Wind of Change: Green Energy in the Third Reich

Der Nationalsozialismus steht vor der Aufgabe, seine umwälzende und neuformende Kraft auch auf dem Gebiet der Energieversorgung in den deutschen Ländern zu beweisen. Er wird diese Aufgabe mit derselben Entschlossenheit anpacken und lösen, mit der er alle die anderen Probleme gelöst hat.“ (Walther Schieber, „Energiequelle Windkraft“, 1941)

„The National Socialism faces the challenge to prove his revolutionary and reformatory power in the field of energy supply, throughout the German lands, too. He will deal with this challenge as decisive as with any other problem in the past.”

After the meltdown at the Soviet-era, nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, in 1986, and the subsequent radioactive fallout that affected large parts of Europe and beyond, many people all around the world started to feel concerned with the means used to generate energy. While ideas for using alternative sources of energy – water, sunlight, and the wind – circulated among the “Green movement” for decades, the powers-that-be in politics and industry kept relying on fossil fuel – oil, gas, and coal – or nuclear power for satisfying the ever increasing energy demand of our thoroughly industrialized, urban societies. Only after the world started to witness grueling wars fought over resources like oil and gas, and the devastating effects of contaminating the air by burning fossil fuel, the alternative sources of energy were taken into consideration in earnest. When a massive earthquake hit Fukushima in Japan, in 2011, and destroyed the nuclear power plant in this city, the German government decided to abandon nuclear energy altogether, and to use – among others – wind turbines as compensation. If you are driving on a German autobahn nowadays, you can hardly miss the many wind farms scattered all around Germany in an attempt to generate “clean energy” and also to become more independent from oil and gas imports, considering that the global resources of fossil fuel are anything but infinite.

Destroyed reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, 1986.

However, what you might be unaware of: The idea to build wind farms in Germany is not a novelty at all. As a matter of fact, this idea originated in the Third Reich and was put forth, among others, by one Walther Schieber in his manifesto “Energiequelle Windkraft”, in 1941. Schieber was a German chemist who occupied various posts during the Third Reich; for example, he served as deputy of Albert Speer in his position as armaments minister, responsible for the wartime production of the German industry. Schieber was, like many other influential Germans of that time, a far-sighted man who realized that the German Reich remained vulnerable to its many enemies for as long as it had to rely on – and import – oil and coal for generating energy, instead of looking for ways how to generate energy using the replenishable resources available to Germany at home: water, sunlight, and – wind.

He wrote: “Inzwischen hat der Krieg die enorme Bedeutung von Kohle und Öl mit der ihm eigenen Deutlichkeit in fast jedes Hirn gehämmert. (…) Nicht selten mußte sich die Strategie des Krieges nach den Möglichkeiten einer Mobilisierung von Kohle und Öl richten. Schon daraus geht hervor, daß der in die Zukunft denkende Wirtschaftler und Politiker nach Kraftquellen Ausschau halten muß, die weniger für die Bedürfnisse des Krieges als für die Erfüllung friedlicher Zwecke nutzbar zu machen sind.“ (Meanwhile, the war has hammered the huge importance of coal and oil into almost every mind quite drastically. It wasn’t exceptional that the strategy of war had to be designed according to the availability of coal and oil. That in itself demonstrates the need for every economist and politician, who is concerned with the future, to look out for alternative sources of energy that can not only be used in war but for the productivity in times of peace, as well.)

Additionally, Schieber voiced a sentiment that would echo in our society only many decades later: The concern for the many grave, ecological issues caused by the rapid use of fossil fuel. National Socialism was an ideology, and a movement, profoundly caring for the ecology. In that sense, the Third Reich was the first “Green nation”, ever. Schieber wrote: “Wahrscheinlich werden sich die Menschen späterer Epochen über (die) Verschwendung von Bodenschätzen genau so entsetzen, wie wir uns ein Kopfschütteln über jene Zeiten leisten, in denen verantwortungslose Geschäftemacher die Wälder ganzer Gebirgszüge und Ländereien abholzen ließen, ohne jemals danach zu fragen, ob spätere Geschlechter die furchtbaren Folgen dieser Maßnahmen zu tragen hätten.” (Most likely, people of later times will be as aghast at the waste of fossil fuel as we shake our heads in disgust over times of yore, when irresponsible merchants had cut down entire forests of the mountains and countryside without ever wondering if later generations must bear the horrible consequences of their decisions.) For Schieber, it was imperative that Germany would actively seek and find new ways for generating energy that do not have any adverse effect on ecology.

In Germany and elsewhere, water was already used to propel power generators at a grand scale. However, you only have so many rivers that can be used to that end. Thus Schieber advocated the use of wind energy, because conditions for building wind farms could be found anywhere. In a first step, he envisioned the building of wind turbines on remote farms and outposts in Germany that were not yet connected to the national energy grid. In 1941, the German army was still advancing towards the East, conquering vast stretches of fertile soil intended to provide living space for German settlers and farmers in future. Schieber realized the urgent need for such future colonies to be independent from a most likely hostile environment, and thus he proposed to make future German settlements in the East thriving on wind energy by design. Furthermore, in the long run he hoped to make the entire German Reich independent from fossil fuel by a joint venture of wind- as well as water energy. “Vielleicht ist es späterhin möglich, unsere gesamte Energieversorgung nur auf die sich stetig erneuernden Energiequellen Wasser und Wind aufzubauen, wobei in den Talsperren unserer Wasserkraftwerke willkommene Speicher vorhanden sein würden, um die Minderleistung der Windkraftwerke bei schwachen Winden auszugleichen. Es würde dann ein Energieaustausch der ausbauwürdigen Wasserkräfte Großdeutschlands mit den Windkraftwerken des windgünstigeren Norddeutschlands über die vorhandenen Hochspannungsleitungen in Frage kommen.“ (Perhaps at a later stage it will be possible to switch our entire energy supply to the ever replenishing energy sources water and wind. The river dams of our hydroelectric plants would make an excellent storage facility to compensate the lesser output of our wind farms in calm times. There would be an exchange of electric energy between our improvable hydroelectric plants in Greater Germany and the wind farms in the favorable conditions of North Germany, by the means of our high-voltage power lines.)

Walther Schieber was not an eccentric indulging in a pipe dream, not at all. In his book, he presented many calculations for building cost-effective wind farms, and he discussed the various designs for wind turbines for showing which one would serve the desired purpose at best. Powerful and influential circles in the Third Reich were interested in ways to make Germany an independent, strong and resilient nation that could rely on her own powers and resources, and become truly autarkic at last. Moreover, the ecology was a prime concern of National Socialism and Adolf Hitler himself contemplated on how to make an entire nation – if not, mankind at all! – live in accord with the fragile eco-system on earth. It is thus safe to say, that, given the war would have taken a different course with a different outcome, the proposed plans of Walther Schieber could very well have been adopted by the German leadership and put to use accordingly.

Instead of having the Soviets build the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, in the Ukraine, which blew up almost 30 years ago as a grim reminder on man’s hubris when he intends to use the solar fire of the Gods, Ukraine and East Europe could have been littered with wind farms 70 years ago: Generating green and clean energy that won’t ever run dry, that neither harms man nor contaminates nature. Germany, under the guidance of National Socialism, could have saved and changed the world and make it a better place for future generations. As we know, alas, Germany was vanquished and National Socialism remains vilified up until today. And we continue to shed blood over resources that soon will be gone for good; and we continue to live in an environment tainted and polluted by our insatiable hunger for energy; and we still look up to the sky fearfully whenever a nuclear power plant fails and radioactive fallout contaminates the air.

National Socialism was – and remains to be – the most traditional yet modern ideology ever conceived by man. It is an ideology that has the final solution to the existential question of man, seventy years ago just as well as today. Because the question remains the same, and so does the answer. And it is still not too late to acknowledge who the ones were coming up with the solution in the first place.  Not some think-tank of the United Nations, in the 21st century, or elsewhere; it were Germans like Walther Schieber, who believed in the positive power of National Socialism. We can’t be wrong if we do the same.

Walther Schieber (center) with Albert Speer (right) 

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