VICTORIA – Just back from a brief visit to Germany to attend the funeral of my sister-in-law. And even though the occasion was a sad one, I was able to do a little travelling and gather impressions that bear some fascinating comparisons to Canada.
As in Canada, the number one political issue in Germany is jobs. The re-unification of the two Germanys a few years ago, followed by the near total collapse of the economy in the former communist part, is stressing Germany’s social and economic fabric to the breaking point.
The country that had to import foreign workers by the millions 30 years ago to feed its economic miracle and considered four per cent unemployment unacceptable is now reeling under the impact of a 12-per-cent jobless rate in the western part and 18 per cent in what used to be East Germany.
Cuts to social services are deeper than those imposed on Canadians. Health care is a constant political battle ground. Pensions are being slashed. Taxes are going up.
Still, Germany’s exports are at an all-time high. What’s missing is consumer confidence. People are refusing to buy cars, refrigerators, stoves, clothes and everything else in the quantities necessary to keep the internal economy healthy.
Many Canadians think that environmental organizations put the kibosh on development and progress. They ain’t seen nothing yet.
There is a nuclear reactor in Koblenz, a mid-sized city at the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle. It was built some 17 years ago to provide badly-needed electric energy. It is considered the safest and most modern in Europe, but it has not produced one kilowatt of power.
Shortly after completion environmental groups went to court to have it shut down. And ever since the issue had been tied up in the courts.
Meanwhile, it is costing taxpayers $500,000 a day to keep the reactor maintained and completely staffed with some 400 people. They could fire the thing up and have it feed energy into the grid within two hours.
If the eventual outcome of the issue is a supreme court order to dismantle the reactor, the land or province of Rhineland Palatine is expected to go bankrupt.
On another environmental front, Greenpeace has done an effective job of drawing the German public’s attention to what it considers unacceptable forest practices in British Columbia.
A lot of ordinary people I talked to are convinced that we rape and pillage our forests. I also talked to a forester who was in B.C. earlier this year, inspected a lot of forestry operations and told me that Greenpeace is wrong.
But politicians rarely listen to experts. They listen to pressure groups, and we can expect more opposition to German lumber imports from British Columbia.
Part of the opposition to our forest practices comes from the realization that Canada is one of the few places the has some old growth left.
Even though two-thirds of Germany, one the world’s most industrialized nations, is covered with forests, they are not like our forests. German forests are highly-managed. There hasn’t been any old growth for hundred of years.
Germans come of Canada to experience a real forests. On my return trip, the plane was packed with Germans, all of whom were looking forward to a two or three-week trip by camper through Beautiful British Columbia. They want to see our forests, not our forestry.
Like it or not, in today's global thinking, more and more people believe they have a rightful stake in the planet’s wonders, no matter where they are. And British Columbia’s forests are fast becoming the proprietary property of international environmentalism and consciousness.