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I've encountered the following sentence:

Hier ist erstmals ein Bewusstsein dafür entstanden, dass es sich bei der Erde um ein relativ kleines System handelt.

My question is, why is dafür even needed here? I'm guessing "Bewusstsein für etw." is a fixed expression, meaning "awareness of" or "consciousness of", but a quick Google search reveals a great many examples where this für is not used, i.e. sentences like

[...] ein Bewusstsein, dass [...]

Is it simply that there are two ways to say the same thing, or is there something deeper going on?

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The answer is: it simply is not „needed“ but optional. The sentence would be also correct without it. „Dafür“ is a particle or „Füllwort“ that can be omitted without changing the sense of the sentence. You could also write

... ein Bewusstsein darüber, dass ...

There are complete books about the usage of „Füllwörter“ and that they should be mostly avoided. In your example my personal feeling is that is makes sense.. but MS word often reminds me, that I use to much Füllwörter in my texts, so my feeling might be slightly off...

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    „Darüber“ sounds weird to me.
    – Stephie
    Jan 27 at 6:00
  • That probably depends on the region where you live... But I agree, it is not the best replacement. I just wanted to show how replaceable "dafür" is... Jan 27 at 8:35
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Dafür is not exactly needed, but is a consequence of sloppy phrasing. Cleaner constructions are:

  • Bewusstsein + genitive, e. g. im Bewußtsein der Erderwärmung
  • Bewusstsein + subordinary clause starting with dass

I suspect, that it was a translation of an English sentence like started a growing awareness....

The gradual nature of the process does not exactly harmonize with erstmals. Entirely different constructions seem more appropriate

... setzte sich zunehmend die Auffassung/Erkenntnis durch, dass..., die erstmals NN äußerte.

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