It’s a grim picture in 2023: police in riot gear flooding a village, pulling people from homes and tearing down structures to make way for the arrival of excavators to access the rich coal seam underground.
Since Wednesday, when rain and wind battered the small West German village of Lützerath, police have removed hundreds of activists. Some have lived in Lützerath for more than two years, occupying the houses vacated by former residents after they were evicted, most in 2017, to make way for the mine.
More than 1,000 police officers are involved in the eviction operation. Most buildings have now been evacuated, but according to the Aachen city police, some activists remained in tree houses or huddled in a hole dug in the ground as of Friday.
Protest organizers expect thousands more to pour into the area on Saturday to demonstrate against its destruction, though they may not eventually be able to reach the village. After the clearance is complete, RWE plans to complete a 1.5-kilometer fence to wrap around Lützerath and close off the village’s buildings, streets and sewers before they are demolished.
Still, activists promise to keep fighting for the village.
“We are taking action against this destruction by putting our bodies in the way of the excavator,” says Ronni Zeppelin of campaign group Lützerath Lebt (Lützerath Lives).
Lützerath, about 20 miles west of Dusseldorf, has long been a climate flashpoint in Germany due to its location on the edge of the open-pit lignite mine, Garzweiler II.
The mine extends over about 35 square kilometers in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) – a huge, jagged gorge in the landscape.
Its slow creep out over the years has already been swallowed villages where families have lived for generations. It led to the destruction of ancient buildings and even a wind farm.
RWE has long planned to further expand the mine, despite criticism from climate groups. Lignite is the most polluting form of coal, which is itself the most polluting fossil fuel.
As early as 2013, German courts ruled that the company could expand, even at the expense of nearby villages.
After the Greens’ successes in the 2021 federal election, some hoped the extension would be cancelled, said David Dresen, part of the climate group Aller Dörfer bleiben (All Villages Stay), who lives in Kuckum, a village that was nominated to be destroyed. .
But in October 2022, the government made a deal with RWE that saved several villages – including Kuckum – but demolished Lützerath to give RWE access to the coal underneath.
In return, RWE agreed to bring forward the coal phase-out from 2038 to 2030.
The Greens are pitching it as a win.
“We saved five villages and three farms from destruction, saved 500 people from forced resettlement and brought forward the phase-out of coal by eight years,” said Martin Lechtape, a spokesman for the Green Party of North Rhine-Westphalia. email to CNN.
The Greens and RWE also say the expansion will help alleviate the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, which has limited gas supplies.
It “isn’t a lignite or coal renaissance, but just a side step — helping Germany face 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 regurgitate Earth’s emissions and violate the Paris Climate Agreement ambition to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
RWE and the Greens both reject claims that the mine expansion will increase overall emissions, saying European caps mean additional carbon emissions can be offset.
Many feel betrayed by the Green Party, including the people who voted for them.
“It is such an absurd and catastrophic scenario that Germany, the country where everyone thinks we have green [policies]destroys a village to burn coal in the middle of the climate crisis,” said Dresen, who voted green in recent elections.
Fabian Huebner, energy and coal campaigner at Europe Beyond Coal, said: “I think the Greens, who were facing very difficult decisions, have taken the wrong turn and downgraded climate policy.”
Germany should instead accelerate the transition to clean energy, he added, including a faster rollout of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures: “You can’t solve the crisis with the energy source that actually caused this crisis. ”
Some studies suggest that Germany may not even need the extra coal. An August report from the international research platform Coal Transitions found that even if coal-fired power stations run at very high capacity until the end of this decade, they will already have more coal available than is needed from existing reserves.
It is a very uncomfortable moment for the Greens and an unfathomable catastrophe for those who want to save the village.
“The photos from Lützerath are of course painful, because we have always fought against the continued burning of coal,” said Lechtape on behalf of the NRW Greens. “We know the importance of Lützerath as a symbol in the climate movement. However, this should not obscure what has been achieved,” he added.
The party’s discomfort may deepen on Saturday when a protest organized by a coalition of climate groups is expected to draw thousands to Lützerath, including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
“It is now up to us to stop the wrecking balls and coal excavators. We will not make this eviction easy,” said Pauline Brünger of the climate group Fridays for Future.
Even if the village is completely evacuated and access is closed before Saturday, climate groups say the protest will continue.
Dina Hamid, a recently evicted activist at Lützerath Lebt, told CNN: “At the end of the day, it’s not about the village, it’s about the coal that stays in the ground and we will fight for that as long as it takes.”