Shutting down a coal mine on the road through Paris

The view is breath-taking and strangely beautiful as we reach the edge of the giant open cast coal mine. The surrounding landscape has turned from fertile cabbage fields to a gaping wound in the ground with no signs of life. In that moment as hundreds of my fellow activists dressed in white boiler suits storm down the slopes towards the giant machines carving out the mine, I know we are achieving something great. We’re shutting down one of the biggest coal mines on Earth.

Last weekend I took time off work to blockade a giant coal mine along with more than 1500 other activists from 45 countries to deal a blow to the corporate fossil fuel industry and push for the change that the UN climate negotiations are failing to bring.

The Garzweiler lignite coal mine in the Rhineland in Germany is an astonishing sight: a full 17 kilometres of utter destruction. Surrounded by a strange mix of massive coal-fired power plants, eight-lane motorways and wind turbines the mine is emblematic of everything that’s wrong with the way we produce and consume energy.

The giant diggers (the biggest land machines on earth) extracting tons and tons of coal every hour are not driven by a demand for energy to heat our houses or power our computers. The driving force of this mine is an economic system that forces us to exploit any resource no matter the costs to create more growth and more profits for corporations. No matter how many windmills we build, it will keep going. And even if we all divest our pensions from fossil fuels, it won’t prevent the diggers from eating up the surrounding landscape and towns.

It is already obvious that the UN climate negotiations in Paris this December (COP21) are not going to do anything to challenge the systemic issues behind climate change. While the world leaders gather to negotiate a new deal for the climate, the diggers in Germany will be unhindered in extracting coal. And when the politicians and the media circus leave Paris, the mine will continue to expand till there is no more coal left.

Scientists have made it abundantly clear that we need to leave 80% of known coal reserves in the ground. If our governments will not make this happen, we have to take matters into our own hands.

That is why a thousand of us broke and drifted through dozens of police lines and suffered pepper spray, hits from batons and ultimately mass arrests breaking into the mine and blocking it for a whole day. Running for several miles through the mine chased by police and security is probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced. But seeing the police lining up in full riot gear to protect one of the most destructive projects on our planet made it all too clear that our governments are fully committed to protecting the fossil fuel industry, not only politically and financially, but also physically.  There are very little signs of them bringing in  the transition we need to stop climate change and create energy that works for people instead of for corporate profits.

The Ende Gelände (Here and no further) mass action was not just a blow to the already struggling fossil fuel industry, it was a massive display of people power for the movement against dirty corporate energy. As political processes like the COP in Paris are failing to bring results, we need to come together as a movement to develop alternatives from below.

The climate negotiations in Paris will not be the “moment of truth” or the potential final solution to our problems, as some organisations would have us believe. Rather we will go to Paris this December to mark another milestone for the movement to reclaim the control of our energy system and bring an end to the profit-driven economy.

The protest in Germany was not just a group of seasoned activists of campaigners. For most people I spoke to this was their first act of civil disobedience. In Paris we have the chance to grow our movement bigger and continue building a new energy system that does not destroy the climate and meets our needs, not the needs of big business. 

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