Lignite, Garzweiler and Protests

This image is a combination of two images superimposed one on the other. The base image is in the public domain, a sketch by Charles Demuth. The other is a photograph I took a few years ago at a disused colliery in the north of England.

Now to the story:

Lignite, sometimes called ‘brown coal’, is a soft, brown sedimentary rock that is essentially compressed peat and is used almost exclusively as a fuel in steam-electric power stations.

Lignite is a poor fuel. Compared to other types of coal it produces less heat and more carbon dioxide and sulphur. Some brown coal contains toxic heavy metals that get burned off or remain in the fly ash.

Lignite Or Bust

But if it’s all you’ve got then that’s what you burn, up and until someone points out what a bad idea it is environmentally.

The Garzweiler surface mine in Germany is an opencast lignite mine. It’s huge, a long scar stretching north west to south east covering 48 square km.

And now for the news. It’s going to get bigger.

Because Russia turned off the gas tap, RWE who own the mine, need more space so it can mine more lignite. That means dismantling an array of eight wind turbines near the Garzweiler mine.

Under its licence, Energiekontor, which owns the wind turbines, has to dismantle the turbines by the end of 2023. Why, I don’t know. Three turbines have gone, already.

I guess that if the lignite mine did not need the space, then eight new wind turbines could have gone up.

But that’s not what’s happening. So no gas, but lignite.

The Invasion Of Ukraine

How can we look at the invasion of Ukraine? In the short term, there is all the death and destruction that is polluting the environment. In the future there will be rebuilding and more pollution.

On the plus side, the move to cleaner fuels has a new urgency.

What is the overall balance of environmental cost between gas and lignite? It’s worse, that’s clear. How much worse, I don’t know. But lobbyists at COP27 are promoting gas as a clean fuel. Well it may be cleaner than lignite, but it’s not clean. Either way, lignite is a dirty fuel in a world drowning in dirt.

Report It Or It Didn’t Happen

So, I read about the plan to increase the Garzweiler mine, and I thought about the news in Britain in December last year when Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Cove granted planning permission for a new coal mine in Cumbria.

And I thought about how, if the EU were to object that a new coal mine endangers the environment, Michael Gove could point to the Garzweiler plan, and tell the EU to mind its own shop before it criticised Britain.

There have been protests in Britain about the new coal mine. Where were the protests in Germany?

That’s when I caught the news printed in The Week, 14 January 2023 edition on page 5, that protests against the lignite mine have been going on since 2020.

Report it, or it didn’t happen, as they say. I am glad they reported it. Now I have a better handle on how German people are responding to this use of dirty brown coal.

Lützerath, Germany Mine standoff. Hundreds of climate activists who’ve occupied the site of a 35sq km lignite mine in Germany were engaged in a showdown with police this week, as eviction orders came into effect. The village of Lützerath in North Rhine-Westphalia was evacuated of its last residents some years ago, to allow for an extension of the Garzweiler opencast mine adjacent to it. But in 2020 activists moved in, occupying abandoned buildings and constructing tree huts. Although Germany is trying to wean itself off fossil fuels, about a third of its electricity currently comes from coal-powered plants.


  1. Tamara says:

    Creative photo montage, and thanks for the sobering, infuriating (i.e., Germany’s move vs. the environment as you described here) education…


    1. As you will have read, what struck me was how important is the reporting of facts. If I hadn’t seen that little article in The Week, I would not have known anyone was protesting the expansion of the mine.


      1. Tamara Colloff-Bennett says:

        Yes, The Week is super for its coverage of so many countries and topics, as well as for a range of subjects.

        The Week aside, yes: Quite a comment on the media and the woeful lack of coverage about the climate crisis.


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