Coal is king: German Police detained Greta Thunberg at coal mining protest

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg seen being carried away from coal mining protest by German police

Throughout the EU countries are digging for fossil fuels to keep the economy moving.

In the midst of the Energiewende, Germany still relies heavily on imports of fossil fuels as its domestic resources are largely depleted or their extraction is too costly but when old open-cast mines can still feed the home fires Germany is willing to dig for coal and that’s coming from extending the Garzweiler surface mine.

The mine is located west of Grevenbroich, Mining was originally limited to 25 sq miles.  In the early 1980s, it is estimated that more than 30,000 people had to be moved for the Garzweiler mine These people had to leave their houses and move. Plans for Garzweiler II required that 12 more towns would have to be removed, with around 12,000 more people relocated. This has caused many controversies where people protested to save their homes.

There are many different opinions on whether this displacement of the local inhabitants is a good case. According to Wolfgang Rupieper, head of Pro Lausitzer Braunkohle, which is a pro-coal lobbying association based in another brown coal mining area in Germany, the resettlement is not a bad thing. He states: “Coal is the motor of the region, and when it collapses there won’t be anything left, I know it’s not pretty, but people who don’t have a future here because there are no jobs will lose their homes too. They’ll have to go elsewhere.”

Within the Labour Heartlands, we have witnessed first-hand the devastation and abandonment that is created when an industry such as mining is closed, especially the abandonment.

Now Luetzerath has become a cause célèbre for critics of Germany’s climate efforts.

Environmentalists say bulldozing the village to expand the Garzweiler mine would result in huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. The government and utility company RWE argue that coal is needed to ensure Germany’s energy security.

The regional and national governments, both of which include the environmentalist Green party, reached a deal with RWE last year allowing it to destroy the abandoned village in return for ending coal use by 2030, rather than 2038.

However, over the last few weeks, the protest at Garzweiler mine has been growing. Its ranks were swelled when thousands of people Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg joined the demonstrators as they protested the clearance of Luetzerath, walking through the nearby village of Keyenberg and past muddy fields. Protesters chanted “Every village stays” and “You are not alone.”

Organizers said about 35,000 people took part, while police put the figure at 15,000. On the sidelines of the protest, police said people broke through their barriers and some got into the Garzweiler coal mine.

This week witnessed new tactics. Police said that a group of protesters, Thunberg among them, had moved away from the larger body of demonstrators and started approaching the face of the Garzweiler mine.

Setting foot on the steep decline at the edge of the mine is not permitted for safety reasons. Thunberg was one of several protesters carried away from the escarpment. Police also said that one person had jumped into the mine.

Some who tried to get to the edge of the mine were pushed back. And German news agency DPA reported that police used water cannons and batons just outside Luetzerath itself, which is now fenced off, against hundreds of people who got that far. The situation calmed down after dark.

“Greta Thunberg was part of a group of activists who rushed towards the ledge,” a spokesperson for Aachen police told the Reuters news agency. “However, she was then stopped and carried by us with this group out of the immediate danger area to establish their identity.”

The spokesperson said it wasn’t clear what would happen to Thunberg or the group she was detained with, or whether the activist who jumped into the mine was hurt. In total, police said several dozen people were either carried or led away.

Reuters later cited an eyewitness as saying Thunberg could subsequently be seen sitting alone on a large police bus. 

Many of the protesters have been taken into custody at least briefly in the past 10 days or so, but others have simply been removed from areas that police wanted to start demolishing or clearing and then released.

Also in Düsseldorf, around 15 activists from the group calling itself Extinction Rebellion tried to block the entry to the state’s interior ministry building, responsible among other things for policing. Three of them glued or otherwise attached themselves to the door.

Protesters have called for the resignation of state Interior Minister Herbert Reul. Extinction Rebellion said he was ultimately responsible for “police violence against peaceful protesters” during the large demonstration on Saturday.

A combination of media and helmet camera footage showing some incidents of officers using force have trickled into the public sphere in recent days, some of which Thunberg herself shared via her social media accounts.

TW police violence What we are experiencing today and the last few days is pure #Polizeigewalt . We are shocked at how the police are proceeding and condemn this behaviour. We remain steadfast because we know what we are fighting for: #Klimagerechtigkeit !

Parallel protests around the state on Tuesday

Other demonstrations connected to Lützerath took place around the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Tuesday. 

A group calling itself Ende Gelände, which loosely, but less poetically, translates as “an end to mined areas” in English, occupied the Inden coal mine — also operated by RWE — on the outskirts of the border city of Aachen.

“Even if you destroy Lützerath, we will fight on: until you stop burning coal, extracting fracking gas and building autobahns,” an Ende Gelände spokeswoman, Charly Dietz, said. 

Around 130 people blocked the tracks of a train line carrying coal to a coal-fired power plant in Neurath. 

In the state capital of Düsseldorf, around 150 people marched from the state parliament to the city centre in protest at the village’s demolition. Police said the demonstration was peaceful for the most part, although some participants sat and tried to block roads along the protest route. 

Germany’s reliance on coal for electricity rose in 2022, exceeding one-third of power generation in the third quarter of the year. This is largely because of the restrictions on imports of oil and gas from Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine, but also because of the country’s almost-complete shutdown of its nuclear power plants.

European Union’s import dependence

The EU produces large parts of its energy domestically, with about 40 percent from renewables and 30 percent from nuclear, and the rest mostly from solid fuels like hard coal and lignite, and some from natural gas and crude oil.

Still, most energy needs (about 60%) are met through imports. Together, imports of oil, gas and solid fuels made up about 15 percent of total extra-EU imports in 2021 (% of trade in value). This grew substantially in 2022 (to about 25% in the third quarter) as the energy crisis drove up prices on global markets.

By trade value, about 60 percent of the EU’s energy imports in the first three quarters of 2022 were petroleum products, followed by gas (about a third) and coal (less than 5%).

By net mass, Russia was the main extra-EU supplier in 2021 (e.g. 25.8% petroleum oil, 43.9% gas), followed by Norway. However, the situation changed dramatically over the course of 2022 during the energy crisis. In the third quarter of that year, Russia supplied 18.3 percent of petroleum oil (still largest supplier) and only 15.3 percent of natural gas (Norway now the largest supplier).

Graph shows extra-EU imports of natural gas to the EU from main trading partners 2021 and Q1-3 2022. Source: eurostat 2022.

Source: eurostat 2022.

The terrorist attack on Nord Stream 2 has left not only Germany scrapping for fuel but reliant on US LNG imports.

Support Labour Heartlands

Help Us Sustain Ad-Free Journalism

Sorry, I Need To Put Out the Begging Bowl

Independent Journalism Needs You

Our unwavering dedication is to provide you with unbiased news, diverse perspectives, and insightful opinions. We're on a mission to ensure that those in positions of power are held accountable for their actions, but we can't do it alone. Labour Heartlands is primarily funded by me, Paul Knaggs, and by the generous contributions of readers like you. Your donations keep us going and help us uphold the principles of independent journalism. Join us in our quest for truth, transparency, and accountability – donate today and be a part of our mission!

Like everyone else, we're facing challenges, and we need your help to stay online and continue providing crucial journalism. Every contribution, no matter how small, goes a long way in helping us thrive. By becoming one of our donors, you become a vital part of our mission to uncover the truth and uphold the values of democracy.

While we maintain our independence from political affiliations, we stand united against corruption, injustice, and the erosion of free speech, truth and democracy. We believe in the power of accurate information in a democracy, and we consider facts non-negotiable.

Your support, no matter the amount, can make a significant impact. Together, we can make a difference and continue our journey toward a more informed and just society.

Thank you for supporting Labour Heartlands

Just click the donate button below