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Jan Fleischhauer: Germany And The Church Of Ecological Faith

When it comes to the environment, nobody beats the Germans. No other people separate their waste so dedicatedly and nobody saves water so busily. Unfortunately, not everything we do to protect the environment is actually beneficial – and some things even make it worse.

The Germans are a deeply faithful people; you should not let yourself be deceived by the dwindling membership of the two Christian denominations. The actual state religion in Germany is environmentalism. The belief in environmental protection links all classes and generations, this church is always full.

No other nation on Earth separates its rubbish as dedicatedly, saves water so busily and tries ever so passionately to live an ecologically exemplary life. Only in Germany, two dragonflies laying their eggs can delay the expansion of an airport and a few beetles in a park delayed the construction of Stuttgart’s train station. When it comes to saving the environment, we don’t allow anyone to beat us. Or, as my colleague Alexander Neubacher writes in his wonderful book “Ökofimmel”, which will be published these days: “In the past, Germany has declared war on its neighbours; today, it declares how to phase-out nuclear power.”

Environmentalism has affected all parties; here the separation of church and state is abolished by principle. Ever since the Chancellor converted the Christian Democrats to the belief in the green energy revolution, the conservative camp has become part of the green missionary movement. How could it be otherwise? The surest way to the top in politics today no longer happens through the doors of the Financial or Economic ministry, but by way of the Environment Ministery. Angela Merkel, Juergen Trittin (Green party leader) and Sigmar Gabriel (Labour leader of the opposition) – all of them have turned into something; only a few newspaper editors remember Martin Bangemann and Werner Müller.

There is actually nothing to say against the modern environmental faith, unless one is a convinced atheist. I feel like my colleague Neubacher. I also want that my children grow up in an intact world – so, I take my glass bottles to the recycle container, wash my plastic yogurt cups before I return them, and be careful that I am not wasting water while shaving. The only problem is: much of what we are doing to help save the environment does not help it at all – some things even cause the exact opposite.

Germany is not in the Sahel

If you go to the heart of the problem, you will experience strange things. You will learn, for example, that the contents of our well-sorted recycling bins end up in the incinerator of the closest cement plant. You learn that the introduction of the ‘can deposit’ has helped the disposable glass bottle to an unexpected victory. Or that the municipal utility companies everywhere have to pump water into the sewer system because it no longer carries enough water now due to the fact that people press the eco button each time they go to the toilet.

Our use of water is a good example of how much truth is in the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Germany is not in the Sahel, as you will realise each time the rain pours down. However, we save like hell on drinking water. The average consumption in Germany has declined by two full buckets a day since 1990, which is a remarkable achievement. Compared with our European neighbours we actually consume 80 litres less a day.

Unfortunately, this self-flagellation has hardly any effect on water bills. THat’s because more than 80 percent of the expenditure of water companies accounts for maintenance and repair of sewers, and they suffer because we put in less and less water from the tap. The experts agree that it would be better if the Germans would again consume more rather than less water.

Clean diesel, dirty electric car

The conversion to biofuels has been downright fatal. The highly subsidized corn production has spread so much that the Federal Republic had to import enough grain to make bread in 2011 for the first time in 25 years. Across the world, companies have begun to buy up farmland and fields. The result can be seen on the grain exchanges, where prices are increasing continuously, which in turn hit those hardest, who are so poor that they cannot afford a few cents more for flour; about 1.4 billion people.

Not even the environmental balance is ok. Canola diesel, produced under certified conditions, i.e. without burning down forests, is 4.5 percent worse than normal diesel; soy diesel is almost twelve percent worse and palm oil diesel roughly 15 percent.

Not even the praised electric car delivers what it promises, as I read in Neubacher’s book. Even a Prius cannot be driven on wind and sun, which means that e-mobility is not as green as claimed. The ADAC has determined that an electric Smart car, which is charged with electricity from coal-fired power plants, emits about 107 grams of CO2 per kilometer, or 21 grams more than the conventional diesel Smart. If production is included in the bill, the environmental situation is even worse. “In particular, the production of batteries consumes vast quantities of electricity,” writes Neubacher in his guide to the ‘Eco World’ and its absurdities. “For a single electric car, extra energy equivalent to as much as 10,000 litres of petrol is consumed. That is roughly the amount of fuel that a normal midsize car uses in its entire life.”

However, whoever now expects that such findings would be a reason to pause in this incessant effort to make the world more ecological, has failed to understand the nature of religious practice. Those who learn from childhood that redemption depends on saving water cannot stop doing it just because some godless guys claim the opposite. The cultic act of worship opens up a space in which wishes still come true. This is called magical thinking.

Translation Philipp Mueller

Spiegel Online, 12 March 2012