Environmental protection concerns us all - a topic dossier

The topics of environmental protection and combating climate change are the focus of public interest and have a major impact on business and politics. But the life of each individual is also affected to varying degrees. Many young people want to change the situation and are increasingly committed to sustainable environmental policy.

Environmental protection as we know it today is not that old. In Germany, Willy Brandt's demand "The sky over the Ruhr area must turn blue again" is considered a milestone. That was in 1961, when air pollution in the Ruhr area had reached unprecedented proportions. With his request, Brandt focused on a topic that had not received any social attention before.

How did it come about that environmental protection is such a central element of our lives today? And what is being done today to ensure that this planet remains a livable one?

An industrial landscape somewhere in Europe / Photo: Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash

Graph updated every second showing the resources used and produced as well as the impact on the climate and our environment.

A brief history of modern environmental protection

The history of environmental protection is as old as the history of man himself. Especially with the advent of agriculture, the exploitation of resources and the proliferation of humans around 6000 years ago, man's influence on his environment took on a new quality.

60 years after Willy Brandt's prominent demand, the air quality in the Ruhr area is worth living again. However, humanity is currently confronted with other consequences of environmental pollution. Climate change is causing heat waves, heavy rain and floods as well as species extinction.

The 60s: air pollution in the Ruhr area and opponents of nuclear power

For many experts, the founding of Greenpeace in 1971 is a milestone in the history of today's environmental awareness. On September 15, 1971, peace activists from the Canadian "Don't Make a Wave Committee" set off from Vancouver on the fishing cutter "Phyllis Cormack" for the Aleutian island of Amchitka. The "Greenpeace" campaign was intended to prevent a US nuclear test.

But as early as the 60s, politicians felt compelled to protect citizens from the consequences of the rapidly growing industry. The air pollution in the Ruhr area prompted the state government in North Rhine-Westphalia to announce the first SMOG regulation in Germany. This was preceded by the SMOG crisis in the Ruhr area in 1962, which increased the death rate in this region by around 20 percent.

 Photo: blowup on Unsplash

The 70s: mountains of rubbish and toxins come into focus

From the mid-70s, the uncontrolled disposal of waste also came under scrutiny. In the Federal Government's first environmental report (1970), the authors estimate the number of cigarette butts nationwide at 50. The population is still not aware that the industrial system is converting valuable raw materials into useless waste. Not even for the dangerous mixtures of substances in landfills and their potential for biological and chemical reactions that can hardly be controlled.

At the same time, other toxic substances came into focus in the 70s: lead in petrol (petrol only became unleaded in 1988) or asbestos, which is used for fire protection in buildings. The use of asbestos is only banned in Germany in 1993.

The 80s: forest dieback and Chernobyl

In the 80s, forest dieback, triggered by acid rain, and severe air pollution were the focus of the environmental debate. The Chernobyl disaster in particular shocked the world. The anti-nuclear movement gets more media attention and many citizens get more access to information about the dangers of nuclear energy.

The 90s and 2000s: International Cooperation and Innovative Technologies

In the 90s, environmental policy became more and more global. In 1992, for example, the United Nations in Rio passed the first international climate convention. It aims to combat the causes of global warming. And the 1997 Kyoto Protocol sets binding greenhouse gas reduction targets for industrialized countries.

In accordance with this development, our language and the demand for environmentally conscious action are also changing. In this way, terms such as sustainability are becoming part of everyday language. And proof of sustainable action is linked to success, because it increases positive public perception.

Industry and research must also adapt to the situation. Increasingly, technologies are being developed that make the recycling of all types of scrap materials economical, making waste an important economic asset. The industry is therefore increasingly focusing on recycling, even for elements whose occurrence is limited or whose extraction is complex.

Environmental protection in Germany and NRW

Environmental technology from Germany is in demand internationally. The "Made in Germany" label stands for high standards, quality and reliability worldwide.

In addition to its ecological importance, the GreenTech industry is of great economic importance for Germany. The reports about it Environmental Technology Atlas 2021 of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

For years now, German ministries have provided them at federal and state level Grants, for the development or use of innovative environmental technologies. In 2000, a German law attracted international attention; the law for the priority of renewable energies (EEG) promotes electricity from wind and sun by law. Many states will later copy this approach.

The environmental protection measures in North Rhine-Westphalia are based on Sustainability Strategy NRW. This paper presents North Rhine-Westphalia's contributions to the implementation of the global Agenda 2030.
Like the current one environmental status reportt shows, many environmental indicators in NRW are developing positively. Greenhouse gas emissions fell by 2019 percent in 38 compared to the reference year 1990. The fine dust pollution in the cities of North Rhine-Westphalia has also fallen continuously and is well below the annual limit values.

The Ministry currently sees a particular need for action in NRW in the areas of land use, use of our water resources and afforestation of the forests.

Some of the most important environmental protection organizations in Germany

German nature conservation ring
BUND - for nature conservation and environment Germany
DAV – German Alpine Association
NABU – Nature Conservation Union Germany
Robin Wood – non-violent action group for nature and the environment
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)
Naturefriends of Germany
DRK water rescue service
German Forest Protection Association
WWF—World Wide Fund For Nature
BAUM – Federal German working group for environmentally conscious management
German environmental aid registered association
association | Bergwaldprojekt eV

Environmental protection at zdi

Due to the urgent climate problems, MINT specialists who develop innovative and technological solutions in a timely manner are in demand more than ever. And this is where the zdi community offensive comes into play, which tries to get young people excited about MINT jobs and courses. In this way, zdi helps students deal with current problems and find ways to shape their future.

zdi robot competition

The topic of environmental protection enjoys a high priority at zdi. The zdi robot competition 2021 is particularly worth mentioning. The topic is "Environmental heroines - with technology for environmental protection". In this nationwide competition, students program a Lego robot. This must complete tasks on a playmat, for example planting trees, building a solar bike path or installing charging stations.
The zdi robot competition has raised the issue of environmental protection many times.

Extracurricular offers for students

In addition to this annual event, zdi, with its regional networks and student laboratories, offers many courses and holiday camps with an ecological focus. Pupils deal with topics such as recycling, circular economy or urban gardening in a practical way. On the STEM community platform MINT enthusiasts can get an overview of the entire range of courses in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Some of the zdi student laboratories have even specialized in environmental protection areas, such as this GeoIT - digital human-environment school laboratory in Wuppertal or zdi student laboratory for energy at the zdi center for the district of Kleve.

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