It's Not Easy Being Green: Integrating Refugees in German Environmentalist Culture

Joela Jacobs

Abstract


The solidarity crisis has prompted many initiatives for refugees in Germany, among them quite a few local and state-funded environmental education programs. Many of these initiatives are framed as measures of cultural integration and issue bold statements such as “recycling has become a cultural value in Germany.” Media depictions of these programs therefore inadvertently detail the cultural specificity of “environmentalism made in Germany” and reveal institutionalized idiosyncrasies of a long-standing green leader. The news coverage as well as the online self-presentations of these initiatives seem to embody the ideals of Willkommenskultur with glossy images of people of color among their blond neighbors and with captions that feature moments of mutual learning. Yet despite ample evidence of good intentions driving the programs, their feel-good depictions are problematic for many reasons: they are invariably dominated by German voices and specifically German environmental concerns, rendering the (homogenized) refugees and the global dimension of climate change secondary yet somehow responsible. Many of the articles begin with the imagery of trash surrounding refugee housing, seemingly not realizing that these portrayals suggest a linkage between refuse and refuge – between discarded objects and displaced human beings. Largely ignoring pressing issues of asylum housing and employment, it is not always clear whose problems these programs set out to solve, and the more tone-deaf reporting about them brings to light many difficult notions, such as conceiving of German environmentalism as thepath to integration (a problematic concept to begin with) and as a universal good despite its apparent localism. This article analyzes available media representations of a set of environmentalist initiatives for refugees, which tell us as much, if not more, about German perceptions of cultural values and related conversations in the publics sphere as about refugees and the environment.

Keywords

solidarity crisis, refugees, German environmental culture, environmental education, recycling, Will

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11157/ogs-vol28id370