This past weekend thousands of people joined hands to form an eight-kilometer Human Chain across the border of Germany and Poland to protest against lignite coal mining in the area.
30 different nationalities traveled from cities all over Europe to be there. It was an extraordinary event that brought together Greenpeace volunteers, environmental grassroots organisations and thousands of members of the local community.
I left Amsterdam for the Human Chain early Friday morning, joining a bus of Belgian and Dutch Greenpeace volunteers. We traveled for more than half a day and reached the campsite in Kerkwitz, Germany on Friday night. Our camping neighbours were other volunteers from Luxembourg, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Austria. The rest of the volunteers were staying at another campsite, just two kilometers away. Other activists were camping separately in the surrounding forests, across the Polish border.
The region of Lusatia lies at the border between Germany and Poland and has massive deposits of lignite buried beneath the beautiful countryside. The Swedish company, Vattenfall and Polish energy group, PGE are planning the continued mining of billions of tons of dirty brown coal to burn in their coal-fired power plants. Walking through the forests of Lusatia, you won't find one piece of property that is disrespectful to nature...
Aside from Vattenfall's giant open pit mine at Cottbus-Nord.
Vattenfall plans on building five more plants in the area. This means that dozens of villages will be bulldozed and some 6000 people will lose their homes and livelihoods.
The activists are told about this the morning of the event, at a briefing given by a Greenpeace campaigner at the campsite. Then the owner of the campsite stepped forward with a piece of paper in his hands. He wants to say a few words, but his English is not very good and he is very nervous about standing up and talking in front of hundreds of people. His voice is shaky and his eyes are pointed towards his feet.
He wants to tell us "thank you" for coming. He is truly impressed by the fact that we've all come from our warm homes, hundreds and thousands of kilometers away, to this remote part of Germany, in the middle of a chilly forest. This chilly forest is his home and he has lived there for the past 40 years and wishes to live there for 40 more years together with his family. His voice breaks completely and his eyes tear up. So does everyone else's in the audience.
This is just one of the thousands of people who risk losing their homes in Lusatia because reckless governments and greedy companies play with people's lives and the climate. The urgency of what is happening in Lusatia isn't just about the environment; it's about the people that call that place home.
Yes, there were 7,500 people who joined hands and formed a Human Chain on August 23rd. Yes, many of them were activists from Greenpeace and other environmental organisations. But most of them were the people of Lusatia who welcomed us and took care of us and treated us like family. This past weekend in Lusatia, we all felt like we were home. It was the people who lived here who made us feel at home.
Let's not forget about the people.
Madalina Preda is the Programme Functions Assistant at Greenpeace International and the Communications Manager of Beats Against Coal.