In times of the energy turnaround, it is hard to explain why a whole area has to be burned – even if there is an old permit for it. The brown coal is no longer indispensable.
Comment by Michael Bauchmüller
Homeland. It is so important to the state government in North Rhine-Westphalia that its own ministry has been created for home and construction. From there comes the instruction to drive demonstrators from a small forest on the edge of the open pit Hambach, so that the forestry can soon give way to the brown coal excavators. In truth, this ministry does not work for homeland and construction, but for the depletion of its homeland.
For homeland, many of the brown coal mine opponents. For half a century, residents have been experiencing how the excavators eat into the landscape. Villages and village communities disappeared, but the Hambach open-pit mine was one of the largest holes people have ever dug. There were times when people in the Rhineland were even proud of such superlatives; the area was considered a power center of West Germany. Climate protection? Green electricity? That was far away.
The protest in the Hambach Forest is a symbol of how times have changed. Lignite is no longer the indispensable guarantor of a secure energy supply, since more renewable energies are flowing – which, on top of that, can always be better stored or supplemented by small, flexible gas-fired power plants. In times of energy transition and digitization, it is difficult to explain why entire areas of land in the steam boilers of fossil power plants should be burned. The fact that just state governments in the brown coal states of Brandenburg and NRW are slowing down the expansion of green electricity, speaks volumes. The fight in the Hambach Forest, it is also a fight for the energy supply of the future.
State power against environmentalists
Even more, however, the forest itself is a symbol. It is nature against machine, tree-bound carbon against excavators who just want to get such carbon from the ground – so that it can be burned in the largest CO₂ slings in Europe. The rulers in Berlin are enthusiastic climate protectors, but no one likes to talk about Germany being the largest lignite producer in the world. Even less harmful to the climate than in Germany can hardly generate electricity.
While the provincial government in Dusseldorf advocates the continued existence of these power plants, farmers' tractors leave behind huge clouds of dust in the fields. Also in the Rhineland many farmers have to give up after the drought summer. Her work also has a lot to do with homeland. But the rulers in federal and state governments are silent about the connection between growing holes in the Rhineland and the climate problems in near and far.
Instead, the state government in Dusseldorf washes its hands in the innocence of existing permits. In fact, the mining and power company RWE can appeal to valid commitments, which also withstand in court. And yes, the state may call the police if permits can not be enforced otherwise. But what if the conditions for the permits have changed fundamentally?
When the Hambach hole was approved, there was no climate treaty from Paris, no promise by the developed world to reach the peak of global emissions "as soon as possible". An energy transition was not yet in sight, on the contrary: Wind and solar energy were considered a pretty utopia, which would never deliver much electricity. Renewable energies now account for 36 percent of German electricity.
The Hambacher Forst becomes the stage for the dispute over the energy future
It may be that the forest has to give way in the end. But for the time being, the chainsaws should rest. For if a commission in Berlin now negotiates about the future of coal and coal mining, then also valid permits are up for debate. Over the next few years, opencast mines will have to be abandoned or reduced in size as renewable energy supplies. The federal government wants to achieve a green electricity share of 65 percent by 2030. The goal is good – just start to seriously work towards it.
So the Hambacher Forst becomes the stage for the dispute over the energy future. The defenders of the forest have put the limelight on, with the active help of the law enforcement agencies. With the beginning of the clearing of the forest, public attention is guaranteed for the next few weeks. It may be that the police will encounter violent opponents; they are doing a disservice to the cause. But the resistance has many faces. There are clergymen doing church services in the forest, and hundreds of families going for a peaceful protest walk – in a forest that is a piece of home for them.
Does she want to fight against these people? A tricky question for the state government in Dusseldorf – but home is supposedly so important.
"Legally creative, but legally acceptable"
While the procedure is being discussed in the North Rhine-Westphalian state parliament, special forces are invading three further camps in the forest. The climate activists fight back, sometimes with little appetizing means.
By Christian Wernicke