Sunday, August 7, 2016

Eco what? Germany rips up an autobahn and demolishes more villages for lignite mine

Can you imagine Germany voluntarily giving up a stretch of beloved autobahn?

One piece of freeway has been cut by the lignite mine Garzweiler II, a second freeway will come within reach of the huge diggers in 2017 as a 20 square km + hole in the ground moves from West to East in the North-Western region between Cologne and the Dutch border.

In a country of 80 million living in an area not much bigger than Montana, open pit mining is a tough act.

While crunching a path through two freeways affects both local and international traffic, the consequences for the inhabitants of the land set aside for the mine are as severe as they can possibly be: their ancestral homes are disappearing.

The extension of the old mine Garzweiler I means that another 13 villages, where some 7600 people lived in 1992, will be wiped out by the end of the project. On the English language website of mine operator RWE, you find nothing about the residents, only a blurb about recultivation and - you may have guessed - the nice new freeway to be built on the spoils.

Few Germans outside of the affected area and outside of the eco movement pay attention to the upheaval. Residents had hoped that the much publicized move towards sustainable power would cause the state and RWE to abandon expansion of the dirty coal mine.

The local press celebrates that one village will be spared, but 16 villages have already been lost in the last 50 years, and the remaining 12 will follow.

A recent rare article in Zeit Online gives a voice to one former resident of a village under demolition, but even this piece mostly describes how churches are being reduced to rubble in the process of clearing the land for the mine.

The Catholic Church has been opposed to the mine expansion, but it also stands to make good money from it. Compensation for the old churches is generous, with several million Euros for each flowing into Church coffers.

A good deal if you consider that most churches were originally financed not by the institution but through donations from the communities.

Since church attendance has been falling and given that many residents of the old towns simply take the compensation and move away, the new houses of worship in the greenfield settlements are small chapel style deals.

The Garzweiler mining operation exemplifies how successive German governments have dealt with major restructuring: throw money at property owners and enforce eviction without much regard to anything else. Which leaves the renters in towns slated for demolition with next to nothing.

When it is all over - by the year 2085, according to current plans - some of the lost agricultural area will have been restored, some will be replanted with trees, and a new lake with a surface of about 23 square kilometers and a maximum depth of about 185 meters (500 feet) will be the legacy of Germany's dirty coal.

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