Beyond Lützerath: what next?

In their second post on the German village lost to coal, Lexy Ray shares how Lützerath captured people’s imagination and created a vision of how we all could live

‘They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.’

Dinos Christianopoulos

Now Lützerath has fallen, the climate justice movement in Germany has reached a turning point. In this post, I want to explore what this means for the movement’s future strategy. But before we dive into the future, I’d first like to share with you how politically significant Lützerath was.

Looking back

The Rhineland coal mining region has been a major protest incubator for a long time now. Local citizens’ initiatives have been fighting against forced displacement and the destruction of their villages since the 1980s. In 2010, the first German climate camp was held here. The Hambach forest occupation was established in 2012 and the first mass actions of civil disobedience by the “Ende Gelände” alliance took place in 2015. In 2018, the eviction of ‘Hambi’ generated widespread public support, pressurising the courts to rule in favour of the forest’s preservation – it was the biggest victory for the German climate justice movement in the past years. The national government has tried to declare the political process closed with their “coal exit law” in 2020. However, the law is far from being compatible with the Paris Agreement. Since then, the villages have come back into focus – again in the frontline of climate action.

Many activists have highlighted the importance of so-called ‘crystallisation points’ for movement building and mobilisation. What made Lützerath so powerful was the fact that here, the climate crisis became immediately tangible. It presented itself to visitors as a powerful symbolic story: the village, the edge of the pit, the restless excavator, the massive hole in the ground, the huge columns of smoke on the horizon. I’ve heard many people report they had really strong emotional reactions when they first experienced that place themselves. It’s not something abstract like molecules and metrics. Of course the climate crisis has already been real for a long time, especially for people living in the Global South. But for those living a relatively privileged life in Europe, Lützerath was a wake-up call.

As a place where different social groups met, the village occupation also broke down social barriers. Lützerath was a melting pot of environmental activists, local village residents, people exploring new ways to live and make decisions, young people wanting a better future, and a conventional farmer defending his land. International solidarity brought supporters from all over the world, among them many from the Global South. The village has hosted a conference for BIPoC climate activists and a festival of the Kurdish Liberation movement.

It’s obvious that this went well beyond environmental issues. Lützerath was a place of intersectional politics and an experiment in building a different society. This meant navigating difficult conflicts – especially for the awareness team, who would attempt to reduce harm and challenge oppressive behaviours through processes of transformative justice.

 It also enabled people to experience work and finances in a different way. You could live in the occupation without needing money. You could live there without having to work either, and still get food from the collective kitchen. You could engage in a vast array of meaningful tasks and take on  responsibility if you wanted to, but nobody would force you. Lützerath was a commons.

I think it was precisely this convergence of resistance against destruction and at the same time the creation of a real-life utopia, which has made Lützerath so fascinating for many people.

Looking forward

All this may be lost but clearly, the struggle for climate justice is not over; not even the struggle to end coal. The remaining villages in the Rhineland region have been declared safe, but only up to re-negotiations in 2026, when their fate is at stake once again. 

The 2022 deal between Robert Habeck (federal minister of economic affairs) and the RWE coal company was a scam: Habeck sacrificed Lützerath in return for an earlier coal phase-out by 2030, which he presented as a huge success – but in fact, even more coal will be extracted as a result. In the East German coal mines, phase-out is still only scheduled for 2038. These plans are not compatible with the Paris Agreement. We need to put ongoing pressure on the coal industry to further reduce mining activities, or at least to ensure that existing agreements are not weakened over time.

Despite this necessity, it is clear that the loss of Lützerath will make future mobilisation harder. There is no place that could play a similar role in the region, acting as a ‘crystallisation point’ for people’s imaginations and galvanising action. However, there are still many smaller forest occupations across the country, mostly protesting against highway construction projects.

Recently, we’ve heard more and more people saying coal is no longer the most pressing climate threat: the rising price of EU emission certificates may force many coal power plants to close well ahead of their planned shutdown. The ‘Ende Gelände’ alliance has shifted its focus to fossil gas infrastructure in 2021. With the war in Ukraine, gas has become an issue of huge public interest. The LNG terminals which are being constructed in Northern Germany might become the central site for a new cycle of protest. 

Others are now targeting transport. Last autumn, activists set up a protest camp near the city of Wolfsburg, where VW is headquartered. Here, they’ve successfully disrupted plans for a new factory and are fighting for existing ones to be nationalised. Their strategy goes beyond direct action and civil resistance to include organising among factory workers. This approach is part of a wider direction in the German climate justice movement, where many are building  alliances with worker’s unions as a promising new way forward.

So where is the long-term impact of Lützerath in all this? Obviously the village itself is gone.   But on a more subtle level,  I trust that each and everyone who has been to that village, for however long, will carry something with them – experiences made, skills learned, perspectives gained and relationships built. It reminds me of adrienne maree brown, who describes organising as a composting practice, like tending the soil for future growth we can’t yet see. 

I’ve got no idea where all of this is going. Still, I am certain that Lützerath fostered connections between many different people and organisations who are all busy dreaming up a better future. How could anybody think we would stop doing so because of one stupid eviction?

What can UK climate action learn from Lützerath ?

  • What are our ‘crystallisation points’ – places where the confrontation of people vs fossil power becomes a symbolic drama that grabs people’s imagination? 
  • As happened in Lützerath, climate action in the UK is also building new partnerships, breaking down social barriers and exploring new ways to make change happen for the benefit of all. Environment has become one piece of a much bigger picture and that’s coming true all over Europe too.

Photo credit: Tim Wagner

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