Dispatch from the frontline against dirty coal in Europe

Posted by Greenpeace UK — 16 September 2013 at 1:17pm - Comments
All rights reserved. Credit: Greenpeace
Activists chained themselves... and concrete blocks... to the rails

Today 40 Greenpeace activists in Germany chained themselves to a railway line to block coal shipments to one of Europe’s most polluting power plants. The plant is run by the Swedish state-owned energy giant, Vattenfall, burning brown-coal (or Lignite), the most polluting way to generate energy. Gregor Kessler reports from the railway line in Lausitz, where activists from have been chained since three this morning.

By Gregor Kessler

A demonstration doesn’t need an audience. At first at least.

It’s pitch dark when we get to this small, road in the middle of the German Lausitz region. The few houses here are quiet and unlit – just as you’d expect at 5 in the morning. At the end of the road there are three railway tracks. All of them are used by Vattenfall to bring lignite to their coal-fired power-plant Schwarze Pumpe.

The place might look like the middle of nowhere, but it’s actually a key junction in the supply chain for dirty coal. This is why we’re here.

The light of day has still not fully lit the scene when about 40 activists from Sweden and Germany are done with setting up heavy boxes filled with concrete upon the rails. Then activists chain themselves to the boxes to the rails. The trains running via these rails have been stopped.

Vattenfall is owned by the Swedish state. In it’s home country, the company takes pride in having a high proportion of renewables in its energy-mix. In the UK, for example, it advertises itself as a big investor in offshore wind.

In Germany, however, Vattenfall is far less green. In fact it’s running a very dirty business. Especially here in the Lausitz where the company operates some of Europe’s dirtiest power-plants. Schwarz Pumpe alone produces more than 32.000 tons of CO2 – per day, that’s the same as the carbon dioxide pumped into the air by more than 7 million cars.

Fed by large open-cast mines nearby, these plants have robbed thousands of people of their homes. Yet Vattenfall wants more: Right now the company plans to open five additional open-cast mines in the region, which could undermine Germany’s transition to renewable energy.

Indeed the battle between renewables and dirty fossil fuels will decide whether Europe leads the world in tackling climate change, or lags behind. If Vattenfall is allowed to keep burning more and more coal, this will hinder the success of renewables and increase CO2 emissions in Europe.  

A few hours later here on the tracks the audience has grown considerably: While police and Vattenfall's security people try to find a way to get the activists off the rail, TV teams, photographers and other journalists speak to Greenpeace activists about the damage brown coal does to the climate.

This can’t stay Vattenfall’s little secret for long.

You can read Energydesk’s feature on brown coal in Europe here.

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