It has been said that Indians worship their cows and Germans worship their trees. India's cows can often be seen wandering the streets of Madras, Calcutta and Bombay — sad, often half — starved creatures struggling to survive in an unnatural and unhealthy environment. They may be in better condition than Germany's trees!
The German people have an almost mystical relationship with their forests. Three quarters of the population of this densely populated country visit the forest at least once a month. Twenty-five percent of West Germany's area is still covered with trees, and the forests are a traditional refuge from the stress of city life. But the forests may not be for much longer, it seems.
Germany's trees are dying at an alarming rate. The damage was noticed in the Black Forest in the early 1960s when diseased fir trees were found. It was not taken seriously at first, but by the late 1970s, the condition of the fir trees gave cause for serious concern. Now, the problem has grown to crisis proportions. Some experts studying the situation say that already one third of the trees have died and half . of those left may be terminally ill. They have warned that unless drastic action is taken immediately, large tracts of forestland may be reduced to barren waste by the turn of the century. Germany is on the edge of an ecological disaster.
The German people are concerned, for Waldsterben — the death of the trees — will affect every inhabitant of this nation.
Why Waldsterben? Why are the trees dying?
Exhaust from automobiles is certainly part of the problem. It does not take an expert to see that many trees lining the autobahns are in poor condition. These magnificent roads linking German cities are the only ones in Europe to have no speed limit, and West German drivers jealously guard their right to be able to ride in their BMWs and Mercedes at 100 miles an hour or more. An autobahn speed limit — like gun control in the United States — is an emotional issue — a symbol of individual freedom. After ali, in the neighboring German Democratic Republic, drivers must plod along at a sedate 60 miles an hour.
Reducing speed on the autobahns could reduce toxic emissions by 18 percent and give the dying trees a chance. It is not an easy choice for the West Germans.
But damage is not limited to lowland trees along the autobahns. Many damaged trees have been found at the 10,000 — foot level, in remote reaches of forest far away from the center of pollution. The much publicized but little understood acid rain may be a contributing culprit here. The exact relationship between man-made pollutants, acid rain and environmental damage is still the subject of much debate, but most agree that there is a relationship, and that the atmosphere must be cleaned up if the forests are to survive.
Some experts refuse to place all the blame on industry — they feel that bacteria or other natural causes are afflicting the forests.
Worst affected are the conifers, the stately fir and spruce trees that make up the bulk of forests of southern Germany.
Instead of lush, dark green foliage that gave the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) its name, many trees now have only sickly yellowy-brown needles. Unlike deciduous trees that replace their foliage annually, the needles of conifers must last for several years. Without adequate foliage — particularly at the top, or crown — a tree is condemned to death.
But conifers are not the only trees to suffer. Half the beech and 43 percent of the oaks that provide variety and balance in the forest are sick. Elm trees that should live for 130 years are giving up in the prime of life, and dying at 60.
A Continent — wide Disaster Germany is not alone among the countries in Europe facing Waldsterben. The French, once critical of their German neighbor for panicking over this situation, have discovered that their forests, too, are in trouble. Many trees in the lush Rhone Valley are already beyond hope. Beautiful Switzerland, considered to be one of the most pollution — free countries, is now feeling the effects of Waldsterben in its environment. Eighty-eight percent of pollution blows in from outside Switzerland. The death of the forest respects no national frontiers.
Particularly vulnerable are the Scandinavian countries whose flat topography offers little resistance to wind-borne pollution. No one knows for certain the state of the damage in Eastern Europe, where pollution control, if it exists at all, is haphazard. East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary still rely on low-grade, high-sulfur-content coal, particularly since the Soviet Union cut back on its oil exports. Although exact figures are not available, it is known that the forests of East Germany may be in even worse shape than their Western neighbors. Poland is seriously affected, and some Czechoslovakians are describing their country as an ecological disaster area.
Soviet Russia has not escaped, although with its vast territory it is more able to absorb the punishment. Christmas is not an official holiday in Russia, but many Soviet citizens celebrate the new year with a traditional Christmas tree. The government has now suggested the people use branches and bundles of twigs rather than cut down small trees.
But in no country is the problem more acutely agonized over than here in West Germany. One survey showed that people worried more over the death of the trees than they did the establishing of Pershing missiles on their territory.
A Land Without Trees The loss of German forests would be a tremendous emotional blow to the German people. There would, however, be far graver consequences.
The forestry and timber industries provide hundreds of thousands of jobs. Tourism, another major industry, would seriously decline. Who would want to visit a Black Forest nearly devoid of trees?
The forests are the world's lungs, filtering out pollutants and manufacturing fresh oxygen that keeps the atmosphere breathable. The air in a healthy forest is 90 percent fresher than a typical industrial environment. Without trees, the soil would erode, and rain and snow would not be contained subjecting lowland areas to avalanches or flooding. More than half of the 200 species of native German birds breed and feed in the forests, and without the trees they too are doomed. It is the same for other forms of wildlife. Without its trees, West Germany will indeed be a sad and barren country.
Trees are a tough and resilient part of God's creation, and they put up a brave struggle for survival. A tree will tolerate many years of abuse, and will try to compensate for an unhealthful situation. But when it dies, it dies quickly, rather like an outwardly healthy human who suddenly succumbs to a heart attack. By the time it is obvious a tree is sick, it is usually too late. There have been some successful small-scale attempts to revive the forests, but most of the stricken areas are beyond help.
Reforestation isn't always the answer. The new trees struggle for a few years, but eventually they lose their vitality in the poisoned air and soil. If this great national treasure is to be saved, the cause of the problem must be stopped, not only the effect.
Was the Catastrophe Foreseen? Great German poets, philosophers and composers have always drawn inspiration from the forests. Nietzsche, von Goethe and van Beethoven found peace there. Martin Luther once said, "Even if the end of the world were coming, I would stop and plant an apple tree."
The end of this age as we know it is coming.
In the prophecies of the Bible the immediate future of the European continent is spelled out with devastating precision. In the book of Revelation Jesus Christ looked across the centuries and showed the apostle John the conditions that would follow a future union of European nations.
Many today seek the union of Europe for peace and prosperity, little realizing that they are paving the way for another great catastrophe.
But among the predictions of future world turmoil, has the Bible foreseen a world that must struggle to preserve its dwindling forests?
In Revelation 8:7, we read that "a third of the trees were burned up..." (Revised Authorized Version throughout). And in the ninth chapter of Revelation there is described in the symbolic language of prophecy a great army, as numerous as locusts, that will swarm across the heartland of Eurasia. But even as they marshal their forces, notice how they are commanded to take care of what remains of vegetation and the trees. "They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads" (verse 4).
Even in a desperate struggle for world domination, these armies will be forced to take care of what remains of the earth's resources. Other prophecies show that the cataclysmic events of "Satan's last stand" will play havoc with all life: man, beast — and trees. (For a full explanation of these prophecies, readers should read our free booklet The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last.)
Much of the damage, worldwide, is already done. Large areas of Africa, Asia and South America that were once verdant have become barren wastelands. Some nations have plundered their forests more in one generation than did their forefathers in thousands of years of peaceful co-existence with the land. To save the dying forests of Europe will demand a level of immediate international cooperation and restraint that is unlikely in today's greedy, shortsighted world. Germany's lovely trees are, tragically, destined to be ruined before a happier world tomorrow, of God's making, restores sanity and harmony to this battered and sadly misused planet.