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Dubious Progress

Germany is one of the most advanced nations in the world with regard to environmental protection, but it's a dubious distinction.

The German city of Freiburg and its surrounding communities, located on the edge of the Black Forest, could have been a model of environmental progress. Nearby mountain summits sport wind energy production installations, and solar panels allow many homes and offices to rely on clean solar energy.

On a visit to the region last month, I found the sight to be awe-inspiring; I had never seen anything like it in my own sun-drenched country.

Freiburg passers-by are able to monitor air-pollution data on a electronic board in the city. The city center is closed to private vehicles, humming instead with trains and trams. Rows of bins for various kinds of recycling stand on every street corner.

But once the initial admiration for all this green activity wears off, the stark contrast between it and the masses of Germans and tourists blithely engaged in incessant exploitation and waste of resources becomes apparent.

American-style shopping centers are popping up in small towns all over the country, and masses of vehicles are using up huge amounts of polluting fuel. The wind and sun are indeed used to save energy and plastic packaging is recycled, but the amount of natural resources and raw materials this society consumes is only growing.

Germany is one of the most advanced nations in the world with regard to environmental protection, but it's a dubious distinction. The German Federal Environment Agency recently conceded that while the country had cleaned up its own water sources and air quality, it had transferred problems to other places in the world - the sources of huge quantities of raw materials and natural resources.

It will very difficult to achieve a fundamental change in world consumer habits, but without such a change, developed countries will continue to be a burden on the planet. Professor Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the European Environment Agency (EEA), recently courageously admitted that the chances of developing different means of production and consumption were slim in the world at present; the best that could be achieved would be a reduction in the rising rate of consumption.

McGlade added that the European Union comprises 7 percent of the world population but consumes 25 percent of the planet's paper, 15 percent of its energy and a similar amount of its meat. Consumption rates are expected to rise in the coming decades. This will nix the technological achievements of efficient, green energy producers.

The stabilization of European populations will not change this situation. On the contrary, smaller households will only lead to an increase in consumption per capita.