Ecology and Crisis

In 1871, the term nature conservation was first used in Germany. That same year one of the pioneers of German nature conservation was born: Benno Wolf. While employed first of all as a judge in Berlin from 1912 onward, he also worked for the State Office for the Preservation of Natural Monuments in Prussia, initially as a volunteer, and from 1915 on a full-time basis. Wolf’s drafts for an act for the preservation of nature were groundbreaking, such as for the “Feld- und Forstordnungsgesetz” (Field and Forest Ordinance Law) of 1920, which created the possibility, for the very first time, of designating nature conservation areas. His second passion was the exploration of caves. The Nazis defined nature conservation as the protection of people and their homeland—to the exclusion of those who were not considered “Volksgenossen” (fellow Germans). Wolf had to resign from his official positions after the Nazis seized power in 1933 due to his Jewish roots. His preparatory work, used anonymously, found its way into the formulation of the Reich Nature Conservation Act of 1935. His archival material on caves that was of importance to the underground armaments industry, was confiscated by the SS “Ahnenerbe” (ancestral heritage division). Wolf himself was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in 1942, where he died as a result of the inhumane prison conditions. Decades passed before his achievements in the field of nature conservation and speleology were recognized.

Benno Wolf, about 1930, © Verband der deutschen Höhlen- und Karstforscher

< Benno Wolf, Das Recht der Naturdenkmalpflege in Deutschland, Berlin 1920

Map of the Green Belt and map of Europe with the Iron Curtain, Collage: Atelier Stecher, Götzis; © European Green Belt bzw. Michael Cramer

The Nazi “blood and soil” ideology in nature conservation was passed on after 1945. It is even to be found, thinly veiled, in some new environmental movements. Not only occultism that has become topical once again, but also renewed forms of nationalism and militarization pose a threat to environmental protection and nature conservation. In the 1970s, a growing biodiversity could be seen in the no-man’s-land along the Iron Curtain. The death strip between East and West had become an important ecological habitat. As a result, nature conservationists and environmentalists met on the Bavarian-Czechoslovakian border on December 9, 1989, and demanded the protection of the “Green Belt.” In 2002, all the countries bordering the former Iron Curtain joined forces. As a network of biotopes, now the world’s longest, the “Green Belt” extends over a length of 12,500 km along 24 European countries, 16 of which are EU members, from the Norwegian Arctic Sea to the Black Sea. However, since the outbreak of the war in the Ukraine, the long border between Finland and Russia is once again threatened with becoming a military deployment area. Europe has a responsibility to ensure that ecology and social justice for all, democracy, human rights and peace cannot be played off against each other.

Ariel Brunner, in conversation with Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek, on “The EU’s responsibility in view of the ecological crisis”, Hohenems, October 5, 2020