describe the devastation. A moonscape. A humanmade Grand Canyon. A giant’s sandbox.
The opencast mine, the largest of its kind in the world, reaches 500 metres into the earth and covers 85km². Before mining began here in 1978, the forest stretched over 4,000 hectares. Now just 200 hectares remain.
A few protesters are perched at the drop-off. Directly in front of them an enormous circular shovel is suspended in the air. The shovel is attached to a monstrous machine. These “bucket-wheel excavators” are 80–90 metres tall and capable of chewing away thousands of tonnes of overburden (the soil and rock between the earth’s surface and the coal) every day.
On the excavator stands a workman in an orange hard hat. He shouts something incomprehensible. Presumably he is angry because the activists have prevented him from doing his work. Around 20,000 jobs still depend on brown coal in Germany, and the government has neglected to come up with an adequate restructuring plan for the region once the industry has gone.
Internationally, Germany has a green reputation. The ambitious Energiewende (‘energy transition’) spearheaded by the Social Democrat–Green government in the 1990s inspired other countries to follow suit. But despite huge advances in wind and solar, 37% of electricity is still derived from coal; 22% comes from brown coal, which emits much more carbon dioxide than black coal.
For the last nine years, Germany has failed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Last summer chancellor Angela Merkel’s government announced that it would miss its 2020 emissions target of a 40% reduction over 1990 levels by a considerable amount. Yet a study by the Fraunhofer Institute found that Germany could still reach that target by simply shutting down its 14 oldest lignite-fired plants – without the lights going out.
Under pressure to finally do something about climate change, Merkel appointed a coal commission in spring 2018. The roundtable of politicians, energy executives, environmentalists and labour unions is supposed to draft a plan for an environmentally and socially acceptable coal phaseout. Environmentalists want to end coal by 2030, but industry and Merkel’s conservative CDU oppose a fixed deadline. A compromise date of 2038 seems likely, so the government’s target of a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030 seems illusionary. Without ending coal, there is little chance of progress.
The Hambach struggle is powerful because it has put a spotlight on Germany’s lack of climate action. It all began six years ago when young activists began to squat the forest and build treehouses, in which they lived year-round – attracting occasional visits by the press. The situation escalated at
Resurgence & Ecologist