Professor Johann Georg Goldammer explains why the world cannot have enough initiatives like Trees for Greece.
Isn’t environmental protection and resource conservation a governmental duty?
It is profoundly dangerous if the civilian population – including independent scientific institutes and non-governmental organisations – takes a back seat on issues such as these. Around the world, it is arguably the responsibility of the respective governments to ensure that resources and the environment are protected sustainably and in the best possible way. However, this year’s national elections in Germany once again showed the reality, that politics – ignorance encompassed all political parties in Germany – completely disregards one key central issue: in twenty or thirty years, our ‘normal’ way of life as we know it today in the rich western countries will cease to exist. It will only be possible to overcome the imminent crisis caused by climate change and the associated far-reaching social, economic and political destabilisation if internal ethical reforms start to determine events within civilian society. Private renaturation initiatives such as Trees for Greece are absolutely essential, but they cannot be left to stand alone. They must receive support from politicians and from all those who bear responsibility for the global exploitation of the earth.
Why should a German initiative plant trees in Greece?
Above all else, it is important that the societies, which are currently still relatively wealthy and have an apparently intact environment begin to understand the shared responsibility that they have. It won’t be long before the problem of changing ways of life around the world will not just be broadcast from the world’s ‘poor’ countries over the internet and to our TV screens into our air-conditioned living rooms, but will also completely change how we live as well. The term ‘globalisation’ is currently regarded as more of a cultural phenomenon than an ecological one. The term ‘globalisation’ also refers to the collective effects of the environmental changes, which have been caused by civilisation and which cumulatively influence the planet’s atmosphere and the global ecosystem. However, this can also be used in a positive sense, such as when we play an active role, e.g. through civilian initiatives, in protecting our forests and other vegetation.
In concrete terms, what scenario do you see at our doorstep in twenty or thirty years?
Industrialisation and a growing population will exert ever more pressure on the environment. The carrying capacity of our ecosystem has long been at its limit. The next stage will be that Germany will experience increasingly severe natural disasters – this can already be seen with floods and storms. At the same time, our available living space will be severely reduced due to the influx of ‘environmental refugees’ from countries or regions that are no longer habitable. If we want to continue regarding our core values of democracy and human rights has having primacy for our actions, then we also have to accept that, for instance, within the next generation – perhaps in the next thirty years – space will have to be found for the between one and two billion people who will come to Europe looking for ecological and humanitarian asylum after their regions have been rendered uninhabitable. If we do not start to make immediate changes to our everyday behaviour, which is harmful to resources and which we see as an expression of our ‘democratic freedom’, the global situation will soon start to restrict our way of life far more than we can possibly imagine.
Faced with these prospects, does it make any sense at all for individuals to try and take action?
The numerous failed climate conferences have shown us that politics has yet managed to make any changes. Only civilian society has the potential to slow down the pace of development and perhaps, like the weather-changing flap of a butterfly’s wings, give it a completely new direction. The Trees for Greece initiative on the island of Amorgos joins a great number of other similar projects already in place. However, this global challenge presents a myriad of different aspects. Every one of us can and must get involved with one of these aspects. Amorgos is everywhere.
Interview from October 5th 2013 with Professor Johann Georg Goldammer, Director of the Global Fire Monitoring Center and the Fire Ecology work group at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Freiburg.
Interview with Prof. Dr. Goldammer