a ‘negative change influencer’, but that in turn is so bleak. Fundamental and constructive changes are needed, based on an economy that is good for people, animals and nature."

What does that mean exactly?

„A fundamental break with the insane notions that everyone has a car, the electric bicycles racing around in Amsterdam, hybrid SUVs – it’s baseless. We cannot save the planet with expensive Apple iPhones made of recycled aluminium." 

Is there a point to any of these initiatives?

„No, we’re fooling ourselves if that’s what we think. It’s hope-washing. We’re using it to make ourselves feel comfortable, because the truth is too confrontational. We need to change attitudes to possessions, things and consumption. The economy needs a serious detox. It is extremely toxic what we incorporate into all kinds of things, and that ultimately ends up as waste. Whether it’s plastics, pesticides, chemical fertilisers, PFAS – they’re all chemical substances, and they’re everywhere now. It is no coincidence that we’re faced with a tidal wave of diseases like cancer, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's – they’re increasingly being linked to exposure to these chemicals. And not to forget the extinction of insects that are fundamental to the food we consume." 

Apart from individual solutions, what other changes are needed?

„The Netherlands is morally bankrupt. We thrive on that old economy and have built our economy on a gas bubble. The government has recently invested billions in port infrastructure, because it’s counting on significant growth in coal, gas and oil. This is billions spent on an unfeasible industry, because either the power dries up and the infrastructure becomes redundant, or the climate disaster gets so bad that the infrastructure becomes redundant too."

„What’s more, the government is putting aside a cool 22 billion for TATA Steel, Shell, Dow Chemicals and other fossil polluters. This is money being spent on exorbitantly expensive subsidies for maybe 50% in carbon reduction. Particulates, poisons or biodiversity? These issues don’t even come up for discussion. It’s enough to drive you insane." 

Is there a glimmer of a positive scenario on the horizon?

„We should be moving towards 100% renewable energy in the Netherlands by 2030. We could reach that target if we had nine wind turbines per municipality, nine solar panels per person and better insulation, among other things. We should also be focusing on shared transport, better public transport and making our cities green. Dutch cities are grey lumps of asphalt that could be completely rewilded." 

You launched True Price in 2012. What exactly do you do?

„I joined a think tank when I was 20, and there, together with my fellow entrepreneur Adrian de Groot Ruiz, I came up with the idea of True Price: calculating real prices, i.e. the market price of a product plus its social and environmental costs. We calculate these prices for suppliers of products. We also have a shop in Amsterdam. We have since launched the Impact Institute, a company that helps other companies to radically change their course."

A young age to be concerned about sustainability. Was that something you learnt at home?

„I come from a family that worked hard and earned little. My father was a truck driver at TNT (now PostNL) and was made redundant, while the CEO walked away with a golden handshake of 2.5 million. I learnt from my mother that the world is not fair and that there’s poverty everywhere. So I raised money at school for poor people in other countries." 

„When I was 18, I left for Ghana to dig wells as a volunteer. There I saw children drinking like dogs from a polluted stream. Their parents grew cocoa for the chocolate we eat here. When I was studying sociology, I realised that initiatives like this are worse than useless as long as the world runs its business based on the existing trading systems. Countries are kept small on purpose. Importing raw beans is cheaper than importing chocolate bars, so we prefer to make chocolate here in the Netherlands. If you think about it, it’s too idiotic for words, isn’t it? As the minister for the New Economy, I am committed to a radical transformation of the economy."

Want to hear more from Michel Scholte or others concerned about climate change? Then come to the Déjà VU festival on 16 June and go to the ‘How screwed are we?’ talk show and learn about the end of times.