Environmental protection was important for Willy Brandt since 1961, when he had run for the Chancellorship of the Federal Republic of Germany for the first time. „The sky above the Ruhr has to become blue again“, he had demanded during this electoral campaign, referring to the heavy pollution of water and air and the high prevalence of respiratory diseases and certain types of cancer in Germany’s largest industrial area. He could well recall, Brandt indirectly remarks at the beginning of his lecture in Lindau, how this demand had been ridiculed as the mere phantasy of a dreamer. „Since that time, I’ve learned not only in this field, which burden can result from delayed reforms!“
When Brandt came to Lindau, he could not foresee that 1972 would turn out to be the most successful year of his political career, with an unprecedented victory of his Social Democratic Party in the elections for the Bundestag in November. In June of that year, however, he must have felt worn out by the political struggle he was going through. Internationally, his policy of détente had earned him highest recognition, culminating in the Nobel Peace Prize, yet domestically it had split the public opinion: While many people supported his policy and even adored his charismatic personality, others fiercely fought his policy and even maligned him personally. Two months before, on April 27th, he had defended his chancellorship against a constructive vote of no confidence by the opposition in parliament. In this situation, Brandt probably perceived it as a recreation to come to talk about environmental protection in Lindau - a topic that did not yet ignite intense political debates although it was quickly emerging as a future issue.
One can tell from Brandt’s voice and the melody of his talk, how he enjoyed it to share his vision of environmental policy as an extended policy of peace with an intelligent, respectful and predominantly non-political audience. Drawing on the results of the first UN conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm that had ended just ten days before, and referring to the recently published results of the Club of Rome’s „Limits to growth“, Brandt makes a strong case for the necessity of scientific research and advise to cope with the challenges that lie ahead: „The readiness of science to assume public responsibility follows the conviction that catastrophes can be prevented, if all stakeholders have the necessary information at hand in time.“As an international task, environmental protection will generate new impulses within the United Nations, Brandt predicts.
The initiatives started by the UN would not be sufficient, however, „to hold back the disastrous process of the destruction of our environment“, if not a conscious change of our habits took place and humankind learned to find a new balance between economy and ecology: „We have to abdicate from some things that are economically profitable but questionable for society. And we have to enforce some other things socially that seem to be unprofitable economically.“ Such visions may pay off: In the Ruhr area, today, the sky is mostly blue again.