The boiling air hits us like a punch when we leave the bus. It's one hot afternoon here in Proschim, an old village of 300 in the heart of the East-German Lausitz-region. Most of the 40 Greenpeace activists that just arrived via Berlin from more than a dozen countries are rushing into the precious few strips of cooling shadow. Johannes Kapelle must be delighted to see so many people eager to enter the ancient village church when he pushes open the heavy wooden door. "Do come in, it's much cooler inside" the friendly looking 77-year-old man announces with his full baritone. Thankfully we flock into the soothing cool of the church.
Action against Open Pit Mine in Germany
Around 40 Greenpeace activists from 15 countries and people of the village Proschim protest with signs and banners against open pit mining in Welzow Sued II. © Ruben Neugebauer / Greenpeace
Mr. Kapelle has lived in Proschim for more than half a century. He was 14 when he played the church-organ for the first time. He's still doing it today – and he intends to do so for a number of years to come. Mr. Kapelle is actively fighting to save his village from the hunger of Vattenfalls huge bucket-wheels. "This church has survived two world wars", Mr. Kapelle tells us. Yes it was damaged, but the locals restored it. "Now it might be destroyed for good." This time it's no war that's threatening the village. This time it's the brown coal that rests in the soil below Proschim. If the Swedish energy corporation Vattenfall gets its way and is allowed to extend the neighboring Welzow-Süd opencast mine, this coal will be dug up. Then not only the church but also the homes of 800 people in the area will be destroyed. Within a couple of years, the village, the surrounding acres, meadows and forests, will be turned into a giant dusty bowl of barren land closer to the surface of the moon than to the beauty of the Lausitz-region.
This is why the Greenpeace activists are here today: To learn about the evil that brown coal does to people and nature. And to hear what Vattenfall's plans are. The corporation, owned entirely by the Swedish state, plans to open five new opencast mines in the region. If they are granted permission to do so, it would result in 3.000 people losing their homes. It would also mean that millions of tons of brown coal will continue to be burnt in the coal-fired power plants nearby until well beyond the middle of the century. Millions of tons of climate-damaging CO2 would be blown into the air, as brown coal is the dirtiest of all energies. All of this without any reason but to increase the profit of a corporation. A study has shown that the brown coal from the planned opencast mines is not needed to secure the energy supply of Germany.
Of course Johannes Kapelle will object the plans. He knows what waits for people who are being resettled. After all dozens of villages in the region have been destroyed by opencast mines over the years. It takes about a century for newly created farm land on former opencast mines to regain the fertility of natural farmland. The lakes that are being flooded after the mines close may make for nice pictures, but often they are dangerous to life as the banks are prone to slide down into the water. Nearby rivers are likely to get rusty red over the years due to the ferrous oxide being washed up by the rising phreatic water.
But it's not only him. You can help the people of Proschim and others to save their homes. There's a simple way to show your opposition: print out the petition opposing the extension of the open cast mine, sign it and send it back before mid-September to your Greenpeace office. At the end of the objection phase on September 17th, Greenpeace Germany will hand all these objections over to the authorities deciding on the planed extension of the opencast mine Welzow Süd. As Vattenfall is actively gathering petitions in favour of the extension we need every signature. Do help us stop new opencast mines now!
There's a bitter irony to Proschim being threatened by a brown coal opencast mine. The village has embraced the German "Energiewende" (energy transition towards renewable energy system) with open arms. "We have always been open to new technologies", says Mr. Kapelle. "So of course we jumped onto renewable energy early on. In Proschim we have photovoltaics, wind turbines and a biogas facility and we produce far more clean energy than we use." A role model for the "Energiewende" might be erased by the dirty brown coal of yesteryear – it sounds like the bad joke of cynic, yet it’s the sad reality.
When we leave Proschim again the temperature hasn't declined. Yet there's a different kind of heat to be felt. It's the warmth of people like Mr. Kapelle caring for something that is precious to them, for something that they don't want to lose and see no right to be denied. You can call it home.
Support people of Proschim! Help us to stop destruction for coal! Every signature counts!
Gregor Kessler is a spokesperson for the energy campaign at Greenpeace Germany.