Angela Merkel, referred to by TIME Magazine as Germany’s “Climate Chancellor,” has played a major role leading her country’s environmental push, a commitment that likely stems from her party, Christian Democratic Union’s, ideological foundation in stewardship of the Earth. Christian Democracy, with its roots in theological teachings and democratic practice, colors the way its followers view the role of politics in society by emphasizing morality and a “Christian understanding of humans and their responsibility toward God.” Germany’s green identity, then, is not only cemented in its political profile, both in legislative action and political leadership, but can also be tied to its dominant religion. Between 60-70% of Germans are Christian, either Roman Catholic or Protestant, according to the latest Census.
The Bible is full of references to the sacred relationship between man and the earth, and Christian leaders have presented multiple statements on this bond. “…Man’s dominion cannot be understood as license to abuse, spoil, squander or destroy what God has made to manifest his glory. That dominion cannot be anything other than a stewardship with all creatures,” writes Father Lanfranco Serrini, in the 1986 Assisi Declarations, and Pope Francis’ 2015 Encyclical not only echoes this sentiment but also appeals “…for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet” between religion and science, nations at all level of development, young and old, governments and the public, and people of all religions.
Dr. Barbara Hendricks, Germany’s Federal Environmental Minister, said of the Encyclical, “I am very grateful to Pope Francis for expressing his opinion on this subject…. there are many different sets of beliefs in which we can choose to believe or indeed not to believe. I personally believe that Christian ethics wonderfully describe the place of humans on this earth: We have borrowed this earth and it is entrusted to us. But it does not belong to us. This means we must take care of it together, we must enjoy the richness it offers but ensure that we leave a good world behind for coming generations,” further solidifying a tie between church and state in Germany.
The perception of human responsibility to the continued sustainability of the Earth extends to Germany’s public as well, who are leaders in green living as a way of life. Attitudes of European Citizens Toward the Environment, a survey conducted by Eurobarometer on behalf of the European Commission, found that compared to the rest of Europe, Germans were more concerned with climate change, likelier to separate their waste for recycling, cut down on energy and water consumption, use their cars less, buy more local products and groceries, reduce their consumption of disposable items, and utilize environmentally friendly ways of transportation. The study also reports that Germans were more in favor of introducing heavier fines on environmental offenders and being more stringent in the enforcement of environmental regulations than their general European counterparts, and felt more informed about issues than citizens in the rest of Europe. Thus, be it due to political or religious influence, or outside causes, it is nonetheless clear that Germany as a nation, and German citizens, are deeply concerned with the environment, so much so that a green lifestyle has been adopted at all levels of life and is arguably an integral part of national and personal identities.