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The Greenest Nation?

The Greenest Nation?: A New History of German Environmentalism

Frank Uekötter
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Greenest Nation?
    Book Description:

    Germany enjoys an enviably green reputation. Environmentalists in other countries applaud its strict environmental laws, its world-class green technology firms, its phase-out of nuclear power, and its influential Green Party. Germans are proud of these achievements, and environmentalism has become part of the German national identity. InThe Greenest Nation?Frank Uekötter offers an overview of the evolution of German environmentalism since the late nineteenth century. He discusses, among other things, early efforts at nature protection and urban sanitation, the Nazi experience, and civic mobilization in the postwar years. He shows that much of Germany's green reputation rests on accomplishments of the 1980s, and emphasizes the mutually supportive roles of environmental nongovernmental organizations, corporations, and the state. Uekötter looks at environmentalism in terms of civic activism, government policy, and culture and life, eschewing the usual focus on politics, prophets, and NGOs. He also views German environmentalism in an international context, tracing transnational networks of environmental issues and actions and discussing German achievements in relation to global trends. Bringing his discussion up to the present, he shows the influence of the past on today's environmental decisions. As environmentalism is wrestling with the challenges of the twenty-first century, Germany could provide a laboratory for the rest of the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32240-9
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Michael Egan

    It is hardly hyperbole to assert that we live in a state of environmental crisis. Human-induced climate change is already threatening plant and animal biodiversity and human habitats. Globally there is an uneven distribution of environmental amenities and hazards. Our food and our bodies are increasingly burdened with a cocktail of toxic chemicals. Despite our advances in science, technology, and medicine, more rather than fewer children are diagnosed with asthma and leukemia. Human population growth is seriously challenging the planet’s carrying capacity. And we are consuming more natural resources at an unsustainable rate. This environmental deterioration has a history that...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Environmentalism and Environmental History in the Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 1-24)

    In a way, this book is an outgrowth of many conversations that I have had over the last years. As a German environmentalist traveling abroad, I have frequently encountered a sense of envy: man, you have it so good! Strict laws, world-class green technology firms, the phase-out of nuclear power and a powerful green party—observers from other countries have come to watch German environmentalism with a mixture of admiration and awe. In May 2012, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) called Germany “a laboratory for green growth” and praised its “proactive role in environmental policy within the...

  6. 2 Creating a Tradition: German Environmentalism, 1900 to 1945
    (pp. 25-58)

    There is no “zero hour” of environmentalism. Humans have pondered their relationship to the natural environment throughout the ages, and a concern for nature is probably as old as human civilization. That puts the environmental historian into a difficult situation in defining the starting point of narratives. All too easily, we end up looking like a hapless archeologist who diligently dissects one layer of sediments only to uncover older traces below. Surely the 1970s and 1980s played a significant role in German and global environmentalism. However, many decisions during those years merely reaffirmed reform efforts during the early postwar years....

  7. 3 Getting in Motion: German Environmentalism, 1945 to 1980
    (pp. 59-100)

    In the collective memory of the Federal Republic, the 1950s have long since taken on mythical status. Total defeat and the miseries of the immediate postwar years gave way to a long boom that entered into common parlance as the “economic miracle” [Wirtschaftswunder]. Between 1950 and 1973, GDP grew at an average annual rate of around 6.5 percent, an unusual growth rate even for a time when all Western economies were humming along. While the economy had been a notorious source of trouble in the interwar period, it now became a first-rate guarantor of political stability. Mass consumption became the...

  8. Interim Remarks: Explaining the Rise of Environmentalism
    (pp. 101-112)

    The rise of environmentalism is one of those things that seem easy to explain—until one takes a closer look. From a distance everything looks plain: the stellar rise of environmentalism over the last half-century makes it tempting to view it as a general watershed. Given the tremendous change in mindsets and structures, there surely must have been some deeper forces at work. Narratives often draw on something resembling a HegelianWeltgeistin action, of general laws of history that made the rise of the green cause irresistible. With a bit of polemic, one might speak of a “reverse tomato...

  9. 4 The Green Enigma: German Environmentalism, 1980 to 2013
    (pp. 113-156)

    The early 1980s were crisis years all over the West. The second oil crisis of 1979/80 had shaken the economies of the West and triggered a severe depression. In the fall of 1982, almost one in ten Germans was unemployed, something unheard of since the miracle years. The crisis provoked strong reactions. The United States under Reagan and Great Britain under Thatcher opted for Neoliberalism, France under Mitterrand for social policy and nationalization, and the social-liberal coalition that had ruled West Germany since 1969 showed strains and finally broke apart in 1982. In this political setting, environmental problems were at...

  10. 5 German Environmentalism in Mid Passage
    (pp. 157-176)

    Every year millions of visitors come to Cologne to visit the famous cathedral. With some 10,000 square meters of windows and the tallest twin church towers in the world, it is by all means an impressive building. It is also a mirror of German history. Construction started in the thirteenth century, when the Gothic style was reigning supreme. In 1530, an imposing choir and parts of the south tower were standing when construction came to a halt during the Reformation. The project lay dormant for more than three centuries until German nationalists revived it in the nineteenth century. Having occupied...

  11. How Green After All? An Epilogue
    (pp. 177-184)

    As it happens, this book is also a farewell to my country of birth. The University of Birmingham offered me a position while this book was under review, and my move to the British Isles was just weeks away when I sent the final version to press. For all the excitement that a new job and a new country offer, these situations also bring to mind things one will miss. The distance between Munich and Birmingham is only about a thousand kilometers, and even less from the place where I grew up, but national boundaries can make a difference. For...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 185-212)
  13. Selected Readings on German Environmentalism
    (pp. 213-216)
  14. Index
    (pp. 217-233)