All posts tagged: Germany


Losing Lützerath: To save Germany, the occupied village must be destroyed

By the time you read this, the village of Lützerath may already be gone – part of the price paid for getting RWE, Germany’s largest energy producer, to stop mining and burning brown coal by 2030. Yet short term, RWE is ramping generation at their lignite-burning plants, among the most polluting in Europe, to make up for sanctioned Russian gas and help Germany get through the next two winters. But climate scientists warn, burning all the coal underneath the activist-occupied town could risk breaking the emissions limits set under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Worse, as lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum relates, the steep terms of the deal are splintering the Greens, potentially setting party leadership against its most ardent climate activists.

2030 coal exit condemns Lützerath

 To harvest the vast amounts of brown coal lying under the fertile plains west of Cologne, some of the world’s largest excavators for decades have chewed through some of Germany’s most fertile farmland, in the process demolishing nearly 50 villages and displacing over 40,000 residents.

But perhaps no more.

As part of an October 2022 deal between the German federal government, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and RWE to bring the energy firm’s coal phase-out forward by eight years to 2030, only one more village must be destroyed for coal: Lützerath.

In exchange for saving five other similarly-threatened towns, the deal authorizes RWE to increase mining through March 2024 to help Germany weather the current energy crisis.

And while RWE will supposedly decrease their coal burns starting in April 2024, some estimates find that the emissions generated from burning all this additional coal, some 560 million tons of it, will exceed the limits Germany agreed to under the 2015 Paris Agreement, potentially putting the 1.5 degree limit out of reach.

Nevertheless, at the press conference announcing the agreement, both federal Economic Affairs and Climate Action Minister Robert Habeck and his colleague Mona Neubaur, NRW’s Green minister for Economy and Climate Protection, were clear that the town’s fate is sealed.

“If Lützerath were to be preserved,” explained Neubaur in a statement echoing RWE’s, “then the production volume required to maintain security of supply over the next eight years could not be achieved, the stability of the opencast mine could not be guaranteed and the necessary recultivation could not be carried out.”

New Hambach

As the coal excavators churn closer by the minute, the tiny farming village of Lützerath is the front line of climate defense.

For several years, thousands of activists, including Greta Thunberg, have flocked to it from every corner of the globe, attending “resistance” workshops, conferences, concerts, vegan group dinners and thumping, nightlong raves.

Their ranks stiffened by veterans of the campaign to save the nearby Hambach Forest, occupiers have planted gardens, moved into abandoned homes, lived in tents, built huts and erected sophisticated treehouses.

Barns throughout the town have been transformed into community centers. Slogans of shared environmental justice, from Antifa and Rojava, the embattled autonomous Kurdish region in northeastern Syria, adorn their walls — reminders that the climate justice movement didn’t emerge with Fridays for Future, but has deeper roots within the long struggles of activists in the Global South as well as generations of black, indigenous and people of color (BIPoC) still fighting for freedom and equality.

But above all else, occupiers have organized and prepared for the village’s eventual defense against RWE-backed police forces.

Resistance crops

Though many have visited and overnighted at the village, to date massive demonstrations like those at the Hambach forest haven’t materialized.

“If there were 50,000 on the street, politicians would have to do something,” said Eckardt Heukamp, the last farmer in Lützerath, to reporters from the New York Times.

Perhaps the frustrating reality is that two years ago it was politically easier for leaders of the then-opposition Greens to support rallies for the Hambach forest, or last year, from occupied Lützerath. Back then, even Mona Neubaur, seeking votes, once marched to preserve it.

Since then, often with support from the climate movement, the Greens have notched their best-ever showings in state and national elections.

Ascendant both nationally and in NRW, once the Greens entered into a coalition with the conservative CDU in June 2022 and together agreed to phase out coal by 2030, there seemed reason to hope Lützerath might survive after all.

Stubbornly refusing to sell out to RWE, in an act of resistance, Heukamp planted crops.

But in October 2022, after the harvest was in, he finally gave up — abandoning the family farm to the activists.

Blaming state politicians, he said: “If they had wanted to save this village, they could have done it.”

For scientist-activist Saskia Meyer, who has lived in the village for months, Lützerath is symbolic of much of what is wrong in our society.

“What’s happening today to the planet is a symptom of our western consumption behavior and habits,” she said.

Reul-ality

NRW’s state government, including its Minister of the Interior, Herbert Reul, who oversaw brutal police measures to clear the occupied Hambach Forest that lead to the death of a journalist as well as injuries to thousands many others, is preparing for a difficult and potentially violent eviction.

Throughout the weeks of November and December and leading up to mid-January, defense preparations were in full swing throughout the town with intricate barricades and steel beams already erected and more going up.

Some politicians have also come out in support.

One, German MEP Kathrin Henneberger, who I ran into at the occupied village, vowed that when RWE and the police come, she’s prepared to put her body on the line to stop them.

Clearing begins

As of mid-January, thousands of police officers had begun evicting occupiers days after 7,000 or more came to the embattled town for a concert and demonstration.

Media reports show that both police officers and town defenders were engaging in violent behavior.

Some climate scientists are calling for a cooling off period to re-assess the necessity of mining the coal underneath the town.

Given the fluidity of the situation, by the time you are reading this story, the town will either have been cleared of activists, many of whom could be in jail or being held, or a political compromise will have been found.

Pyrrhic coal exit: Germany’s bad bargain with energy colossus RWE

Heralded as a “courageous step for climate protection,” Germany’s government has in 2022 reached a compromise with RWE, Europe’s most polluting energy firm, to stop mining and burning its filthy brown coal by 2030 – a full eight years ahead of previous plans. But the deal, negotiated by several Green-Party led ministries, also authorizes RWE to keep several units at one of the world’s most toxic power plants to stay longer on the grid, at least through 2025, instead of closing at year’s end. And despite cheers that the new agreement will keep 280 million tonnes of carbon in the ground, scientists fear the heaps of lignite now set to be burned will prevent Germany from meeting emissions limits set under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum reviews the controversial decision.

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RWE transformed: Germany’s biggest energy producer, and one of the world’s dirtiest, leaps into renewables

Founded in 1898 in the industrial city of Essen, RWE has grown into one of the largest electricity producer in Germany and increasingly in the world. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis has upset plans to immediately reduce RWE’s lignite burn, in mid-October the company finally embraced a total coal phase-out by 2030. The about face comes days after RWE announced a blockbuster deal backed by Qatari’s massive sovereign wealth fund to takeover one of the United States’ biggest renewable energy producers. By the end of October 2022, as lead blogger and podcaster, Michael Buchsbaum, relates, despite RWE running three of the filthiest generating stations in Europe and still being dependent on massive volumes of fossil fuels, the company has become a global clean energy powerhouse.

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Can Germany’s Greens slam the door on its nuclear fleet?

Fundamental to Germany’s Energiewende is its long-planned nuclear energy phase-out. For over a decade the nation has gradually reduced its reliance on atomic power with a planned end date of December 31st 2022. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the subsequent boycotting and weaponization of Russian fossil fuels, plus fears of a cold winter have upended the nuclear exit-strategy. With three plants still online in October, Chancellor Scholz decided to extend their runs until the following April. But delegates at the Green Party’s recent congress in Bonn overwhelmingly voted against backing any measures allowing the purchase of new fuel rods to further extend their runs. And as lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum reminds in this second piece on Germany’s fractious nuclear exit debate, despite the ongoing war, it’s still possible that uranium for any new rods would be imported from Russia.

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Germany’s nuclear brinkmanship: politics and fear drive debate over last reactors

Soaring energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fears of a cold winter, energy shortages and a looming recession in Germany are causing much handwringing. Long dependent on cheap Russian gas, Germany’s crucial industrial sector is warning of blackouts and lasting economic damage if enough replacement fuel isn’t found. After months of partisan bickering between members of his coalition government, Chancellor Scholz decided to authorize the extended run time of the nation’s three remaining nuclear power plants until mid-April 2023, postponing their long planned, legally binding December 31st 2022 expiration date. In the first of two pieces, lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum takes us through the debate.

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Colombian Conundrum: Resetting development relationships with Germany and the world

Led by reformer Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s new leftist government, the first in its long history, aims to both reduce its dependence on fossil fuel exports and achieve 100% clean electricity by 2032 while creating peace and creating economic prosperity. But to ensure these aims can justly be reached, Petro’s administration will need assistance, particularly from Germany. Its fifth largest trading partner and biggest in the EU, new treaty obligations to protect indigenous rights and control supply chains may force Germany to re-evaluate its still extractivist behavior. In the final piece in the series, Lead blogger and podcaster, Michael Buchsbaum reviews several of the necessary changes required of the German companies still profiting off the mining and burning of Colombian blood coal.

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Colombia’s first ever left-green government shakes up nation’s energy sector

It was unthinkable that a leftist government could ever take office in Colombia – and then this summer it happened. Historically power has been held by the nation’s upper classes who used state violence to terrorize unions, minorities, indigenous groups and social reformers. But running on a platform promising a government dedicated towards waging civil peace and ensuring social and environmental justice, in June the progressive former senator and Bogotá mayor, Gustavo Petro and his running mate, the Afro-Colombian environmentalist, Francia Márquez, prevailed. As lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum writes in this part of the Colombian Conundrum series, immediately topping Pedro’s agenda is re-writing regulations so the whole population can benefit from fossil fuel industry profits.

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Colombian coal connections: German MEP Kathrin Henneberger works to phase it out on both sides of the Atlantic

After a year serving in Germany’s Bundestag, the climate-champion and Green MEP Kathrin Henneberger now finds herself struggling to defend the progress made by her predecessors. In response to Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz personally calling Colombia’s then president, Iván Duque to increase coal exports, despite well-known human rights violations associated with mining there, Henneberger traveled to the Latin American nation to tour its fossil fuel producing regions. Once there she immediately began forging ties with Colombia’s incoming leftist government, the first in its history, with the intent on forming a new climate alliance aimed at jointly phasing out coal production and burning in both nations. But back home, she remains committed to reducing coal dependency and preventing the destruction of villages around the edges of Germany’s still expanding mines.
What follows is the second part of an edited interview between her and lead blogger, Michael Buchsbaum. Listeners can enjoy a longer version in a companion podcast.

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Derailed: despite its obvious success, Germany to scrap €9 public transport ticket

This spring Germany’s three-party coalition government announced plans to introduce a discounted €9 nationwide public transportation travel pass for the summer months. Intended as a way to cushion the blows of rising inflation, high energy and living costs while reducing fossil fuels usage and emissions, at least 21 million tickets were sold between May, when the ticket became available, and July. Sales figures and passenger numbers surpassed industry expectations and data shows that highway traffic congestion nationwide is easing. But despite its obvious success, Berlin is poised to not extend the offer beyond August, prompting fears that rail travel costs will jump, highway traffic jams will lengthen as Germany squanders another opportunity to show real leadership. Lead blogger, podcaster and frequent rail passenger, Michael Buchsbaum, reviews the situation.

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Not enough Space? Combining Agriculture with Renewable Energies

In 2022, Germany set ambitious goals renewable energy, raising its share of gross electricity consumption up to 80 percent by 2030. In this context, the German government has adopted a policy to promote energy systems on agricultural land and focusing, in particular, on solar energy production. Many questions remain but agrovoltaic systems could serve as a useful tool to boost both the national and European energy transition. Leona Schmitt scans the detail.

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