Waldsterben: the 1980s German panic with modern parallels
On the 'ecological Holocaust' that gripped the German public but had little basis in fact.
Anyone looking an antidote to the general sense of panic swirling around the country this summer could do worse than reading up on the hysteria that gripped Germany in the 1980s over the allegedly irreversible death of large swathes of its forests.
The panic reached such heights by 1983 that the CDU raised Waldsterben (tree die off) to “the most important task facing mankind”; environmentalists compared it to the Holocaust; scientists predicted that major forests were already terminally ill.
In fact, there was nothing particularly wrong with Germany’s forests - and they are still largely thriving today. The main problem was that the trees looked a bit threadbare due to the fact that they were recovering from a series of severe droughts in the 1970s.
The obsession with Waldsterben was ignited by a couple of scientists who saw themselves as prophets, whose role it was to flag up a disaster that most people couldn’t see coming.
Bernhard Ulrich, a soil scientist in …
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