July 2021 – Massive Flooding

Daylong torrential downpours in the western part of Germany during the third week of July in 2021 led to catastophes in several town. Homes were destroyed. Automobiles swept through the streets. Dozens were killed. Either unwilling to evacuate their homes as or doing so too late.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, on her final trip to Washington as head of the German government, during the official press conference with President Joe Biden, consoled the German population with guarantees of federal assistance.

Armin Laschet, the Premier (governor) of the State of Northrhine-Westphalia, and the chancellor-candidate of the governing party Christian Democrats (think Adenauer, Kohl, Merkel) in the September elections, was on-site in the town ravaged by the flooding.

Malu Dreyer, the Premier of the State Rheinland-Palatinate, of the SPD (Social Democrats), was also on the scene in the hard-hit town of her state. They, and the mayors of the towns, were interviewed extensively.

Interestingly, from the American perspective, none of these leaders – federal, state, local – gave the kinds of words of encouragement and motivation that their American counterparts would have given, and routinely give in such situations.

An American would expect: “Folks, this is a catastrophe. This is aweful. But you know what? We’re Germans. We know how to handle these kinds of situations. It was not long ago that we had to pick up the pieces after the Second World War. It took decades. We can do this ! We will do this ! Because we’re Germans. We know how to do this. So let’s get to work !”


Electricity: Germany is not rich in resources. Coal is no longer in abundance. There is no oil to be drilled out of the ground. There are too few mountain ranges offering hydropower. And the German population has rejected nuclear power as a long-term solution to its energy needs. In order to protect itself from the ups and downs of the international energy markets, Germany has long since focused on developing renewable energy sources.

Several laws since 1999 support the development of so-called Ökostrom or bio-energy, guaranteeing minimum prices for those utilities who produce it. Its planned outcomes – reduced dependence on fossil fuels, development of renewable resources, ensuring long-term energy supply – have begun to occur. The share of total electricity production attributed to renewables has been increased from 5.4% to 20.3% in the timeframe 1999-2011.

Gasoline: The Ökosteuer or ecology tax is also applied to gasoline and diesel fuel, making up roughly 10% of the price at the pump. The purpose of the tax is twofold: reduce consumption of what is a limited resource, and increase the efficiency of automobiles. Leading German economic institutes have documented the positive effect thusfar: less driving and the development of more fuel-efficient cars.

The laws passed were controversial. Many were skeptical that they would have the predicted effect. But since then large segments of the population are convinced that Germany is on the right path. Two changes of government have not challenged their effectiveness. Germans are proud of the fact that their electricity grids never fail, that they are shutting down all of their nuclear energy plants, and that their companies are producing cutting-edge renewable energy technologies.

Nuclear energy? No thanks!

The German anti-nuclear-energy movement began as a social movement back in the 1970’s. It was directed against civilian consumption of nuclear energy. In comparison to other European countries, the movement has also received both the strongest and most continuous support in Germany. The anti-nuclear-energy movement is strongly connected to the environmentalist movement: Greenpeace, BUND and Robin Hood, for example, categorically reject the use of nuclear energy.

The accident on Three-Mile-Island in 1979 and the catastrophe at Chernobyl in 1986 provided the movement with new fuel. In 2000, the Schroeder-Fischer government began the process of phasing out the use of nuclear energy throughout the country.

While in 2010 the Kohl-government was gearing up for an extension of the run-time of the remaining nuclear plants, the German reaction to the nuclear incident in Fukushima in 2011 forced Chancellor Merkel, an advocate of nuclear energy, to reconsider this decision. Germany now plans to phase out nuclear energy completely by May 30th, 2022.

Fukushima ultimately resulted in an acceleration of the phasing-out of nuclear facilities in Germany. One year after Fukushima Chancellor Merkel defended her decision: “As we have witnessed, risks emerged in a highly developed industrial country, which we never would have considered to be possible. That is what convinced me that we should accelerate the phase-out”.

Meanwhile, Japan continues to invest in the nuclear industry. Great Britain is planning the construction of a new atomic plant. Even in France Fukushima could not slow the success of the nuclear industry. And in the USA, Fukushima also had no significant impact on opinions on nuclear energy held by the President and other politicians.

The German anti-nuclear energy movement and the nation’s response to Fukushima demonstrate the unique understanding that Germans have of risk.

Ecological Awareness

The Germans think ecologically. They not only draw on their resources sparingly, they also try to limit the negative effects of that use. Although Germany has a high population density, it has managed to declare almost 3% of its land as publicly-protected national parks, far above the average within the EU.

Many laws have been passed to protect the environment, including strict recycling laws for bottles, cans and other packaging material. Those who can afford it choose to buy organic food.

The Germans find more and more ways to save electricity and water, both of which are expensive. As of October 2012 only energy-saving lightbulbs can be sold. The stores offer only energy-saving lamps and lighting fixtures.

German awareness of the environment gave rise to the Green Party in the 1970s, which has developed into a major political force in Germany, and recently was the junior partner in the government with the Social Democrats. Ecological concerns have become common in all German political parties.

Resource Comparison

If America represents a society of excess, then Germany can be viewed as representing one which may not have deficits, but knows its limits. 

The U.S. has 15x as much natural gas, 5x as much crude oil, 4x as much coal, and 5x as many renewable water resources. And the list goes on. 

In the year 2000, the annual use of gasoline per capita in the USA was 1,633 liters versus just 450 in Germany, electricity use was 13,672 versus 6,680 kwh.

As far as space is concerned, the numbers grow incomperable. With its 9.63 million km², the U.S. is 27x larger than Germany with its 357,000 km². 

The state of Texas alone is nearly twice as large, having 678,000 km², California with 411,000 km² and Montana 381,000 km². My home state of Pennsylvania is already 1/3 the size of Germany with its 117,000 km².

All of this impacts the population density. In Germany, an average population density per km² is 231, in Northrhine-Westphalia, the most populous state, that number more than doubles to 530. 

In the U.S., the figure lies at a mere 31. But let us examine the development o fthis number over the past 200 years: in 1800, there were 2.5 people per km², in 1850 3,5/km², 1900 8,0/km², and by 1950 still only 17 persons per km².