The German branch of Friends of the Earth, BUND, celebrates its 30th anniversary Wednesday. It has been one of the environmental groups that has spearheaded Germany's ecological awareness.
Fighting for a cleaner environment for three decades
BUND's year of birth, 1975, was by no means an accident. Norbert Franck, spokesman for the environmental organization, said a national group was needed to address some of the critical issues of that time, such as atomic energy and the death of some of Germany's most beautiful woods, including the renowned Black Forest.
From the days of grass-roots activism three decades ago to a now highly-recognized group with over 390,000 members, BUND is proud of its achievements, which have led to a "stable awareness of environmental and nature protection in the population" according to chairwoman Angelilka Zahrnt.
Bicycles galore, like in this bike rack in Münster, is a dream of BUND
Germans consider themselves to be very environmentally-conscious, yet Europe's largest economy isn't based on agriculture but on industry. This creates pollution and BUND is quick to show the statistics.
Take greenhouse gases. The country has reduced its climate damaging greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2000 by about 19 percent. Yet on the other hand, at 12 tons of CO2 equivalent per resident and year, Germany lies significantly above the EU average of 10.7 tons.
Nature protection project high on list
Beyond the abstract calculation of carbon dioxide emissions, BUND is active in setting aside wildlife and nature preserves. One of them dates back to the reunification of Germany. During the Cold War, East and West Germany were divided by some 1,800 kilometers of barbed wire and guarded towers. It was truly a no-man's land.
When the country was reunified in 1990, BUND set up the Green Belt along the old border.
"It's one of our most beautiful projects," said Franck.
BUND was also fortunate to have received the support of one of the most pivotal world leaders during that time of upheaval, Mikhail Gorbachev. With his support, the group wants to expand the Green Belt project beyond the old German borders to run along what was once the Iron Curtain, separating the continent.
Successes not enough
Nuclear power plants, like this one in Stade, are scheduled to be shut down in Germany
BUND was an enthusiastic supporter of the Social Democratic-Green party governing coalition's decision to put an end to nuclear power production in Germany. But new elections likely to be held in September and the very real possibility of a conservative administration taking power in Berlin could mean that this achievement would be reversed.
In such a case, there would only be one alternative for Franck: "We would have to take to the streets to prevent an extension of atomic energy production."
Should it turn out not to be necessary, there will still be plenty of environmental work for BUND to do in the next 30 years.