MAC: Mines and Communities

German coal protesters shut down lignite mine

Published by MAC on 2015-08-17
Source: AP, Ecoatch,

RWE is one of western Europe's biggest electricity suppliers, and the key producer of lignite; the dirtiest form of coal.

Confronted with a demonstration against its Garzweiler operations in Germany, it closed down the site's bucket wheel excavators (the biggest stand-alone mechanical diggers in the industry) - saying it did so "for safety reasons".

Meanwhile, police had been enlisted to shower the demonstrators with pepper spray.

Protesters storm open-pit coal mine in western Germany

Associated Press (AP)

16 August 2015

BERLIN - Environmental activists have stormed a lignite mine in western Germany to protest the use of coal, a major source of greenhouse gases.

The German news agency DPA reports that several hundred people from a group calling itself Ende Gelaende " which loosely translates as "it's finished now" " broke through a police line in Garzweiler, west of Cologne.

Police spokesman Anton Hamacher says officers used pepper spray to stop the crowd and are removing protesters from the site.

A spokesman for German energy company RWE says several huge bucket-wheel excavators used at the open-pit mine had to be shut down for safety reasons.

Spokesman Lothar Lambertz says RWE has canceled plans to bring employees onto the site to rally in favor of coal mining.

1,000 Activists Join Together to Say No to Big Coal

Tierney Smith


17 August 2015

In a huge moment for the international fight against dirty energy more than 1,000 people joined together this weekend in Rhineland, Germany to stop some of the world’s biggest coal-diggers in their tracks—RWE.

The protesters made it past police lines and into the open-pit mine, forcing the giant excavators to stop.

“That so many people came together to confront a major polluter through an act of civil disobedience holds a promise for the path ahead,” said Payal Parekh, global managing director of “No matter the outcome of the climate negotiations in Paris this year, people are building power to accelerate the unstoppable energy transition and keep the fossil fuels we simply cannot burn in the ground."

RWE’s lignite mines and coal power plants in Rhineland are the biggest source of CO2 in Europe—with three of the region’s plants in the top five of Europe’s largest emitters.

With 80 percent of known fossil fuels—and 89 percent of European coal—effectively “unburnable” if the world is going to contain global warming below the 2C danger threshold, these dirty coal fields have no place in Europe’s energy future.

The protesters travelled from 45 countries, to stand in solidarity with those local communities that have had their villages destroyed and livelihoods ruined in the name of coal expansion, and to call for urgent global action to address climate change.

Watch this video to learn more about the action:

German coal protesters shut down lignite mine

Andrew Topf

16 August 2015

A group of activists protesting the use of coal in Germany were tear-gassed over the weekend after breaking through police lines, RT reported on Sunday.

A police spokesman quoted by AP said officers used pepper spray, batons and tear gas against the demonstrators in an attempt to remove them from the lignite mine site, operated by German company RWE. Around 1,200 police were deployed to the protest, organized by the group Ende Gelande, which means “here and no further”.

The protesters achieved their goal of stopping the open-cast mine's 220-metre-long bucket-wheel excavators.

“These coalfields pose an existential threat to humanity, which is why our movements need to step in once again and shut them down,” according to writer and activist Naomi Klein, quoted in The Guardian.

Germany has faced a backlash over its increasing use of coal despite its "energiewende" plan to transition to renewables. Under the plan's so-called feed in tariff, utilities are required to buy electricity from green power producers at fixed prices, but utilities preferred cheaper coal plants when renewables failed to deliver. The increase in coal use was exacerbated by Chancellor Angela Merkel's accelerated phase-out of nuclear power. The upshot is that in Germany, coal now accounts for about 45 percent of power generation. In 2012 and 2013, despite energiewende, emissions actually rose.

To try and salvage its emissions target of a 40 percent cut from 1990 levels by 2020, in December Germany proposed a levy on coal-powered generation, much to the chagrin of German coal producers.

RWE said the levy would force closure of two of its three lignite mines and 17 of 20 power stations. In response, the government decided to get the cuts from other sources, paying operators to retire smaller lignite operations, the Guardian reported.

Germany's fiercest environmental battlefield

An energy company is clearing an ancient forest to expand Germany's largest coal mine. Activists are fighting back, living in the trees and chaining themselves to excavators. Almost 800 were cited in recent protests.

13 August 2015

The fight over the Hambach Forest in western Germany resembles a David and Goliath story. On one side, barefoot young activists, living in caravans with no money and surviving on food donations, are fighting to save the forest, and on the other Germany's second largest electricity producer, RWE, is trying to clear it.

RWE operates the country's largest open-pit lignite mine at Hambach, providing nearby power stations with its coal. But that coal sits under the ancient "Hambacher Forst" and to get to it, the trees have to go. Eighty percent of the area has been deforested since the 1970s when it officially became RWE property. Now almost all of the remaining forest faces the chop.

This has turned Hambach Forest into a battlefield. In a bid to stop the mining, around three dozen activists have set up camp there to watch over the trees. Some are willing to act illegally - by chaining themselves to the coal excavators or trees - despite the threat of prison. RWE says these activities cause noticeable financial losses for the company.

Protestors shut down plant

On Saturday (15.07.2015), roughly 1,200 lignite-mining opponents occupied an excavator in the adjacent Garzweiler mine. During the action, RWE cited security reasons in shutting down its conveyor plant. The police said that 797 activists were cited. They face charges of trespassing, disturbing the peace, weapons violations and disturbance of a public company.

Late Sunday night and early Monday morning following the excavator blockade, activists chained themselves to the tracks of the "Hambachbahn," a private RWE train line used to transport lignite from the coal mine at Hambach to nearby power stations. The protest stopped train traffic.

Such actions had been planned far in advance. An activist spokesman criticized police behavior as gruff and abrasive, while a police spokesman said the officers only did what was necessary to protect the compound.

'It's important to show resistance'

Two of the activists challenging RWE are Mori, 25, and Mila, 19. They love the forest but have a particular fondness for Mona. Mona is the 250 year-old tree they illegally occupy. The activists live in a tree-house 16 meters up that is only accessible by a thin, dangling rope. They hope their presence will stop the heavy machines from doing their work.

"The coal mine is one of Europe's biggest CO2 polluters so it's important to show resistance and make a statement," Mori says. Mori, like the other activists, is worried about CO2 emissions from coal but they are even more concerned about the fate of the forest.

It's not just any forest or mine

Cutting down a forest will always have a negative environmental impact. Trees cool down the planet, store carbon and, therefore, mitigate climate change. But environmentalists also argue that Hambacher Forst isn't just any forest - it's 12,000 years old and is rich in biodiversity. The forest is home to 142 species important for conservation, including Bechstein's bat and several other bat species, according to German environmental organization, BUND.

The thought of all this vanishing, frustrates the activists.

"What makes me sad is that all this here is just happening for the sake of profit," says Mila. "While a few people earn a lot of money, the whole surrounding suffers. But if this forest is gone, it's gone forever."

But the mine is also important for the local economy, says RWE. Around a quarter of Germany's electricity comes from lignite. The Hambach coal mine alone produces a 5 percent share of the overall power mix, according to the energy firm. It provides employment for more than 1,300 permanent staff at RWE and another 700 jobs with partner companies, says Hermann Oppenberg, deputy director of the coal mine.

"The activists want us to stop our operations immediately. But we cannot do this. This would produce unemployment rates in high numbers, and nobody wants that," Oppenberg tells DW.

A polarizing fight with no end in sight

The Hambach controversy has had a polarizing effect on surrounding villages too. The mine has swallowed some towns entirely - including Formula 1 racing star Michael Schumacher's former home.

Fearful that this could happen to their villages too, some inhabitants support the activists. Shops and locals donate food and supplies. But others value the mine's economic benefits over its environmental impact. If the mine goes, so will the jobs, they fear.

With such polarized opinions, an end to the David and Goliath stand-off is nowhere in sight. Backing down does not seem be an option for either side. In fact, the battle has heated up over the past three years. RWE has accused the activists of turning violent against the company's staff, while the activists say the same of the police and RWE-employed security.

Officially, RWE has the right to mine at Hambach until 2040 - and the company has not shown any intention of ending operations before that. Oppenberg says lignite is still a necessity.

"Our welfare state depends to a large proportion on cheap energy supply. And lignite contributes to this supply in a stable and secure way," Oppenberg says.

For Mila, Mori and the other activists, going back to their old lives is not an option. The police have arrested them or forced them to leave more than once, but they always come back. That's because this battle is not just about a forest, but about fighting a way of life based on exploitation and hyper-consumption, says Mila. She wants a different kind of society where coal is no longer needed and people live in harmony with nature.

"We're not just here to harm RWE. We want to show how things could be done differently," she says.

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