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We want to be role models but our behaviour creates a lot of damage again and again from neglect and a lack of composure. Often enough exactly when we mean it very well once again.

It’s just a coincidence, but all the more telling: At the start of the week, independently from each other, two books were published that show that we Germans, who never get tired of showing mankind the right path in the great questions of the future, proceed very bigotedly in these matters.

If we throw away a total of eleven million tons of food each year, as a study by the Federal Ministry for Consumer Protection has suggested, we should not complain about hunger in the world and the exploitation of nature. The solution is not that we send the excess food to Africa instead of throwing it in the trash. What is clear, however, is that the surplus production in this country and the import surplus – especially in meat products – overuse the limited resources of land and water unnecessarily.

The grain markets of the world are interrelated and so are the international markets for agricultural lands, on which investors from the U.S. and Europe and increasingly from China and India have driven the rents up, so that the small farmers in Africa are chased off their productive farms. If the markets get too tight, giant forest trees are cut down to create more farm land. Actually, the food trade is only responsible for five percent of the huge food rubbish pile, two thirds comes from private households, the rest from restaurants, canteens and schools. So we have to blame ourselves when we smell the garbage pile and we can shift the blame only to a lesser extent to politics or trade. Our indiscriminate buying behaviour, lack of composure in dealing with the expiry date and dislike of small potatoes and crooked cucumbers are responsible for the 81 kilogrammes of food, which the average household throws away each year.

It seems that in some other wealthy countries the behaviour is not much better. So much thoughtlessness is not good. The real opposite of good is, however, well-intentioned, and in this area we Germans are the world’s best. Alexander Neubacher shows us this in his recently published book “Ökofimmel” a lively series of illustrious and absurd examples: how we try to save the world and what we are doing to it – to reveal this green-washed absurd state of affair is at the heart of this newspaper and a special preference of our columnists Maxeiner and Miersch. Even if the “Ökofimmel” has already made inroads on the European level, much of it goes back to the persistent work of the Federal Government in Bonn and now in Berlin. If future archaeologists should ever find in the garbage heaps the proof that the use of mercury, which was strictly forbidden a long time ago, has increased again since the beginning of the third millennium, one can only hope that they find the real cause from documentaries: the obsession of eco-bureaucrats to influence the climate with mercury-containing energy saving bulbs, forbidding their citizens to use the good old light bulb. Mercury is one of the most toxic substances, is deadly in minute quantities, and the power used for lighting is just one percent of total energy consumption. Proportionality, it is not.

It is above all the one-dimensional focus on the supposed salvation of the world’s climate, which makes us blind to the collateral consequences: that the desired increase in consumption of so-called bio-energy for cars and power generation converts Germany’s farmland into a monoculture, increases world hunger and destroys the rainforest. Or that the law require homeowners to dim the light, which conveys mould and ruins their health. The list of examples is endless.

So far all these dubious actions are still met with widespread acceptance in Germany. Who wants to risks a full attack on the saviours of the world? As in a self-reinforcing vortex, everybody is attracted to the same direction, like lemmings. The moment of truth may come when it is not just about the environment and health, but about money. If you have enough money, you may show off your alleged concern about the environment. And if you have none – then just move away from our eco-friendly area. This was certainly the motto in the upper middle-class district of Berlin-Charlottenburg. For the climate campaigners, who wanted – in order to rebuild a dozen blocks into a model climate neighbourhood – to completely and expensively renovate nineteenth century buildings once again, although they had been extensively renovated in the 1990s, the recently still lamented gentrification of the area was suddenly no longer an issue. The result: a fist-fight broke out between the climate saviours and the members of the tenant advisory boards, which only stopped when the police arrived. The so-often-cited climate wars, which in the opinion of many should have covered the whole of Africa a long time ago but so far failed to materialize, may be closer than we think.

It is time for us to come to our senses. Everything indicates that we have to save energy and that we have to rely more on renewable energy sources. And indeed as fast as we can – but not quicker. We must learn to weigh again; not only between economy and ecology but also among different areas of environmental protection. In the eyes of the protectors of the rain forest here and in tropical countries, multi-billion biofuel lobby now has no better reputation than the multinational oil companies. That you can earn money with environmental protection is well-known today. But if it becomes too profitable, we should once again make sure that the environment and health are not thrown to the wolves. It would help already if we stopped and thought a bit more often – as in dealing with foodstuffs.

Welt Online (in German)