The secret to Germany’s sustainability success has been the relentless and unapologetic application of populist direct action. From 1975, when 30,000 Germans caught the world’s attention by storming and occupying a proposed nuclear plant for 10 months, to just this past October, when clean energy activists dumped coal outside the workspaces of environmentally friendly politicians who had not gone far enough, confrontation has pumped the heart of progress. The roots of German environmentalism reach back well into the 19th century, when notions of sustainability and conservation fueled dreams of nationalist expansion and military readiness, including under Hitler’s Nazi regime. Postwar environmentalism, however, has proved a tool of liberation. The legions of students, grandmothers, social reformers and full-time activists that formed the emerging movement in the 1950s and 1960s aligned their collective agenda with values like decentralization, anti-fascism, social equality and multiculturalism.
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