Massive cross-border human chain opposes coal mining in Europe

Human chain, © Ruben Neugebauer / Greenpeace

Human chain, © Ruben Neugebauer / Greenpeace

On Saturday, 23rd August, thousands of people made their way to the German-Polish border region Lusatia, to confront one of the biggest environmental disasters right in the middle of Europe. They formed a human chain of 8 km connecting German and Polish villages that are supposed to make way for open-pit lignite mines.

If Swedish state-owned energy corporation Vattenfall and Polish energy group PGE go ahead with plans to expand mining operations in the region, Europe’s climate targets will go down the drain. Lignite, also known as brown coal, is the dirtiest and most climate-damaging source of energy, and Lusatia’s coal-fired power plants are among the dirtiest in Europe.

What happens in Lusatia therefore determines Europe’s future energy supply and whether we stand a chance of limiting global warming to below 2 °C.

open-pit lignite mine in Lusatia, photographer: Christian Huschga

open-pit lignite mine in Lusatia, photographer: Christian Huschga

To make matters worse, villages will be bulldozed and thousands of people will be displaced. The open-pit mines have disastrous environmental consequences including acidified lakes and silted rivers. Some of the villages that are supposed to be bulldozed are home to Sorbs, threatening their distinct culture and own language that they’ve preserved until today. Huge bucket wheel excavators will turn vast areas of forests and farmlands into desolate landscapes that will be uninhabitable for decades.

People from all over Germany and Poland but also people from the Czech Republic, France, the UK, Sweden and elsewhere travelled all the way to the remote German-Polish countryside to join the chain for an energy revolution and a future without brown coal.

Fossil Free Germany at the human chain

Fossil Free Germany at the human chain

Tine Langkamp of Fossil Free Germany was one of the links in the chain. She supports church communities that are threatened by the mine operations in their struggle (read more about churches at the frontline of lignite mining and climate action). She said:

“Lusatia is a classic example of fossil fuel companies ruthlessly going after their profits at any cost. It is outrageous that our politicians let this happen and absurd that public money is invested in these companies. But today thousands of people have come here to show that we won’t put up with it any longer.”

 

Diana at the human chain against coal, credit: Grzegorz Bożek

Diana at the human chain against coal, credit: Grzegorz Bożek

Thousands of hands connected Tine to Diana Maciaga, a few kilometres away

who was wading in the river Neisse to link the chain across the border. Diana said:

“This action clearly shows that the climate movement in Poland is steadily growing. People strongly oppose harmful projects such as the mine in Gubin and Brody and coal power plants like Północ or Opole. We form this living chain of hope and solidarity to shake off the chains of fossil fuel addiction forced upon us by big business and politicians. Today we speak not simply German or Polish but one universal language of a just, safe and sustainable future. 

Development measured by the amount of relocated rock and burnt lignite is the way of thinking from XIX century. All it results in is a gigantic hole in the ground, ecological disaster and broken lives. It is outrageous that in the era of renewable energy people are forced from their homes so that corporations can draw profits from destroying the environment.” 

Diana is part of the anti-coal movement in Poland and leading the fight in stopping what would be Europe’s biggest new coal-fired power station through the Stop EP campaign.

A month from now, she will be in New York for the People’s Climate March, the biggest climate demonstration in history, days before world leaders gather in the city for a climate summit hosted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Diana will bring the story of her anti-coal fight to the doorsteps of this meeting and to the global climate movement that is going to mobilise and show its strength all over the globe in a weekend of action alongside the march in NYC.

While politicians talk, Diana is taking leadership at home. The human chain has kicked off a series of climate activism trainings, which she co-organised. Over six months, she’ll help to skill up 15 Polish climate activists as ‘Guardians for the Climate’. She is also determined to continue the fight to prevent the EP coal plant from being built.

The impact the human chain will have on the upcoming local, regional and national elections in Poland, Germany and Sweden respectively, remains to be seen. What is already clear is that the anti-coal movement in Europe is bigger and stronger than ever.

Photographer: Bogusz Bilewski

Photographer: Bogusz Bilewski

One month ahead of the UN climate summit in New York people from more than 20 countries stood hand-in-hand from the church in the German village of Kerkwitz to the primary school of Grabice in Poland. Their message: The age of coal is over, the future is renewable and we no longer allow the fossil fuel industry to hold us back! They demand action, not words: no new coal!

Join the growing global climate movement in calling for action, not words the weekend before the UN summit: http://peoplesclimate.org/  

 

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