DISPATCHES: Anna Gyorgy on coal protests in Germany during UN climate summit in Poland

December 3, 2018 (published December 6)

 

 

Kale not Coal in Germany: on stage and in the streets

Wendell resident Anna Gyorgy continues her November-December reporting from Germany for the Traprock Center for Peace & Justice – and the Montague Reporter.

 

By ANNA GYORGY

COLOGNE – Seeing “Kale not Coal” on a homemade sign yesterday made me feel right at home. (It rhymes in German, too.)

This was at one of two German climate “double demos” on Saturday, December 1, just before the opening of the COP24 international climate conference in Katowize, Poland. Itself a long time center of coal production.

Why did over 36,000 people take to the streets of Berlin and Cologne on a cool, windy day?

To demand a quick and “socially responsible” exit from coal, and a clean energy future to benefit all. More specifically by:

  • implementing the Paris Agreement: tightening climate goals and supporting poor countries and those most affected by climate change;
  • shutting down half of Germany’s coal-powered capacity quickly enough to meet the government’s climate goals for 2020;
  • adopting a timetable for rapid phase-out of coal, to meet Paris agreement and national climate goals;
  • stopping all plans for new coal-fired power plants, open pit mining and their expansion; and
  • supporting workers in affected coal regions in a process of social-ecological change.

The event organizers included 11 major environmental, religious and activist organizations, supported by almost 40 others, including left and green parties. Three others were related youth groups, carrying an especially urgent message.

“Our generation should have the last word on this, not the Coal Commission,” said one student representative. She criticized this commission for delays in planning the future of coal in Germany, and for excluding youth – all commission members but one being over 50 years old. “We will be here in 50 years, and facing the results,” she said. “Act today, not tomorrow!”

Berlin being an active capital city, several other demonstrations were happening at the same time, so an estimated 16,000 people showing up for climate action was considered good. Meanwhile, at least 20,000 rallied in Cologne, next to the dramatically low Rhine River, within view of the historic Cologne Cathedral.

After a summer of high temperatures and no rain, the dangerously low levels of the iconic river have economic as well as ecological effects. Coal, gasoline, and all kinds of freight are regularly transported on this river highway. But now gas must be trucked to waiting stations to assure a steady supply of fuel, which of course creates more pollution.

Just days before these demonstrations and the UN climate summit, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that global warming continued this year, with 2018 the fourth-hottest year on record, just behind 2015, 2016 and 2017. “The 20 warmest… have been in the past 22 years,” they added.

“The report shows that the global average temperature for the first ten months of the year was nearly 1°C… based on five independently maintained global temperature data sets.”

For those wanting plenty of disturbing but important data on temperature increases and how excess heat is absorbed – for instance, that “more than 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases goes into the oceans” –  download the WMO’s “Provisional Statement on the State of the Climate in 2018.”

“We are not on track to meet climate change targets and rein in temperature increases,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas concluded. “It is worth repeating once again,” he added, “that we are the first generation to fully understand climate change, and the last generation to be able to do something about it.”

A Social “Tipping Point”?

In Germany, as well as California and hopefully the US and world as a whole, the reality that climate disruption is upon us and can only get worse seems to have reached a tipping point of its own this past summer. Demonstrators mentioned several times that the demand for major and rapid action on climate has now reached what is called here “the middle of society.”

In other words, it is not just those fringe types any more, the ones committing civil disobedience for years now, trying in ever greater numbers to shut down – at least symbolically – the enormous excavators ripping into exposed layers of coal. Or those camping out in makeshift treehouses to save the remaining acres of the historic Hambacher Forest, north of Cologne, threatened by clear-cutting to get at the rich brown coal below.

These nonviolent direct actions against coal development started small, but have grown in recent years. The pictures and message of thousands of young people streaming onsite to stop open pit mining, if even for a few hours, began to reach into every German living room. (Short videos of these actions, with English translations, are online at www.ende-gelaende.org/en/.)

Hambi Stays!

In mid-September 2018, the unnecessarily aggressive police eviction of tree sitters in the Hambacher Forest, and the arrest of many, brought sympathy and support for the forest and ecosystem defenders. And grief: during the eviction action, a student reporter filming the event fell to his death. Although an “accident,” it would not have happened without the rough police actions.

The climate activists’ dedication, and a positive court decision on October 5 in favor of a Friends of the Earth court case stopping the forest clearing for now, brought a huge wave of support. A rally planned for October 6 to protect the Hambacher Forest (“Hambi Stays!”) swelled to 50,000 participants. Regular Sunday “forest walks” continue to attract large numbers, drawn to the dramatic struggle for trees over coal.

And so, the slogan “Hambi Stays!” was heard echoing across the Cologne and Berlin demonstrations, and green flags from that movement waved in the wind. I plan to unpack mine at our next Wendell Energy Committee meeting, on Thursday evening, December 20.

It represents a challenge to all of us to engage in climate activism as strongly as we can – as individuals, but especially as communities.