German workers consider climate crisis during elections Environmental news

Lutzarth, Germany – Outside the remains of Lutzarth, a village in northwestern Germany, stands a small drawing marked “1.5 degree range”.

Beyond that, the huge Garzweiler mine extends almost to the horizon. Across, high-pit excavators work day and night with blades 22 meters wide, extracting millions of tons of lignite coal from the earth to generate electricity at nearby power plants.

Lutzarth, like the previous 20 neighboring villages, is expected to collapse next month as mining progress continues.

Over the past year, the site has become a magnet for German climate workers.

They are attracted to Eckhard Huckamp, ​​a farmer who stubbornly refuses to give up his land to the energy firm RWE, which owns the mine.

Here, in the remote countryside, they hope that their barriers and resistance campaigns can save the village and keep coal in the ground.

Climate change is a key theme of Germany’s election campaign, featuring top billing during television debates and a major feature of the party’s program.

But Lutzharth’s activists say the constant buzz of miners denies politicians’ promise to act on the alarming warnings given by climate scientists.

Germany plans to shut down coal-fired power generation by 2038.

Yet coal continues to supply about one-fourth of the country’s electricity and has a significant share of greenhouse gas emissions, the highest ever in Europe.

Germany is the world’s largest producer of lignite, a low-quality coal that accounts for about 20 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. [Ruairi Casey/Al Jazeera]

A study published by Greenpeace found that under a framework to limit global warming to 1.75 degrees Celsius (3.15 degrees Fahrenheit), no more than 280 million tons of lignite, especially soft coal, should be extracted from Garzweiler and nearby Humbach. Mine

The number of plans shared by RWE and the North Rhine-Westphalia state government is expected to be 680 million tonnes.

“If Lutzarth goes and Gerzweiler continues for another five years, Germany can simply say goodbye to honoring the Paris Agreement,” said Colon-based student Nef, who is camping Lutzarth over the weekend.

“It’s always ridiculous to me when we’re called radicals because I think we’re just doing basic things, trying to keep 500 million tons of CO2 in the ground … I don’t see how basic it is in any way. “

In the camp

RWE, a cottage provided by Hukamp, ​​has become a center of activity ahead of the tree-clearing season, which begins in October, after which security personnel and police are expected to evict anyone left on the ground.

In the surrounding field, dozens of volunteers set up defensive structures for showdowns, hitting scrap wood together to build towers and huts. Above them, spacious cabins are elevated to tree branches.

Under one, an instructor gave a workshop on climbing with rope and harness, teaching the volunteers to cling to the traps in order to capture the clearing process.

The camp attracts a variety of people – locals, anarchists, communists, student strikers and young members of the Green Party – all under the umbrella of Germany’s climate justice movement, a splinter group of organizations dedicated to fighting environmental change that tackles social injustice.

Over the weekend, dozens of volunteers come to help with the construction work. Hundreds of people are expected to resist expanding the mine by the end of October [Ruairi Casey/Al Jazeera]

Louisa Neubauer, Germany’s most prominent face on Friday for the Future Campaign, made the pilgrimage here in August.

The numbers are expected to reach hundreds by the end of October, when Lutzarth will be the latest flashpoint in the war against “extracurricularism” in Germany.

“[RWE] We have to move in a line, ”said Emil, a member of the local chapter of Ende Zeland, a direct-action group known for sabotaging the fossil fuel industry by disrupting mining and pipelines.

“If we save Lutzharth, the mine will close. They can’t go around it. ”

Many here are experienced in the long-standing profession of the nearby Humbach Forest. Ancient and biodiversity forests become a symbol of environmental resistance when workers there block the expansion of another lignite mine in RWE.

In 2018, despite a massive police operation to clear the jungle and demolish tree houses, the occupiers finally won.

Last year, Germany’s federal government agreed to halt development at the site and announced a moratorium on logging, a victory that could repeat climate radical hopes.

Germany lags behind in climate

Germany’s vulnerability to extreme weather was brought to the forefront in July, when torrential rains flooded floodplains in the Ahar and Eft rivers in West Germany, killing at least 220 people.

Visiting the region, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany “needs to step up its fight against climate change”, which a study found was nine times more likely to be a disaster.

Yet Europe’s largest economy still struggles to meet its own climate goals.

The Gerzweiler mine in North Rhine-Westphalia covers an area of ​​more than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) and produces about 30 million tons of lignite coal a year. [Ruairi Casey/Al Jazeera]

In April, Germany’s Supreme Court ruled that its existing climate targets were insufficiently ambitious, leading parliament to reduce emissions by 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

However, a draft official report from August found that Germany was on track to achieve only 49 percent.

An analysis by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) states that while neither party has a coherent plan to reach the 2030 target, the Green and Left parties are coming closest.

“There’s a lot of work in Germany, but it’s not fast enough, not fast enough,” said Stefan Lectenbohmer, a climate expert at the Upperpartal Institute.

Germany remains the world’s largest lignite extractor, and the coal phase-out date has been debated during the campaign.

The Greens and the Left support the release of coal by 2030, with significant improvements in renewal.

The Social Democrats (SPD) and the Free Democratic Party have indicated they want to get out earlier, and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) expects the EU’s emissions trade regime to set coal prices before 2038.

Lectenbohmer told Al Jazeera that with the complexity of rebuilding millions of buildings, or greening the entire transportation sector, ending coal dependence could be a relatively cheap and easy process.

Confusion in politics

During dinner in the camp, topics of discussion included the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the need for an “post-growth” economic plan, and the latest video from the popular YouTuber reserve, which reprimanded German politicians for their inaction. Climate change.

The men who fought to make Merkel successful as chancellor cannot claim support here.

CDU leader Armin Laschet is the North Rhine-Westphalia premier, a staunch supporter of the coal industry who approved police clearance for the occupation of Humbach Forest, which a court ruled invalid this month.

Centrist SPD candidate Olaf Schulz is remembered for his actions as mayor of Hamburg, where he defended police against allegations of brutality against protesters during the 2017 G20 summit.

There is also confusion over the Green Party, which was originally established as the radical rise of the anti-war and anti-nuclear movement. Over the decades, it has moved to the center, reshaping itself as a modern, professional and business force.

“A lot of people think that voting for the Green Party is enough to change the world,” said Momo, who spent two years occupying the Humbach forest.

Climate activists gather on the land of farmer Eckhard Huckamp, ​​who has refused to give his land to energy agency RWE [Ruairi Casey/Al Jazeera]

Like all Al-Jazeera interviewed in Lutzarth, he plans to vote this week; And believes that a government with greens will improve compared to Merkel’s conservatives, although their policies will likely fall into disrepair during coalition talks.

The gap between its leadership and the larger movement bothered him. He points to the state of Hessen, where the Greens rule in alliance with the Conservatives and oppose the occupation of the Daner Road by activists trying to block the construction of a motorway.

“The Greens benefit from a huge and powerful movement,” he told Al Jazeera. “In the end … we help them and their position, and now they enforce law and order.”

“It simply came to our notice then. Even with the Greens in government. ”

For Emile, the Greens have sided with the environment, but have failed to address climate justice, anti-capitalism, or the edification of the Global South, which has suffered the most from Germany’s historic emissions.

“We want real justice, for society and for the climate. Not only that [being] Sustainable and CO2 neutral, ”they said.

“That’s what we need to bring into the discussion and politics.”

The next morning, local members of the Green Party came by bike to survey the mining hole. They listen intently to the speeches of the camp residents.

Rumors of the presence of a prominent green MP known for working closely with conservatives have become unfounded – a relief for some workers, happy to mingle with party loyalists, with whom they share many of the same goals, if not the means to achieve them.

“Political parties play a role in an ecosystem,” Nef said.

“Direct action groups, professions, or political-minded structural groups are going to fulfill a different function because each of them is going to speak with a voice and an imagination that is going to speak to different people in society.”

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