Reply To: Joachim Radkau – The Era of Ecology

Author Replies # Posted on November 17, 2014 at 16:28

Nik Petek, Reflection 17.11.2014

The Era of Ecology

The work done by Prof Radkau has been really impressive (and its scope too), and it was enjoyable to read his work the Era of Ecology. First thing that I notice reflecting back on the reading is that the book is not only about tracing where the start of the environmental movement comes from (and/or the ideas for it), but it is also about ‘perceptions’. As a historian, he obviously has to deal with this on a daily academic basis and he is probably more aware of this than any of us. A great thing about the book is that he was able to put the perceptions (the way people perceived certain things at a point in time) into context and how he opposed the different perceptions of a certain period.

But the incentive I have to write about ‘perceptions’ in this reflection is because the seminar quickly turned into a discussion about perceptions: on how Germany is perceived in the world, how nuclear energy is perceived, how Germans perceived the outside world (in this case Sweden and Scandinavia), and Prof Radkau was himself eager to know our perceptions on things and if we knew of any publications or articles on renewable energy, sustainable development in Sweden and about Sweden.

The work ‘The Era of Ecology’ is (slightly generalised) a work which follows ideas about environmental degradation, starting with forests, the contested views on these ideas and the events surrounding the ideas and which events affected how people thought about the environment. This was also clear when we were discussing nuclear power today in the seminar. While nuclear energy is one of the cleanest and greenest sources of energy, countries nowadays avoid building new ones and people are reluctant to have them in their backyards. This is for several reasons: they consider them unsafe, they are scared of them because of radiation, they create a massive waste disposal problem/issue, etc. However, as Radkau explained a certain German official (whose name I forgot) was a great supporter of nuclear power plants until the Chernobyl accident. Since that accident created a furore and panic around Europe, and installed fear and mistrust of nuclear power plants in the general public. The discussion on the pros and cons of nuclear power has been going on decades before as Radkau has shown, but an event like this is definitely one that distinctly shaped and still shapes the perception of nuclear energy. The fears and mistrust was revived with the damage done to the Fukushima reactor. A whole set of developments around energy production, such as cheaper and cheaper photovoltaic energy and windfarms, etc., also formed the discussion around nuclear energy and how it was perceived, since the alternative to nuclear energy in the shape of renewable energy is seen as un-harmful. However, even solar panels are taking their toll on the environment:

The other thing that Radkau’s book reminded me of is that revolutions and original thoughts do not just happen. Everything has its history and every movement such as that of the 1960s needs time to build up momentum. It surprised me to know that the discussion on the rights of homosexuals or at least their discrimination dates back a few centuries, as shown in this talk very briefly:

I guess, I (and we all?) need to keep in mind that everything has its history and it needs to be taken into account when doing our research, so we can better understand what we are dealing with and the undercurrents of any meme, idea, and movement.