EERKELENZ, Germany (AP) — The fate of a small village has sparked a heated debate in Germany about the continued use of coal in the country and whether tackling climate change justifies breaking the law.
Environmental activists clashed with police, who began the evictions on Wednesday In the village of Luetzerath, west of Cologne, it is due to be bulldozed to expand a nearby lignite mine. Some rocks and fireworks were thrown at officers in riot gear as they stormed the village, removing roadblocks and removing protesters.
The activists refused to respond to a court ruling on Monday Effectively prevent them from entering the area. Some dug trenches, built barricades and erected giant trestles in an attempt to prevent heavy machinery from reaching the village before the police pushed it away.
“People are putting all their efforts, all their lives into this struggle to keep coal in the ground,” said Dina Hamid, a spokeswoman for the activist group Luetzerath Lives.
“If this coal gets burned, we’re really going to throw off our climate targets,” she said. So we are trying with our bodies to protect climate targets.
The controversy erupted hours later at a town hall meeting in the nearby city of Erkelens, when a provincial official accused the activists of being willing to “shed human blood” to defend the now deserted village.
Stefan Bosch, who heads the district administration, said that while he sympathized with the protesters’ goals, it was time to abandon Luetzerath. The last resident of the village left in 2022 after being forced to sell to utility company RWE.
“You’ve achieved your goal. Now clean up the field,” he said to a jeer from the room.
Many disagreed, saying the village is more than just a powerful symbol of the need to stop global warming.
Studies show that about 110 million metric tons of coal can be extracted from the bottom of the Luetzerath. The government and the RWE say this coal is needed to ensure Germany’s energy security – which has been curtailed by Russian gas supplies being cut off by the war in Ukraine.
Critics counter that burning too much coal would make it harder for Germany and the world to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) as agreed in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
“No one wants to be out there in the cold now, to defend a forest or a village,” said Maya Rolberg, a 26-year-old student who traveled from southern Germany. “But I think people have realized that they have to do this in order to (protect) future generations.”
Dietmar Jung, a retired pastor who attended the meeting, said he was tired of hearing officials say the law was in favor of RWE.
“They just kept coming back to legal,” he said. “But the right to life does not play a role here (for them).”
Bush, the head of the regional administration, warned the protesters that knowingly breaking the law would not help their cause in a country where violent power grabs and the horrors of dictatorship are still in living memory.
He said, “I will tell you frankly that I am afraid my children will grow up in a world that is not worth living in anymore.” “But at least I’m afraid of my children growing up in a country where everyone takes the law into their own hands.”
“You will not save the world’s climate on your own,” Bush said. “(We will) only if we can take the majority of the population with us.”
Similar discussions about the extent of civil disobedience have taken place in Germany and elsewhere in recent months amid a wave of road closures and other dramatic actions by protesters calling for tougher measures to combat climate change..
Ultimately the law is on their side, some climate activists say, citing a 2021 ruling by the country’s Supreme Court that forced the government to ramp up its efforts to cut emissions.. They also noted the legally binding nature of Germany’s obligations under the Paris Agreement.
Speaking after the town hall meeting, student Janis Niethammer acknowledged that the dispute over Luetzerath touches on fundamental issues. “It’s a question of democracy and how can we actually get democracy to move towards climate protection, towards climate justice,” he said.
Janine Whistler, a federal lawmaker and co-leader of the opposition Left Party, suggested the way out would be for the government to reverse its decision to allow the demolition of the village.
“If we are to meet our climate goals and take the Paris Climate Agreement seriously, the coal under Luetzerath needs to stay in the ground,” she told the Associated Press on the sidelines of the protest.
Whistler criticized a deal struck last year between the government and utility company RWE to allow mining under the village in exchange for an early end to coal use in Germany. In short, some experts say, the deal will lead to higher emissions.
We are already suffering from droughts, famines and floods. She said climate change is already happening. “Thus wrong decisions must be corrected.”
Follow Frank Jordan on Twitter: @wirereporter
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