“Do you ride a bike? The answer is probably yes. If you do, you’re more sustainable than you think you are. You’re probably thinking, ‘sure, I ride a bike, and I know it doesn’t burn gas’, but remember that sustainability is about more than the environment.

It’s not just the gas you don’t burn, it’s the entire way the city is arranged because people bike, and the way people treat each other on the road, all of which encourages more cycling. In other words, because you bike, you make it easier for other people to bike, and to walk. This is because personal choice in transportation has large social ramifications due to the creation of a positive feedback loop: if more people drove, there would be more parking lots and fewer bike lanes, and so things would be farther apart and it would be harder to bike, and so more people would drive, and so there would be more parking lots and fewer bike lanes….

See what I mean? Let me explain how it works where I’m from, the United States: the thing that sticks out is how many parking lots we have, not how many bikes. And if you ask someone if they ride a bike and they say yes, it’s probably because (a) they’re 12 years old, because as soon as you’re old enough to drive you get a car, or (b) they’re a professional triathlete and love how they look in spandex shorts. This makes sense, because in the US very little is reachable by bike – the house I grew up in was a 45-minute walk to the nearest store (in a city of 300,000 people), and whether you were walking or biking, you had to share the road with the cars, which isn’t pleasant.The concept of positive feedback and bikes also applies to social attitudes: if more people always drove, fewer people would understand what it’s like to be on a bike and so would be less courteous to bikers, and so more people would drive…. Before I moved here, I lived in Portland, Oregon, supposedly the most bike-friendly large city in the US, but many drivers there hate the bikers. My last summer in Portland there were three well-publicized violent incidents between drivers and cyclists, one of which resulted in a video recording of a cyclist hanging by the windshield wipers of a car doing 50mph down the road. But this is the result of a divided road, where there are bikers and there are drivers, and each has contempt for the other.

So believe me: you’re more sustainable than you think you are. Every time you climb on your bike, not only are you saving money and saving the environment by not burning gas, you’re making it easier for other people to make the same choice. And for people who can’t drive (the old, young, infirm and poor) you’re making their lives just a little bit easier, too.  When I try and tell Dutch people that their country is quite sustainable, they look at me quizzically and say, ‘No it isn’t’. But believe me, it is!”

Devin Malone, a second-year MSc student of industrial ecology, is from Anchorage, Alaska. He has lived, worked, and traveled in 21 countries on four continents.  

Nour means ‘light’ in Arabic and fittingly, the aim of the Nour Project is to light the way to a better understanding of Arabic cultures in the Netherlands. “The integration of Dutch and Arabic cultures is an important and current  topic”, Nour project coordinator Laura Veenema explains. “There was a call for a project that would, on the one hand, address issues related to this and, on the other hand, benefit young people. The Nour Project’s aim is therefore to help Dutch students learn more about Arabic cultures and habits which are becoming more and more a part of Dutch society.” Started three years ago as a project by the AIESEC chapter in Groningen, the Nour Project is now set on a national stage. Practically, the project hopes to challenge prejudices and to further cooperation between the Dutch and Arabic cultures by providing Dutch students internships in Arabic countries.  The AIESEC, the largest student- run organization in the world, created the project as a response to the lack of programs in the Netherlands with the focus on the Middle East. Participation in the Nour Project occurs in a number of phases, so that students are not only optimally prepared for their stay in the Arabic country they will be visiting but also given the opportunity afterwards to evaluate and share experiences with others. “The program is unique in that participating students go through a extensive preparation phase that we call the Learning Program”, Veenema continues. “During this program they take part in workshops and training days to prepare themselves for the cultural experiences that they will have in the Arabic world. Consequently, they do an internship for two to three months in the summer in one of the participating Arabic countries. Upon return, they take part in a reintegration phase. During this phase they share their experiences with other students as well as other target groups. They can do this by giving presentations or by organizing debate. The symposium is part of this last phase.”

Included in the Symposium’s program are the following lecturers: Samira Bouchibti (member of the house of commons, PvdA), Petra Stienen (former diplomat and author), Guity Mohebbi (employee  BMC group and author), Mohcine Ouass (President AIESEC Netherlands) en Louk Hagedoorn (professor of Social Sciences at Utrecht University). Veenema: “With this choice of speakers our goal is to present perspectives from both sides. In other words, we want to illustrate the prevalent views of Dutch students concerning Arabic cultures and, in addition, show how the Arabic cultures see us. We will present both sides of the story and in that way converge on some kind of common ground where we can focus on the similarities and not on differences”. Though discussions concerning the relationships between the two cultures can often lead to heated debate, the mood the symposium aims for is open and approachable. The organization wishes to create an open platform for a positive exchange of ideas. “The tone of the symposium will be light-hearted and playful.” Veenema accents: “It will also be interactive, giving participants the opportunity to ask questions. They are more than welcome to join in the debate if they want to but if they prefer not to they can also just listen. Our target group is students and we hope to attract people from a variety of different backgrounds so we’re hoping that students from all over the country will join us on Friday.” 

Friday December 11th, 13. 00 – 17.30 hrs.Booth auditorium, University Library Uithof, Utrecht.Admission free www.nourproject.nl