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    August 22, 2014 | 12:00 PM

    Global spotlight on Europe as villages fight against dirty coal

    When many activists talk about “standing together to fight Dirty Energy”, they use the phrase as a figure of speech to convey the coordinated phone calls from a thousand phones, and emails from a thousand keyboards (to name only a few actions). But this weekend, standing together becomes more than just a metaphor for thousands of European activists who will stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a human chain to fight expanding coal operations that threaten not only the existence of two historic villages, but the continent’s commitment to a clean-energy future. 

    The action takes place in the rural Lausitz region, stretching across the German-Polish border, where a huge environmental disaster is unfolding. On the German side, a Swedish energy company, Vattenfall, plans to expand its mining operations, while in Poland, the state-owned PGE firm wants to extract almost two million tons of brown coal, or “lignite”. Standing in the way are two villages – Kerwitz in Germany and Gabice in Poland – that – if current plans proceed – would be bulldozed to make way for the mines.

    In response, this weekend, citizens from throughout the historic Lausitz region will come together and link hands in a final stand against dirty coal, forming an 8-kilometer-long human chain connecting two villages at the heart of this struggle for survival. What’s at stake isn’t simply the land on which these two 700-year-old towns sit. It’s the homes of 6,000 people and the lives, livelihoods, and unique cultures there. It’s also Europe’s place in fighting climate change.

    The good news is that, as thousands join hands in Lausitz, thousands more across the world will join in solidarity, calling on leaders to break free from the shackles of dirty industry and invest in a cleaner and fairer energy future.

    The action will also shine an international spotlight on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Once hailed as the “climate chancellor,” she risks losing her crown as she sits back and watches this climate catastrophe unfold.

    One of the world’s dirtiest fuels, lignite has increasingly devastating consequences for the climate as mining operations expand. Burning brown coal threatens to use up half of Poland and Germany’s carbon budget between 2020 to 2050. We can see what increasing lignite production would mean in the Lausitz region alone, where Vattenfall’s three existing coal plants are responsible for the same level of emissions as the whole of Sweden.

    The numbers make a simple fact clear: lignite must stay in the ground.

    It’s time for Germany’s leaders to take note. In July, a coalition of NGOs released a new report - Europe’s Dirty 30 - showing nine out of the 30 dirtiest power plants in Europe are located in Germany and are predominantly burning lignite.

    Failing to tackle rising coal emissions will not only undermine Germany’s climate commitments, but the whole of Europe’s, calling into question its role as a climate leader on the international stage.

    Exactly a month before world leaders meet in New York for the U.N. Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, this weekend’s protest will show the demand for an end to coal is growing. Next month, thousands more will take to the streets around the world and urge governments to support climate solutions with “Action Not Words.”

    Merkel and leaders from across the EU and the world now have a choice to make: follow their citizens’ lead or end up on the wrong side of history.

     

    Photo © 2006 Rainforest Action Network/Flickr cc by nc 2.0

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