Doubtless following up on stories first published in the Netherlands, the New York Times reported in The Dutch Prize Their Pedal Power ... [June 20, 2013] that there are so many bicycles in Amsterdam that they are a major problem. They outnumber cars 4 to 1. Finding room to park the bikes is a problem.
Memory refresh: The Dutch are citizens of The Netherlands, which are also known as Holland, although technically Holland is only part of the Netherlands. To the south is Belgium, to the east Germany, and the North Sea separates it from England.
The Netherlands encompasses only 16,000 square miles, but has a population of near 17 million, or over 1000 people per square mile. It is a wealthy country, with the world's 17 largest economy. GDP (gross domestic product) per person is around $46,000.
Rather than focusing on how an "ecological" solution like bicycles can become a problem, start with the more interesting question: how did the Netherlands get so rich?
There is no doubt the modern Dutch are industrious. So are a lot of people's who are nowhere near as rich as the Dutch. What else made the difference?
In the 1400's the Dutch elite was already prospering through trade, capital accumulation, and the creation of a flexible financial system. They were not a prosperous, however, as the elites of Turkey, India, China and the other truly rich nations of that era. They were also ruled by larger nations: by Burgundy until 1477 and then by Spain, followed by an 80-year long war for independence. Despite the war, perhaps partly because of it, traders and capitalists in the Netherlands prospered.
Around the same time the Spanish were exploring and conquering the Americas, the Portuguese opened trade routes around Africa to India and East Asia. The Portuguese were better at pillaging than trading, and relied on Italian banks for financing their tiny trading fleets. The Dutch merchants took a look at that trade, built a much larger fleet (they had much more capital to invest) and went out to trade and plunder.
During the 1600's the Dutch brought the riches (traded and raided) of Asia to Europe. The Dutch established a small empire, but emphasized creating trading centers over large-scale colonization.
Eventually, in the 1700's, with their larger populations and equally piratical appetites the French and English caught up with the Dutch and surpassed them. The Dutch empire stopped expanding and they lost bits and pieces of it to other imperialists. They did maintain the Dutch East Indies and were the only Europeans allowed to trade with Japan until 1854.
The decline in colonizing efforts did not turn the Netherlands into a backwater. The Dutch had large industries including shipbuilding. They had excellent scientists and scholars. But their key edge over rivals was finance capital. Amsterdam was the place to go to borrow money if you could not raise it in your own markets. The Dutch often cooperated with British merchants, but they also financed the American Revolution. As the world changed they moved money around, at interest, and just kept growing wealthier.
The idea that The Netherlands was some peace-loving nation trampled on by Germans in World Wars I and II is only half-true. They were a war-loving nation with a long history of abusing weaker peoples outside of Europe. During World War II the Japanese liberated or granted independence to many nations that had become colonies (including the U.S. colony, the Philippines). Thus the Dutch East Indies became Indonesia. But the Dutch tried to used force to take back the colony between 1945 and 1949.
While they were killing Indonesians, the Dutch also had a baby boom after World War II. Capital was put back to work, so the economy expanded rapidly as well.
In a global context The Netherlands is not all that important today. The number of bicycles in Holland are dwarfed by the number of bicycles in China. But on a per-person basis the Dutch consume bigger pieces of the world's pie than most global inhabitants. They have their claws in industry and agriculture around the globe. There is no ill-intent involved. You are probably reading this using a computer made with semiconductor chips made with vastly expensive machines designed and made in the Netherlands (then shipped to Taiwan).
If you are among the globally well-off, whether in China or the United States or wherever, a similar analysis can be applied to you. You may be smart and work hard, but the real secret of your success is your access to finance capital. Your intentions may be good, but you are destroying the earth.
We need to return the human population of the earth to a sustainable level. I support policies that further that goal, including women's reproductive rights and reworking the tax code to discourage families with more than one child.