It’s a stark picture in the year 2023: riot police flood a village, sweeping people out of homes and demolishing buildings to make way for drilling rigs to reach the wealthy. Charcoal seam Underground.
Since Wednesday, when rain and wind battered the small village of Lützerath in western Germany, hundreds of activists have been sacked by police. Some have been in Lützerath for more than two years, occupying homes abandoned by former residents after they were evicted, most by 2017, to make room for the mine.
More than 1,000 police officers are involved in the evacuation. Most of the buildings have now been cleared, but some activists remained in treehouses or huddled in a hole dug in the ground until Friday, according to Aachen city police.
Protest organizers expect thousands of people to flock to the area on Saturday to demonstrate against its destruction, though they may ultimately not be able to reach the village. After the evacuation is completed, RWE plans to complete it 1.5 km perimeter fence to get around Lützerath, blocking off the village’s buildings, streets and sewers before demolishing them.
However, the activists vow to continue fighting for the village.
“We are taking action against this destruction by putting our bodies in the path of the rig,” said Ronnie Zeppelin, of the group Lützerath Lebt (Lützerath Lives).
Lützerath, about 20 miles west of Dusseldorf, has long been a climatic flashpoint in Germany because of its location on the edge of the open-pit lignite coal mine, Garzweiler II.
The mine sprawls across an area of about 14 square miles (35 square kilometers) in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) – a huge jagged hole in the landscape.
It had already swallowed its slow creep out over the years Villages where families have lived for generations. It has led to destruction Centuries old buildings Even a wind farm.
RWE has long planned to expand the mine further, in the face of criticism from climate groups. Lignite is the most polluting form of coal, which it is in itself The most polluting fossil fuel.
Since 2013, it has been German courts ruled The company managed to expand even at the expense of neighboring villages.
distance Green successes In the 2021 federal election, some had hoped the expansion would be reversed, said David Dressen, part of the climate group Aller Dörfer bleiben (All Villages Stay), who lives in the village of Kokum that was slated for destruction.
But in October 2022, the government struck a deal with RWE that saved several villages – including Kuckum – but allowed Lützerath to be demolished to give RWE access to the coal underneath.
In return, RWE has agreed to deliver a phase-out of coal from 2038 to 2030.
The Greens viewed it as a win.
“We managed to save five villages and three farms from destruction, avoid the forced resettlement of 500 people, and bring the phase-out of coal forward by eight years,” Martin Lichtab, spokesman for the North Rhine-Westphalia Green Party, said in a statement. Send an email to CNN.
The Greens and RWE also say the expansion will help ease an energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, which has squeezed gas supplies.
“It’s not a renaissance for coal or coal, but just a side step – helping Germany deal with the energy crisis,” RWE spokesman Guido Steffen told CNN in an email.
Climate groups strongly oppose the deal. Continuing to burn coal for energy will release greenhouse emissions and violate the Paris climate agreement’s ambition to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. percentage above pre-industrial levels.
Both RWE and the Greens reject the claim that expanding the mine will increase overall emissions, saying that European borders mean additional carbon emissions can be offset.
Many feel betrayed by the Green Party, including the people who voted for them.
“It is an absurd and catastrophic scenario that Germany, the country where everyone thinks we have a green environment [policies]destroying a coal-burning village in the midst of the climate crisis,” said Dressen, who voted for Green in the last election.
“I think the Greens, faced with very difficult decisions, took a wrong turn and didn’t prioritize climate policy,” said Fabian Hübner, energy and coal activist at Europe Beyond Coal.
He added that Germany should accelerate the transition to clean energy instead, including a faster rollout of renewables and energy efficiency measures: “You cannot solve the crisis with the energy source that originally caused this crisis.”
Some studies suggest that Germany may not even need the extra coal. August Report The international research platform Coal Transitions found that even if coal plants were operating at very high capacity through the end of this decade, they already had more coal available than is needed from current supplies.
It is a very uncomfortable moment for the Greens and an unfathomable disaster for those who want to save the village.
“The images from Lützerath are of course painful, because we have always fought against the continued burning of coal,” said Lechtape, on behalf of NRW Greens. We know Lützerath’s importance as an icon in the climate movement. But this should not overshadow what has been achieved.
The party’s discomfort may deepen on Saturday when a demonstration, organized by a coalition of climate groups, is expected to draw thousands of people to Lützerath — including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
“It is now up to us to stop the wrecking balls and coal diggers. We are not going to make this evacuation easy,” said Pauline Pronger of the climate group Fridays for Future.
Even if the entire village is evacuated before Saturday and access is banned, climate groups say the protest will continue.
Dina Hamid, an activist who was recently evacuated with Lützerath Lebt, told CNN, “In the end, it’s not about the village, it’s about the coal left in the land and we’ll fight for that as long as it takes.”