Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Journalist Dies in Clash Over Dirty Coal in Germany

Energy
Journalist Dies in Clash Over Dirty Coal in Germany
David Speier / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Andy Rowell

Over the last week, the German Police have deployed thousands of officers, backed up by water cannons and armored vehicles, to evict hundreds of climate activists trying to defend the last remnants of an ancient forest in Germany from being destroyed by RWE, which wants to expand the biggest open coal mine in Europe.


And Wednesday this brutal eviction ended in tragedy when it caused the loss of life of a young blogger and journalist, called Steffan. He reportedly fell from a suspension bridge between two cabins which had been built by activists high up in the trees to try and prevent the ancient 12,000 year old and much-loved Hambach forest—known locally as Hambi—being cut down.

After Steffan's death, tensions were running high. Last night activists pasted a statement that: "We are deeply shaken. All our thoughts and desires are with him. Our compassion goes to all the relatives, friends and people who feel concerned. We urge the police and RWE to leave the forest immediately and stop this dangerous operation. No further lives may be endangered."

The fight between RWE and climate activists has been going on for years and has become of the defining battles of fossil fuel extraction of our time. Activists are arguing RWE has to stop mining dirty coal to protect the oak and hornbeam forest, home to protected species such as bats, frogs and dormouse. They are also trying to prevent wider climate change too.

The Hambach open-pit mine is already vast: some 85 square kilometers or 33 square miles and a huge open scar on the landscape. One of the largest man-made holes in Europe, it is half the size of the U.S. capital of Washington DC. Most has already been ripped up and dug for lignite or brown coal, an especially dirty and carbon intensive fossil fuel. Of the 4,100 hectares that were there origin ally, some 90 percent has already been destroyed and only 200 hectares remain.

The tragedy could have been avoided. Like many other front-lines battles over fossil fuel extraction, it is a conflict that should not be taking place. We should not be expanding coal production. Steffan joins a list of people stretching back to Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995, who have died fighting (or reporting on the fight) between Big Oil and Big Coal and those seeking to protect their land or the wider climate.

Undeterred by the protests and criticism, RWE belligerently plans to clear cut the forest next month and bull-doze two more villages: the 1000 year old village of Kerpen-Manheim and Morschenich. Four other villages have also been destroyed in the last thirty years, consumed by Germany's love of dirty coal. They were bulldozed for the "common good."

But the fight to protect the forest has been growing for years and has come to a head this week, with police trying to evict the protestors. Last Sunday, saw thousands of activists—some estimates say 9,000 people—march towards the woodland between Cologne and Aachen in support and solidarity.

Others remain in the treetops. One of them is Mux, who told DW: "The problem is that it's not only destroying the forest and nature here, as well as the place where people in this region live, it's also causing climate change. There are lots of people dying because of global climate change, which is caused here, so I think I have to use my privileges to stand against that. I have to do it because I can do it."

Another activist, Emil Freitag, from Aktion Unterholz, added: "It's not just about the forest, the forest is a symbol for climate justice and if we stop the eviction and the cutting of the forest, we can also stop the lignite mining in the area. That's what all this is about. We want Germany to stop coal mining immediately because it's the dirtiest form of power. So the forest is a kind of symbol."

He is not alone arguing that the forest is a symbol of the fight between dirty coal and a clean energy future. Andreas Büttgen of Buirer für Buir, a citizens' initiative from the nearby town of Buir, also saif: "The Hambach Forest—for us a symbol of a future-orientated society—now threatens to become a memorial for the destruction of our future."

And the figures back him up. Kai Niebert, head of environmental group, Deutscher Naturschutzring, argued that expanding the mine would make it almost impossible for Germany to meet its 2015 Paris agreement commitments. "There's around 1.5 billion tons of carbon under us here in the Hambach area," he said. "If it was burned, we would use up virtually all Germany's carbon budget, and that would be anything but a socially acceptable way to exit coal. It would mean all the other mines in Germany would have to close tomorrow."

After last night's tragedy, no one is sure what will now happen. In response to Steffan's death, the North Rhine-Westphalian state government has suspended the clearance "until further notice."

A petition signed by 500,000 people due to handed in today to North Rhine-Westphalia's state premier Armin Laschet calling for the state government to step in and save the forest, has been postponed.

If there is any good that can come out of Steffan's death it is that RWE should stop mining dirty coal. They should also stop clearing the forest immediately too and declare that this last remnant will never be cut down. And maybe they should rename this ancient beautiful forest of oaks and hornbeams after Steffan, too.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Oil Change International.

A Marathon Oil refinery in Melvindale, Michigan on June 9, 2020. The Federal Reserve bought $3 million in the company's bonds before they were downgraded, bringing taxpayers' total stake to $7 million. FracTracker Alliance

A new report shows the U.S. government bought more than $350 million in bonds issued by oil and gas companies and induced investors to loan the industry tens of billions more at artificially low rates since the coronavirus pandemic began, Bloomberg reported.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A September 17 report by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. Pete Linforth / Pixabay / CC0

By Karen Charman

When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.

Read More Show Less

Trending

President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on February 04, 2020 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

By Jan Ellen Spiegel

It wasn't so long ago that the issue of climate change was poised to play a huge – possibly even a decisive – role in the 2020 election, especially in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Many people supporting Democratic candidates saw a possible Democratic majority as a hedge against a potential Trump re-election … a way to plug the firehose spray of more than 100 environmental regulation rollbacks and new anti-climate initiatives by the administration over its first term.

Read More Show Less
Native American girls from the Omaha tribe attending the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania, the first government-run boarding school for Native American children. © CORBIS / Corbis / Getty Images

Two lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday addressing previous actions the U.S. government inflicted upon Native Americans.

The bill, authored by Rep. Deb Haaland from New Mexico and Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, specifically addresses the "intergenerational trauma" caused by policies that tore Native American children away from their families and sent them to boarding schools to be educated in white culture, HuffPost reported.

Read More Show Less
Fall is with us and winter is around the corner, so the season for colds and flu has begun — joining COVID-19. monstArrr / Getty Images

By Gudrun Heise

Just as scientists are scoring successes in coronavirus research, new problems are on their way. Fall is with us and winter is around the corner, so the season for colds and flu has begun — joining COVID-19.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch