Following the disaster of Fukushima and under the pressure of the public opinion, the German government decided in spring 2011 to maintain the program of phasing out of nuclear power at the horizon of the year 2022, by focusing on a fast development of renewable energy supplies but also on its own resources of fossil fuels, amongst them brown coal abundantly present on the territory.
Germany is the world’s first producer of brown coal, which is used as fuel in thermal power plants located close to the extraction sites.
RWE, one of the biggest German energy supplier, extracts about 100 millions of tons of brown coal per year in three open-cast mines in North Rhine-Westphalia, in order to supply fuel to run their six plants in the region.
The use of a fossil fuel such as lignite produces important emissions of carbon dioxide and fine particles in the atmosphere. Its extraction causes considerable changes in the environment and the landscape : Entire villages are expropriated, vast surfaces of agricultural or forest land are destroyed, highways are diverted as the excavators are moving forward digging into the ground several hundred meters deep to extract the layers of lignite.
In the region of Hambach in the 1970s, in direct proximity to one of the biggest open-cast mines of Europe, a forest extended over more than 4000 hectares. This forest had remained intact for several thousands of years. During the last decades, the major part of it has been swallowed up by the mining activity.
In May 2012, a militant group built up a camp in the forest of Hambach to protest against the expansionary policy of the RWE group and to prevent the destruction of the last hectares of forest.
Facing the mine, right at the edge of the forest, shelters made out of wood, straw and clay were constructed. Platforms and sheds in the trees sheltered the activists during several months. In November, a massive forced eviction was organised by the authorities.
After four days of altercations between the militants and the police forces, the last activist was extracted from a tunnel in which he had barricaded, and the camp was destroyed. A few hours later, a new camp was set up a little further in a field adjacent to the forest of Hambach.
Since then, activists from all over Germany but also other European countries are succeeding each other in the camp. Every day they are threatened with expulsion.
— Marc Wendelski