Underestimating America

Underestimating America has a long tradition in Germany (and in Europe in general). There is a general pooh-poohing, patronizing attitude that inspires Germans to assume that America could never do – nor would be interested in getting involved in – all the wonderful things Europe does. Germany underestimated America in World War I and, despite warnings from WWI veterans, did it again in WWII. We Americans on the other hand come across as uncultivated and disinterested in the world and people easily forget that once we decide to do something, we do it.

Is it happening again, right now?

Just as Europeans have a kind of privileged, entitled attitude toward culture and world politics that harks back to an earlier age that is long gone, Germans especially also have a natural superiority complex when it comes to the environment. Partly, it is justified. By some accounts, Germans are already now world leaders in the alternative energy markets, which arguably will become very important and very lucrative very soon. An of course they signed the Kyoto protocol, are getting close to fulfilling the stipulations, and they separate their garbage, all of which are at least morally correct.

That's all they need, and already Germans are talking about how green energy and environment is going to be the next big world economic segment that they will naturally dominate. Like they dominate the car business and many high-tech arenas. "Soon we will be known for cars, beer… and green!"

But they may have competition. Recently, more and more innovate green things have been happening in the US. Small but cool projects like "The Year of no Impact" and the San Francisco Compact movement (and here).

The more the conservative movement loses its credibility, mainly due to Iraq, the more the Green becomes interesting. The Al Gore film wouldn't have been a hit a few years ago, and neither would have hybrid cars in Hollywood. Burger King recently announced it would start buying eggs and pork from suppliers that did not confine their animals in cages and crates. In this week's New York Times Magazine, Thomas Friedman predicts that green will be America' next big thing. Interestingly, though Friedman is fairly well-versed in things international, nowhere in his long article does he mention German domination of the environmental market. Has he not noticed it, or are the Germans simply exaggerating their head start?

Some of the New American Green may be wishful thinking on the part of the left. But don't underestimate America's tendency to go from one extreme to the other: If people hate Bush and the Iraq War enough, they will swing all the way back to the left. That's what happened during and after Vietnam, and that's where Greenpeace and the health food movement came from, which, by the way, inspired to a large extent the German Green movement.

Is the German environment market ready for competition for the US?

Right now, Germany is heading the green market because there isn't all that much competition out there. But the question is: can they hold their lead when the competition gets tough? And believe me, if America goes green, the competition can get tough.


Jul said…
Back when I lived in Germany (about 10 years ago), it came out that some of the 'recycling' that we the consumers so dutifully separated each week was getting mixed back together and tossed into landfills. The technology to actually recycle things like tetra packs was impractical, but at least the government was nice enough to let us have the illusion that we were doing good things for the environment (that is, until some pesky journalist messed everything up).

I wonder if everything is actually recycled these days.
Eric T Hansen said…
Hi Jul!
Thanks for the comment - to tell you the truth, I can;t answer you question. In general, the Germans are pretty good at doing what they say they're going to do, but every once in a while... I pretty much assumed they have dealt with the problem, but now that you mention it, how do I know? Just because a journalist figured it out once doesn't mean he stuck to the story and followed it through - could be that nothing ever really happened. If I hear something, I'll mention it.
Take care and Aloha, Eric

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