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Germans Still Think Green

Despite pressing problems such as unemployment and a stagnant economy, the majority of Germans are still concerned about environmental issues and award it a high priority according to the results of a new study.


Environmental problems cannot just be ironed away

The recent catastrophic floods in Germany sparked a heated debate in the country on climate-change and the need to rethink environmentally-friendly policies.

But even as many people fear that the environment will be a short-lived topic in public memory and overshadowed by more pressing issues such as unemployment and economic growth, the results of the study "Environmental consciousness in Germany 2002" show otherwise.

The study commissioned by the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) and conducted by social scientist Udo Kuckartz and the Emnid Institute questioned 2,361 men and women from all over Germany in January this year on their attitudes towards the environment.

Environment still a priority

Though most considered spiralling unemployment to be the most important issue in the coming elections, environmental protection came in fourth place after "social fairness" and "state of the economy".

It was even given more priority than "internal security", which dominated public debate in Germany after the September 11 attacks in New York.

Almost 93 percent of those surveyed considered environment protection to be "important".

My backyard's cleaner

The study concluded that most Germans consider the biggest environmental problems to be elsewhere in the world, not in their own country.

83 percent of those surveyed said that they found the environmental quality in Germany extremely good - a typical pattern that is to be found in all countries in the world, according to social scientist Udo Kuckartz. He told the "Berliner Zeitung", "as compared to news of catastrophes from elsewhere, everything seems to be better in one’s own backyard to start with".

Along those lines, most showed less concern for noise pollution in Germany than for global problems such as global warming. About 94 percent were in favour of reducing greenhouse emissions, 77 percent believed that the atmosphere would become warmer.

Climate change: more needs to be done

Echoing recent concerns in the aftermath of the devastating floods, climate change was considered one of the important issues by almost all questioned.

Most also believed that very little progress had been made on the topic, despite its significance. 60 percent were of the opinion that hardly anything of importance had been achieved in the field in the last five years, for 25 percent the situation had become "even worse".

Half of those surveyed were in favour of Germany taking a leading role on the subject of climate change rather than waiting for a European solution.

Thinking green doesn't mean voting for Green

The researchers also discovered that environmental concerns didn’t necessarily stem from one’s political conviction. Those who were interested and concerned about environmental problems don’t automatically vote for the Green party.

Researchers filtered out those who were particularly dedicated to environmental matters from all those surveyed on the basis of whether they belonged to an environmental organisation. Among them almost every fifth person identified with the Green party, whereas every fourth was in favour of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).

In former communist eastern Germany, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the successor to the former communist party, was the most popular among environmentally-involved citizens.

The study also concluded that there is a marked shift in Germany today from the fiery environmental movement that peaked in the 1970s with the emergence of the Green party where anti-nuclear protests, conservation movements and hostility towards modern technology made for headlines around the world.

According to the study, Germans are much more pragmatic and sober about environmental issues today and environmental consciousness is no longer equated with hostility towards technology. Instead technology is largely seen as a useful instrument in saving the environment.

Topics at Jo’burg summit find resonance with German public

The word "sustainability", the magic mantra at the ongoing earth summit in Johannesburg, threw many questioned off track. Just about 28 percent said they knew what the word meant, though the figure is almost twice as high as when a similar study was conducted two years ago.

"When one considers that in the meantime almost everybody from environmental experts to business experts tout the word, it (the percentage of people who know the word) is still very low", Kuckartz told the "Berliner Zeitung".

At the same time, an overwhelming number agreed with the principles behind the rather unwieldy word "sustainability" or "Nachhaltigkeit" as it is known in German. Thus 85 percent of the Germans agreed that the environment should not be exploited at the cost of future generations, 78 percent considered it important that one should not use more resources than can be grown.

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