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Shell a Victim of Rising Green Power in Germany

June 22, 1995

BONN, Germany (AP) _ Royal Dutch Shell’s ill-fated attempt to sink an oil rig in the Atlantic Ocean shows that the environmental movement in Germany is a lobby that industry ignores at its own risk.

Thanks to powerful anti-pollution sentiments stirred by the growing German Greens party, Greenpeace was able to mobilize German consumers in a boycott of Shell products that led the British oil company to reverse its decision.

Outrage over the planned sinking of the 450-foot-tall, 65,000-ton Brent Spar oil platform led German politicians of all stripes to condemn Shell. Chancellor Helmut Kohl asked Prime Minister John Major of Britain to oppose the plan, though without success.

A weeklong boycott of the the 1,728 Shell stations in Germany cut their income by about 30 percent, said Peter Duncan, director of German Shell in Hamburg. He wouldn’t specify their losses, reportedly in the millions.

Shell station owners reported 50 cases of vandalism, including a firebombing, a gunfire attack, and a letter bomb, Duncan said. Smaller boycotts hit Shell in the Netherlands and Britain.

``Germans seem to be more environmentally conscious than Britons, and we had to pay the price,″ said Karl-Heinz Herz, a Shell station owner in Rostock who said he had to lay off two employees during the boycott.

The idea of stopping Brent Spar’s sinking originated in the Hamburg office of the Greenpeace environmental movement. And the ships and logistics used to lower four activists onto the platform from helicopters were provided by Greenpeace Germany.

The German Greens, who have become Germany’s third party in the past year, also claimed bragging rights.

``You can’t underestimate our role,″ said Hartwig Lohmeyer, a spokesman for the Greens in Duesseldorf. ``We built up the grassroots.″

Germany takes pride in its bans on dumping in the North Sea and in waterways, part of a complex of anti-pollution and recycling regulations. Conservatives joined the campaign against dumping Brent Spar because it offended their sense of thrift.

``It’s a German thing _ we don’t like to throw things away,″ said Thilo Bode, 48-year-old director of Greenpeace Germany, the environmentalist group’s biggest branch. Bode recently was named director of Greenpeace International.

In a telephone interview, Bode said Greenpeace’s attack on Brent Spar caused an ``avalanche″ that forced Shell to ditch its ditching plans.

Greenpeace’s campaign inspired the German boycott; the level of popular support influenced Kohl; Kohl awakened the business community and ``by Tuesday Brent Spar was on the business pages,″ Bode said.

Some German business leaders saw a worrisome herd mentality at work in the German boycott.

``An international concern was driven to its knees by Germans, who basically weren’t affected by the decision,″ said Hermann Huewels, an environmental lawyer with the German Trade and Commerce Institute in Cologne. ``We got involved in something we knew nothing about.″

Shell has said sinking Brent Spar would have been the most environmentally sound solution. It will cost up to $80 million to scrap the platform on land, compared to $16 million to sink it.

Germans have their own untouchable polluters.

Coal burning plants cause about a third of the carbon dioxide released in Germany, yet the government subsidized coal mining with the equivalent of $6.2 billion last year.

Even the Greens have watered down their opposition to coal mining as they negotiate with the Social Democrats to form a government in coal-rich North Rhine-Westphalia state, where the Greens won 10 percent of the vote in May 14 elections.

``Coal is a sacred cow in Germany,″ Lohmeyer said. ``Banning coal would be like banning Carnival.″

And it was easy enough for Germans to turn their wrath on Shell while tanking up elsewhere.

``You saw people holding big banners in front of Shell stations that said, `Don’t buy here!′ Then they drove like hell down the autobahn,″ said Stefanie Wahl of the Institute For Economic and Social Policy in Bonn.

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