Climate activists take to the trees to save German village

After the last farmer packed up and left in October, climate activists are the only people left in the village of Luetzerath, Germany, which sits above a rich vein of coal.

Climate activists want to stop the village of Luetzerath from being bulldozed to allow the extension of an open-air coal mine. Photo by Jared Lisack / Unsplash

In huts perched six metres (19 feet) above ground in the trees, the young campaigners say they can hold out against the authorities if they try to clear them out.

They are there in an effort to stop the village being bulldozed to allow the extension of a neighbouring open-air coal mine.

They do not know when the police might come to force them out, but with Germany in need of more coal, most think it will be soon.

Europe’s largest economy has restarted part of its mothballed inventory of coal power plants to relieve the pressure on gas-powered facilities, following a cut to supplies from Russia in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Several thousand protesters are expected to descend Saturday on Luetzerath, now a symbol of the resistance to fossil fuels, to urge more action from participants in the COP27 conference in Egypt.

“We do not know when the evacuation is planned,” says Alma, a French activist who uses a pseudonym.

“It’s a question of responsibility, one that is difficult to take for the authorities because it’s a huge operation, for which thousands of police officers need to be mobilised over several weeks,” she says.

Mining deal

After studying, Alma decided to go full time as an activist and was one of the first to set up the activist camp in Luetzerath two years ago.

One by one, the residents of Luetzerath have left as their homes were expropriated and they were compensated and rehoused.

She and the dozens of others who have joined her in the occupied village felt betrayed earlier this year when the government, led by Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, announced a compromise with the energy giant RWE to allow the extension of the nearby mine.

Under the agreement, five nearby villages will be spared, but Luetzerath is set to disappear.

Even though RWE, long one of Europe’s biggest emitters, said it would stop producing electricity with carbon in 2030, the activists are not persuaded.

“If RWE extracts all the coal under Luetzerath, Germany will certainly violate the Paris (climate) accord because of the emissions from the mine.

The village is therefore not just a symbol, it’s a critical point in the fight against climate change,” says Alma.

‘In danger’

On the other side of the road, sits the coal pit, where excavators move across golden-black dunes of sand.

The lignite still in the ground here will be needed “from 2024” to supply power plants as other mines close, RWE says.

According to a 2021 report by the DIW economic think-tank, the energy company could extract a further 100 million tonnes of coal without having to demolish Luetzerath and the other five villages.

Despite resorting to more coal power in the current energy crisis, Germany says it is not wavering from its aim of exiting coal power in 2030. Though the climate activists want action accelerated to bring down emissions.

In recent months, some activists have turned to more extreme means to get their voices heard — including by sticking themselves on main roads and halting traffic.

Recently, some activists also flung mashed potatoes at a Monet painting in a Potsdam museum.

In Luezerath, climate activists have set up an intricate camp in the trees to avoid being quickly evicted by the police.

Using a network of cables, they have connected their encampment. The militants think they can hold out for several weeks, six metres (12 feet) above the ground.

On the ground in the middle of the camp, around twenty militants try to raise a pole made of a giant tree trunk with a system of pulleys.

“The poles are tied to the trees in a way that ought to make it impossible to cut the ropes without putting someone’s life in danger,” Alma says.

Underlining their commitment, an anonymous activist said facing death is the activists’ “entire strategy”.

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‘Clear indication of climate change’: Germany logs warmest year on record

Looking at data from 2,000 measuring systems around Germany, the German Weather Service (DWD) said that 2022 marked the warmest year on record through November.

'Clear indication of climate change': Germany logs warmest year on record

“Never since 1881 has the period from January to November in Germany been so warm as in 2022,” said DWD spokesman Uwe Kirsche in a statement on Wednesday.

The average temperature for the first eleven months of 2022 was 11.3C, according to the weather service in Offenbach. The previous high was set in 2020, at 11.1C for this period. 

The temperature average for autumn alone was 10.8 degrees – an entire 2C degrees higher than it was between 1961 to 1990, which is used by meteorologists around the globe as a point of reference. 

Clear indication of climate change

The period from January to October was already the warmest on record, with an average temperature of 11.8C. For meteorologists, autumn ends with November, whereas in calendar terms, it lasts until December 21st. 

It is “a clear indication of climate change;” that the warmest October months of the last 140 years all fall in this millennium, said DWD.

READ ALSO: ‘A glimpse into our climate future’: Germany logs warmest October on record

Autumn 2022 could have easily been mistaken for summer in some regions of Germany, it said. The mercury reached the highest in Kleve on the Lower Rhine on September 5th, where temperatures soared to a sizzling 32.3C.

weather Germany september

Beach goers in Westerland, Schleswig-Holstein on September 25th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Molter

Rainy regions

The mild weather extended into November, before temperatures took a dramatic dip in many parts of the country. 

In the Oberharz am Brocken, the mercury dropped all the way to -11.6C on November 20th, the nationwide low for this autumn.

READ ALSO: Germany to see first snowfall after mild November

But despite the early warm spells, autumn was also “slightly wetter than average,” according to DWD. An average of around 205 liters of precipitation per squar metre fell across Germany.

That was about twelve percent more than in the reference period from 1961 to 1990. Compared to 1991 to 2020, the increase was about eight percent.

The Black Forest and the Alps received the most rainfall. Utzenfeld in the southern Black Forest had the highest daily precipitation in Germany with 86 litres per square meter on October 14th. In contrast, it remained very dry in the northeast. 

However, there were also a fair few bright, sunny days for people to enjoy. According to DWD, the sun shone for a good 370 hours this autumn – almost 20 percent more than in the period from 1961 to 1990 and 15 percent more than in the period from 1991 to 2020.

The North German Lowlands saw the most sun, with residents there getting a solid 400 hours of sunshine over autumn. 

Temperatures to drop this week

Just in time for the start of the meteorological winter on December 1st, temperatures will drop significantly into the low negatives in many parts of the country.

On the weekend, there is a risk of permafrost in some regions of eastern Germany. The nights will also become increasingly frosty, with snow expected in many regions by the end of the week.

Roads are expected to turn icy, but with no major snowstorms, said DWD.

READ ALSO: Will Germany see more snow this winter?