Why we write on this topic:
Lützerath has grown in recent years to become a symbol of climate activism in Germany. Now it is about to be demolished. What’s going on?
“It’s going to be a very exciting week around here,” quips Dirk Jansen. As managing director at BUND NRW, the North Rhine-Westphalia branch of environmental organization Friends of the Earth, he is coordinating and organizing protests in Lützerath. In this village, which lies between the Dutch city of Roermond and the German one of Düsseldorf, hundreds of climate activists have settled on the property of farmer Eckardt Heukamp – the last original local of the village – over the past few years. And they are not letting themselves be sent away that easily.
Heart of climate activism
Ever since the moment Heukamp opened his fields to climate activists in 2020, the hamlet has become a hub of climate activism. We already published this report on the brown coal village last year, which sits on the verge of a massive quarry. Energy company RWE extracted nearly 20 million tonnes of brown coal (lignite) from the Garzweiler brown coal pit in 2020.
The Aachen police announced today that the evacuation of the village will begin Wednesday at the earliest. Jansen says that from all corners of Germany around four thousand police officers are coming to Lützerath to erect a fence around the village. “Really tense, because right now there are hundreds of activists on the grounds and huts are still being built.” Only yesterday, over five thousand people gathered to demonstrate against the demolition of Lützerath.
Unrest between police and activists
A similar situation occurred in 2018 when Hambach was evicted. This was not without incident. In Lützerath, too, there was already unrest between climate activists and police. Jansen is doing his best to make the protests as peaceful as possible, but does not rule out the possibility of trouble when things really get going.
Germany still relies on coal for a quarter of its energy supply. Coal from the Garzweiler quarry supplies the coal-fired power plant in nearby Neurath. The plant is, in terms of tons of CO2, the second largest polluter in Europe (six of the European Union’s 10 largest polluters are in Germany).
‘RWE has right to brown coal underneath Lützerath’
Co-chair of North Rhine-Westphalia, Tim Achteryer, told German newspaper the Tagesspiegel that the eviction was a part of the deals made with RWE. “RWE has a right to the brown coal lying underneath Lützerath. We have to accept that as a rule of law.”
The fact also remains that the occupation by climate activists is illegal. In recent years, activists have filed several lawsuits but lost them each and every time. This will also be the case for the most recent court case, on which the judge is ruling today.
Despite the fact that Jansen also knows full well that they cannot win the fight against the state and energy giant RWE, he is still hopeful.
“I’m really very impressed that people are coming to Lützerath from all over Germany, and even from the Netherlands. We have several protest actions planned this coming week, culminating in a huge demonstration on 14 January. We’re expecting thousands of people. We are really busy creating momentum. This sparks a discussion about climate change and the phasing out of coal and the role of Die Grünen (The Greens) within the German government. A lot of people feel they are not doing enough.”
As an example, he cites the local climate minister, who was still marching in demonstrations against brown coal mining as recently as August 2021. “Die Grünen are letting down many of their voters, they are making decisions they are unable to explain to their supporters,” he says. Elections are due next year in several member states. We have to hold our people’s representatives accountable.”
‘Es ist Tag X!!!‘ (It is Day X!!!) is written in capital red letters on the webpage of action group Lützerath lebt! (Lützerath lives!). The group is calling on people to come to the village right now especially and is preparing blockades to stop the demolition machines of RWE. Lützerath is going down, but it is going down fighting.