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Some reading this will remember when Berlin was a divided city. The western sector, part of free Germany was surrounded by the GDR or communist Germany controlled as part of the USSR. The industry around West Berlin burned coal, oil and, generally, polluted the air and water. West Berliners were trapped. Their main park, the Tiergarten, had the Berlin Wall running partway through it and what was left had Hitler’s bunker and other WWII constructions ruining its pastoral splendor.

What was Berlin to do? Its people had to fight back against the pollution surrounding them. The solution? Parks, hundreds and hundreds of them. Every street intersection, every triangle of open land was turned into part of the municipal park system. Trees were planted, grass was planted. In the end, West Berlin had a park system that, in acreage, rivalled Manhattan, and some of these parks were triangles less than 15’ on a side. Did it work? Yes. I had occasion to be in both east and west and east in ‘66 was far more polluted. Even in 1992, after reunification, coal burning in the east continued and the smog was considerable—but the west? Those hundreds of small parks kept the air cleaner, breathable.

Now, in Germany, there’s another battle going on. An ancient forest called the Hambach has been stripped of trees over the decades in Germany’s industrial need for coal. Even after the coal has been removed, the land remediation is, in effect, zero. And they are not finished coal mining there either. What’s left of the forest is a thin strip between two giant mines, one 52 square miles and the other just a bit smaller. The coal mining company wants to obliterate the remaining forest and, to quote them, “finish mining all the coal underneath.”

The fact that there are two small villages in the way is no obstacle. Politics, “good of the nation,” and other arguments prevail in search of the almighty Euro. What’s stopping them? Serious scientists measuring the pollution caused by the mining operations, a political Green Movement in Germany, and a bunch of tree huggers—well, tree inhabitants. These young people built treehouses, well, more like tree tents, and live in the trees. Squatters? Sure, but there are laws protecting public camping in Germany and, for the time being, the least they expect is that there is a public discussion on the viability of coal, destruction of public land for profit, and actual legal scientific study on comparable energy resources for the public good and national GDP. That was the last thing the coal industry wanted. Figures in last week showed renewable electric generation was more profitable for the nation that fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, always remember there are two shining—proven—examples you can rely on in these discussions. One is that Denmark is 100% renewable and now a net exporter of electricity paying off national debt. Two, the Chipko Movement (the original tree-huggers) in India was undertaken by mothers, women, stopping logging of hillside Himalayan forests. Why? Because clear cutting caused the monsoons to wash away hillsides, flooding villages in mud and killing hundreds of children. 

Remember always that good ecology makes for a permanent, reliable, economy.

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