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The Media Warns of "Forest Dieback and Acid Rain" (1983)

Long ignored by growth-oriented politicians, acid rain-induced forest dieback became a central issue in the 1983 federal election campaign. Leading news organs joined the chorus of warnings against the impending ecological disaster, which threatened to put an end to recreational hiking and the romantic experience of nature.

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“We Are on the Verge of an Ecological Hiroshima”

[ . . . ]

Environmentalists, who have warned of forest death since the mid-1960s and who have always been dismissed as fantasists, are currently in a state of astonishment.

Württemberg environmental protection official German J. Krieglsteiner is amazed that suddenly, “politicians of all stripes are using our phrasing, often verbatim.” Krieglsteiner has a bad premonition: “Hopefully,” he wrote to CDU general secretary Heiner Geißler, “this isn’t just campaign propaganda that will be forgotten [after the election] on March 7.” But the silent death of forests can no longer be repressed by the public consciousness. The question is whether it is “five minutes to midnight” for German forests, as Munich SPD representative Hans Kolo thinks, or “already five minutes after,” as Joachim Pampe, CEO of the Federation of German Forest Owner Associations (AGDW), thinks is possible.

Pampe believes that there has already been “irreparable damage to the forests” in the Federal Republic. “The degree and extent of the damage,” reports BUND (German Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation), “are increasing to a gallop.” The land area given over to diseased forests “has doubled throughout Germany in less than a year,” putting at risk the survival of hundreds of animal and plant species that depend upon the living space that is the forest. “For this degree of death, the term ‘ecological Holocaust’ is not too strong.”

The forest has not only been dying in the so-called congested areas of the lower mountain ranges, where particularly massive amounts of air pollution get mixed up with rain, snow, and fog. On the flatlands as well, as in the Saxon Forest near Hamburg, the viability of spruce trees has recently declined “in an unsettling way,” according to Professor Eberhard Brünig, director of the Bergedorf Institute for World Forestry. Hamburg’s Young Union [CDU youth organization] is troubled by the vision of “dead trees in the Saxon Forest in ten years.”

When the Bonn Ministry of Agriculture ordered the first nationwide eco-inventory last summer, the forest service offices registered that 562,000 hectares [2,200 sq. miles] were already damaged – that is double the land area of Saarland and accounts for 7.7 percent of the one-third of the Federal Republic that is forested. In the meantime, however, this figure has been far surpassed by reality. According to the estimates by the Federal Association of Citizens’ Initiatives on Environmental Protection (BBU), about 30 percent of forested areas have already been affected.

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