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Germansplaining: Greta v the Greens

The infighting between climate activists may be entertaining to watch but it has a tendency to detract from the point

Image: The New European

Schadenfreude, a German proverb says, is the best kind of Freude. So don’t believe the New York Times, which recently published a piece about the term “Freudenfreude” (signifying joy in someone else’s good fortune). Because Freudenfreude is neither a German word nor a German feeling. We are traditionalists, we stick to getting our pleasure from the misfortune of others.

Currently at the receiving end of this Schadenfreude is Germany’s Green Party.

It is highly entertaining (I think I just incriminated myself) to watch the Green inventors of climate activism being scorned by the queen of climate activism, Greta Thunberg.

The story so far: the Greens, a member of governing coalitions both at the federal level and in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, have helped to negotiate a significant climate-friendly compromise. The open-pit Braunkohle coal mines in the Rhineland will only be operational until 2030, eight years earlier than originally planned.

As a result, 280m tons of brown coal or lignite will remain below the surface, and five villages facing demolition will survive. Their 500 inhabitants won’t have to be resettled.

For better context, here are some background facts for you to show off: Germany has one of the largest lignite reserves in the world (coming third after Australia and Russia) and is the largest producer, followed by China and Russia.

From what I know, you don’t have any in the UK and it doesn’t make sense to import it. While black coal (lightweight, high heat content) is transported to and from many parts of the world, this wouldn’t be profitable with lignite (higher weight, lower heat content). It is used to generate electricity close to where it is mined.

Germany stopped mining black coal, Steinkohle, in 2018 but still imports a lot. Mining brown coal was supposed to continue until 2038 in east Germany and North Rhine-Westphalia, where it has been mined since the 17th century. Later it secured industrial growth, wealth and energy supply security at the expense of climate, environment and village life: around 60 hamlets, some of them centuries old, have been erased from the map since the 1950s, making way for massive bucket excavators. Villagers were compensated, houses rebuilt, churchyards relocated, but often the social structures were lost for ever, and there’s a plethora of injustices due to side-effects of the mining.

The beautiful little baroque Schloss Türnich, for instance, was damaged so badly by groundwater-related subsidence it’s uninhabitable.

Political goals used to be more aligned with the interests of RWE (the regional energy supplier) than with individual or climate concerns. This will be history in seven years’ time, at least in the Rhine region, because of the compromise brokered by the Greens and RWE. No wonder the party expected to be celebrated, having reduced future carbon emissions and yet saving German energy supplies in the current crisis.

Instead, they are now sulking, startled by a wrathful Thunberg. She is in the hamlet of Lützerath, where she has denounced the deal as “shameful”, because this village will still be flattened (the inhabitants moved out years ago) so the brown coal underneath can be mined. RWE owns 96% of the grounds and the courts have ruled in the company’s favour.

Greta and her 15,000 fellow activists, some of whom have been clashing with the police in the muddy fields surrounding the village, generally dislike compromises. This should sound only too familiar to the Greens, who used to claim the moral high ground when religiously campaigning against Realpolitik deals brought about by their political rivals.

Greta occupied this high ground on a heap of clay near Lützerath, basically begging the police to march her off in view of the cameras (they complied), denouncing Green double-standards and confronting them with the climate populism they themselves used to throw at others. She and other activists were then detained by the police.

To Greta, the RWE mining area is “Mordor”, the bleak realm of JRR Tolkien’s chief villain, Sauron. She is therefore placing the Greens in the rather unflattering role of one of Sauron’s allies, the Orcs, Were-worms or Ogres.

Fun as this infighting between climate activists (many Green youth party members among them) and the matured Greens may be, it is beside the point: Lützerath may have made world news lately, but in the context of the European Union Emissions Trading System (the plan to get down to zero emissions by 2050) it is irrelevant.

Given the – often successful – restoration of former German mining areas into beautiful lake districts, however, there is a good chance that what used to be Lützerath will transform from Mordor into The Shire. Middle Earth is watching.

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