In the supermarket at Jubbega (a small village near the place I live) a woman stands in front of a bottle deposit machine without any bottles. I wait patiently for my turn with my shopping crate of empty bottles. While I’m wondering why she is standing in front of that machine without even one empty bottle, she takes out her bankcard and tries to push it into the slot where the bottle vouchers normally pop out. That doesn’t work of course and she then realizes that she is in front of the wrong machine and the cash machine is two meters to the left. Smiling about this amusing mistake, I step forward. ‘Haha’, I said to my son who is standing next to me, ‘ isn’t that hilarious to think that the bottle deposit machine is a cash machine’!

Full of self-assurance I finally put the first bottle on the conveyor belt in the machine. With a loud beep the machine returns the bottle. It is an empty wine bottle, just like the rest of the bottles in my crate, and everyone knows there has never been a deposit on wine bottles. Again I have to chuckle, but now because of my own stupidity. Still laughing we walk to the glass-recycling container at the car park. At home I immediately wrote down the incident to remind me of my own stupidity in the future. This is especially beneficial if you are entertained by the stupidity of others. There is never a lack of stupidity. In our desire for sustainability, we do stupid things, of course, that cannot be avoided. Guided by the conviction that we are ‘doing the right thing’, we become even more susceptible to it. That is one of the laws behind stupidity.

For example the blades of demolished windmills are not recyclable, because nobody had thought of it. Recently newspapers reported that the used windmill blades made of composites of glass fibre and resins are now being discarded as waste. After 15 years the subsidy stops and it is financially more attractive to demolish the old windmill and build a new one… In our evidently good and necessary drive towards sustainability, we will naturally do more stupid things. For example, solar parks are now being built on agricultural land. The subsidies are so high that farmers can be offered an extremely attractive rent, after which good soil, which could be used for food production, is filled with solar panels. This leads to deterioration of soil health. Undoubtedly pesticides will be used to keep weeds from growing between the panels. That’s not what I would consider sustainable. Meanwhile there are still many large roofs that can be used or parking lots that can be covered with solar panels. However, this is much more difficult for the developers of solar parks with their smart and government-subsidized earnings model. They want to fill as many acres as possible. For the time being that seems great because we are in a hurry when it comes to the energy transition. Hopefully our learning curve will be steep and we will become increasingly aware of the stupidity that we commit in the name of sustainability. Just like in the classic example of the man sitting on a tree branch while he is cutting off the end that he is sitting on, which he totally overlooks in his diligence. That is the peculiarity of stupidity. Stupidity is independent of intelligence: it happens to everyone in its own way, because who is smart enough to perceive his own stupidity?

Sytze Keuning (

Published in the journal Bodem.