System change, not climate change

The issue of deforestation as presented by the Hambacher Forst conflict

“My biggest interest lies within environmental preservation and education”

The Hambacher Forst is a 12.000 year old forest of high ecological significance originally comprising 5.500 hectares of land. It is located in Germany, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, between the cities of Cologne and Aachen. The forest plays an important role for biodiversity, offering habitat to no less than 142 endangered species, such as the Bechstein bat, the middle spotted woodpecker or the Natterjack toad.

Since 1977, the woodland has been gradually cleared down to 1.000 hectares because of the extensive brown coal mining conducted by the giant power company RWE. It is the largest electricity provider in Germany, strictly opposed to leaving the coal mining sector and equipped with an operating license issued by the government that lasts until 2045. The annual yield of the Hambach area, together with Garzweiler and Inden, amounts to 100 million tons which makes it the most important coal mining site in Europe.

A conflict is going on between the company and eco activists, whose motivations range from immediate wishes to preserve the forest and use renewable energies, to a more political criticism of structural exploitation. The activist groups have responded to the destruction of natural habitat with various forms of protest. Apart from long-term occupations, which have been taking place since 2012 and can be considered as the core element of the resistance, they include creative action camps aimed at the inclusion of a broader public, sit-in and tunnel blockades, bicycle demonstrations, on-worksite concerts and gardening, video documentaries, and more. The activists are confronted with police raids, physical injury, arrests and lawsuits, which cost individual and institutional actors a fortune. Some of the protesters live in purpose- built tree houses all year round, facing the cold of winter along with general precarity.

The media play a polarizing role too, the coverage ranges from supportive, sometimes downright glorifying contributions, to negligence and defamation. The protesters cooperate with locals, some of which have been forced to relocate because their villages were torn down. Researchers join the camps to share information about the area’s abundance in flora and fauna.

Solidarity movements formed between Hambacher Forst and similarly affected areas in France, Spain, and Greece. These movements draw attention to the scope of deforestation, reminding us that it is not only a struggle in the global South. They call out the destabilizing practice of forced relocation of local populations and denounce lobbyism. By that they raise fundamental questions about the ethics of power, the issue of communication, and the realism behind alternative visions of society. To exit the coal mining business for good is one of the prerequisites to end deforestation and slow down climate change. In order to achieve it, we need to raise awareness through education and promote a best practice implementation of alternative energy concepts.

Written By Sara Borgioni, CB Volunteer from Luxemburg

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