Column Guido Camps: Nitrogen

The normally calm, sleepy Dutch summer was punctuated by fierce protests.

There have been a lot of changes in the past few weeks. Students have had a ‘normal’ start with introduction days, lectures and plenty of people on campus. We have a new President of the Executive Board. The opening of the academic year, in a new building, was about our planet’s boundaries. It’s great that the year has started again, and here’s a warm welcome to all the new first-years. And indeed welcome back to our second-years and third-years for what will hopefully be a normal academic year.

Another change was that the normally calm, sleepy Dutch summer was now punctuated by fierce protests. Nitrogen was the magic word this summer and of course Wageningen had to be involved in the debate.

This is a wise lesson for all our students: there are limits to what we can achieve with science

I read tweets by Wageningen scientists who saw dying oaks everywhere as they cycled through the Veluwe nature reserve; Wageningen scientists who complained that their more positive nitrogen outlook had got buried in political games; Wageningen scientists who presented solutions that did not require the sacrifice of a single farm animal; letters in the newspaper signed by Wageningen scientists and stating now was the time for action (not more research).

This is a wise lesson for all our students: there are limits to what we can achieve with science. If you have come to university to learn how things really are, you should realize that the person telling you ‘how things really are’ is mainly telling you ‘how things really are according to them’. Even scientists in Wageningen who have specialized in a topic can differ a lot from one another in their interpretations. But while you won’t find ready-made answers at university, hopefully you will find opportunities to formulate your own answers to the big questions.

And if you happen to have found a good answer to the nitrogen crisis, let me know because at the moment this particular Wageningen scientist has no idea.

Guido Camps (38) is a vet and researcher at Human Nutrition and OnePlanet. He enjoys baking, beekeeping and unusual animals.

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