Squatting trees to stop a coal mine

Sign at Hambach Forest occuption site. Photo: Hambi Info/Flickr

The occupation of numerous old growth trees in the Hambach Forest (Hambacher Forst) near Cologne, Germany, provides an inspiring and innovative example of grassroots resistance to the carbon-intensive, climate-killing coal industry that we can apply to struggles in this country.

The open-pit lignite (a low-grade, brown coal) mine, owned by the German transnational RWE, is reported to be both the largest and most heavily polluting coal mine in Europe.

Over a six-year period activists have camped in the 12,000-year-old forest to stop the expansion of the 33-square mile coal mine and protect the last 10 per cent of the forest from being destroyed. An estimated 150 to 250 activists live in 60-70 treehouses year-round.

They live without running water (they collect rain water), use a compost toilet, have no electricity (other than what is generated by solar panels), and cook vegan in community kitchens in the treehouses with food collected by dumpster diving.

One activist told Democracy Now! in 2017 that, "When I'm here, I feel like I'm actively doing something. When I'm here, I find meaning in the work here."

That same activist also expressed the view that meaningful action would not emerge from the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) climate summits.

RWE says that their mining operation is legal, that the occupation is illegal, and has called the police numerous times to remove the activists.

Another activist at the camp has stated, "If it's legal for a company to (destroy) our whole planet that means it's also time to resist against state power."

She also highlighted that it's "really hard and expensive" for the police to evict the activists (who are locked-on in treehouses up to 24 metres or 78 feet high) and the camp has committed to reoccupying the area after each eviction.

And she rejected the argument about the jobs that would be lost if the mine were closed given the thousands of people already losing their lives due to climate change. A study has linked 400,000 deaths worldwide to climate change each year.

Beyond the occupation of the forest, there was also a massive one-day occupation of the coal mine to stop mining operations in November 2017. More than 3,000 people walked into the open-pit area, and while some locked onto one of the 90-metre-high excavation machines, others formed a massive circle so that they could not be kettled by the police.

The operation of the mine was stopped for the day.

On September 15, 2018, the police once again raided the treehouse occupation. That's because RWE wants to cut down another 100 hectares of the forest -- starting in mid-October -- to dig up the coal underneath it, even though just 200 hectares of the forest remains.

In response, hundreds of activists made their way to the forest to support and express solidarity with the treehouse occupation.

Furthermore, on Tuesday there was a large protest outside the RWE Tower in Essen, which is located about 80 kilometres north of Cologne.

This past Tuesday, September 17, the German newspaper Deutsche Welle reported, "A [police] spokeswoman said 28 out of some 50 treehouses had been cleared and 19 of those dismantled." But given the tenacity of this multi-year forest occupation, and RWE's intention to completely eliminate the forest by 2020, the camp will likely regroup following this eviction.

Brent Patterson is an activist-blogger who writes this monthly column on inspiring stories of global resistance to neoliberalism and climate change.

Photo: Hambi Info/Flickr

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