By: Ashley Bergeron
Imagine being forced out of your home so that it can become an addition to a coal mine, destroying everything you call home. That’s what the residents in the hamlet Lützerath, Germany have experienced.
In 2013, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany ruled that the Garzweiler surface mine could expand. Over the years, villages and a wind farm were swallowed by the mine. Lützerath is next.
Due to their success in the 2021 elections, people were expecting the Greens (a German political party) to help move Germany toward more climate-friendly policies. But in Oct. 2022, the government made a deal with RWE, a company that was the largest producer of carbon dioxide emissions in Europe in 2018 and one of the fossil fuel companies to sue governments for enacting green policies.
The deal will spare several villages except for Lützerath. In exchange, RWE agreed to phase out by 2030 instead of 2038. RWE wants Lützerath due to the amount of lignite, a type of coal, under the hamlet: 280 million tonnes. The fossil fuel company now has access to about 25 million tonnes per year.
The main issue with lignite is that it is the most polluting form of coal. In order to get a decent amount of power, more lignite will need to be handled due to its low heating values. When burned, lignite releases NO x , SO x , greenhouse gases, organic compounds such as benzene and toluene, metals and acidic gases into the atmosphere.
The reason that led the Greens to this deal was Germany’s energy crisis. Germany was largely dependent on Russia’s fossil fuels. Due to the Ukraine War, the gas supply from Russia to Europe was cut off. This left Germany reshuffling its energy usage. One of the plans to combat the energy crisis is the agreement with RWE.
There has been debate about whether Germany needs more coal or not. Some people think that Germany has enough resources to power itself without Russia’s resources while others think coal is necessary.
As the destruction of Lützerath drew closer, more activists came to the hamlet to protest. Fifty to 100 activists occupied Lützerath after the former residents were evicted. The last farmer, Eckardt Heukamp, sold and left his farm a few weeks before major protests occurred in his hometown.
On Jan. 7, there was a major demonstration with approximately 7,500 people attending. Environmental groups that were presented on that include Fridays for Futures, Last Generation, Greenpeace and many others. Shuttles were arranged to bring people to the hamlet. The population reached over 1,000 with people living in treehouses and huts.
One thousand police came to the village on Jan. 11 to clear out the area. They were met with resistance. There was violent behavior from both parties. The environmental groups had no intention of giving up, forming human chains.
Another demonstration was held on Jan. 14. There were at least 15,000 people that attended. Police used water cannons to prevent the protesters from charging the site. Greta Thunberg, a famous Swedish youth climate change activist, was there. She was one of the many people who was detained by the police.
Now all the activists have been moved out of Lützerath, and RWE’s plan will go into motion.