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The Greenest Nation?

A New History of German Environmentalism

Frank Uekötter

Publication Year: 2014

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. In <I>The Greenest Nation?</I> 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.

Published by: The MIT Press

Series: History for a Sustainable Future


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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Michael Egan

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pp. vii-x

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...

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pp. xi-xiv

Every book has its history, and syntheses usually have a particularly circuitous one. After two decades of researching and writing on many aspects of environmentalism in Germany and elsewhere, a book of this kind was a somewhat logical project. It was also an exercise in self-restraint. It probably would...

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1 Environmentalism and Environmental History in the Twenty-first Century

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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...

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2 Creating a Tradition: German Environmentalism, 1900 to 1945

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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...

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3 Getting in Motion: German Environmentalism, 1945 to 1980

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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...

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Interim Remarks: Explaining the Rise of Environmentalism

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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...

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4 The Green Enigma: German Environmentalism, 1980 to 2013

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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...

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5 German Environmentalism in Mid Passage

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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...

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How Green After All? An Epilogue

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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...


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pp. 185-212

Selected Readings on German Environmentalism

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pp. 213-216


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pp. 217-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780262322409
E-ISBN-10: 0262322404
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262027328

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 14 figures
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: History for a Sustainable Future
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OCLC Number: 877868129
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Greenest Nation?

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Environmentalism -- History -- 21st century.
  • Environmentalism -- Germany -- History -- 21st century.
  • Environmentalism -- Germany -- History -- 20th century.
  • Environmental policy -- History -- 21st century.
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