Nazi Germany: Climate Change Lessons

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german forest.JPG Those of us who are stepping up to the climate change challenge must devote as much energy to civil liberties issues as we do to energy policy. If we don't, we may wake up one day soon in an America we don't recognize, and find ourselves unable to enforce even the most watered down carbon reduction schemes.

There are clearly many differences between our society today and Germany in the 1930s, but some similarities bear comparison. Unlike the Germans, we have the benefit of history.

In the 1930s, many middle-class Germans were dedicated conservationists with regional hiking clubs boasting thousands of local members. The National Socialists didn't just turn Germany into a fascist state over night: they gradually and legally seized power over a period of years. The outcome was not inevitable. As Thomas Lekan notes in his study of environmentalism in the Rhineland region, Imagining the Nation in Nature, it was important to win over the nature-loving demographic during the consolidation of power. In 1935 the Nazis made their dreams come true by passing the national Reich Nature Protection Law and making Germany the most progressive among industrialized nations in regard to landscape planning and conservation, according to Charles Closmann's essay in How Green Were the Nazis?


What does this have to do with us in the United States right now, you ask?

Our climate change approach is not "progressive," you say. We are energy gluttons, lagging behind the rest of the world. The Bush Administration has an abysmal environmental record; it's not successfully co-opting environmentalists with its green rhetoric. As the Germans with their forests, however, we may be putting all our eggs in the climate change basket to our own peril, and the peril of the planet.

While some Germans shared the Nazis' racist ideology, many did not. Rhineland conservationists did not understand why the racist rhetoric needed to be grafted onto their nationalistic conception of nature preservation or adopted by their local hiking clubs. As Lekan notes in his essay within his How Green Were the Nazis?, the conservationists "displayed their profound naivete about Nazism's inner dynamic and their insignificance to a regime bent on launching a catastrophic war of racial expansion."

One can only imagine the moments at which non-racist German conservationists began to realize what sort of government they had allowed to form. Had they been vigilant citizens, they may have been able to prevent the coming atrocities rather than help consolidate Nazi power. A commitment to democracy and human dignity would also have better enabled their organic agriculture and landscape preservation agenda in the long run than wartime encroachment and bombing.

Our naivete about the depths of this administration's zeal for executive power and disregard for civil liberties has been exacerbated by a culture in which we are busy. We are preoccupied with our work, our relationships, our homes, our leisure. Many of us do work that we feel good about and so think that we are contributing enough to the world. We hear about torture, warrantless wiretapping, surveillance of environmental activists, slippery slope wording around what constitutes "eco-terrorism", and the ability of the president to detain U.S. residents indefinitely without charge. But we think someone else will do something. It doesn't occur to us that these changes may restrict our ability to advocate for sensible solutions to climate change.

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Many of us (including myself) have endeavored to make environmental issues palatable to non-environmentalists by making them "hip," "sexy," and "accessible." It has been good and important work, but it is not enough. The widespread awareness and interest we worked to create must be leveraged into political action rather than only marketing segments. History will judge this administration, but it will judge us too. Do we want to explain to our grandchildren that we were encouraging people to buy CFLs, go to Live Earth and purchase recycled flooring while our democracy was crumbling and we were allowing a war without end?

Right now there is enough information about torture and unaccountable paramilitary forces like Blackwater to make inaction shameful.  As Frank Rich said recently

'Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.'

But we are losing more than our good name. We are losing the foundations of democracy in what some might call a "fascist shift". As difficult as it has been to pass energy policy in our crippled democracy, imagine what it would be like to pass and enforce it in a worst case scenario like a "state of emergency" that delays the next presidential election.

The Climate Change task is enormous, requiring tremendous effort. But it must be taken on in tandem with civil liberties and human rights. Sacrifice, hard work and responsibility aren't necessarily sexy. But they're required of us. We have to become new kinds of citizens, not just new kinds of environmental consumers. This doesn't mean abandoning optimism, but rather abandoning delusion. We have to call and write our senators and representatives weekly -- even daily. We have to talk to our friends and neighbors, and build community around core American values. Together we must develop a spirited and optimistic vigilance. 

I don't have all the answers, but I'm committed to looking for them. Please comment and check back on these pages for ongoing discussion of specific relationships between threats to our liberties, human rights, and to the planet.  

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Six Hours A Week Is:

A coping strategy, advocacy outlet, and form of protection. My life has been nearly destroyed by the unconstitutional practices of politically/socially-motivated private intelligence contractors and the corruption and cronyism that allow them. Apparently because I speak out in ways that prioritize the little guy and human and environmental health above gargantuan profit margins, and believe that facts are as important as PR spin, I was someone who had to be completely discredited. In 2007, after a few months of a surreal and relentless invasion of privacy and dignity, I started to spend six hours each week researching, communicating about, and advocating legal and ethical responses to assaults on our shared democratic and republican ideals. For most of that time I was writing from the perspective of someone whose life was manipulated into a constant state of terror and emergency. In 2010, many of the array of entrapment attempts seem to have failed and it seems no longer possible to get away with such excessive, obvious harassment and overt interference. As we take more practical steps to address what has been allowed to happen to my family, we do expect to see some more harassment and intimidation. But I should be able to chronicle it from a more measured perspective, rather than that of someone in constant fear. Part of me would like to go back and delete earlier posts, because even I find them hard to relate to in some ways. But this blog has been one of our only forms of protection as everyone in any official capacity ignored the truth and tried to spin and frame us into the troublemakers and perpetrators of one form or another. So I leave it up as a form of protection, a record of what has occurred, and (with luck) the account of our way back to credibility and some form of legitimate justice. All content on this site is property of Kyeann Sayer. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Kyeann published on November 5, 2007 5:41 AM.

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