How is Lignite-Mining connected to Reclaim the Fields?
In 2013 the European Reclaim the Fields Camp will take place together with the Climate Camp in the Rhineland, Germany.
The aim of this text is to show how the causes and effects of Climate change and the destruction and expropriation of land all around the world are interconnected, which is why the struggles of both Climate and RtF-Camp are interconnected and thus why the two camps are held simultaneously.
Some facts about lignite-mining in the Rhineland
The Energy Utility Company RWE digs giant craters in the Rhineland in order to mine the lignite in this area. Today the open-cast coal mine Hambach is Eruope's largest with a depth of 400m and stretching over an area of 84km². This hole could swallow the city-centre of Paris and is planned to be nearly doubled in size in the future. On top of that there are two other open-cast mines, Inden and Garzweiler II, located in the area.
Apart from the destruction of forests, whole villages and rerouted and dismantled motorways, there is a loss of agricultural used areas, which we will focus on below.
Within on year 100 million tons of lignite are being mined in the Rhineland brown coal fields, of these 90 million tons are converted into electricity and 10 million are processed into briquettes. These processes release huge quantities of, partially radioactive, respirable dust, the respirable dust emissions of the open-cast mines are greater than those of all the German auto-mobile traffic. These emissions are one of the main causes for the increased occurrence of cancer, dementia and vascular diseases in the Rhineland. In Germany approximately 3100 people die very year from the effects of coal fired power plants, this figure does not include the effects of open-cast mining.2
The necessary infrastructure for the coal mining, transport and electricity conversion are all highly energy-intensive the bucket-wheel excavators, belt conveyor systems, electric rail freighters, stackers and groundwater drainage all in all use 530 megawatt which amounts to the output of a small coal power plant. Coal power is a key element of climate change and the coal power plants in the Rhineland are Europe's largest CO2emitters.3In the process of converting one ton of coal into electricity, one ton of CO2 is released.
A small example in order to underscore the magnitude of these emissions: A beech tree binds 12,5 kg of CO2 in the course of a year, of course this is significantly less during the first years of growth. This means that to compensate one ton of CO2 yearly, 80 beech trees would need to be planted4
, instead the Hambacher Forst, once spanning 4500ha and one of Europe's biggest forests in natural state housing rare animals such as the Bechstein's bat, is being destroyed.
On top of all this coal mining is aided on both regional and national political levels in Germany even though it is stressed that the cheap coal would not need to be subsidised, in contrast to the expensive renewable energies. This is why RWE does not need to pay taxes on the extracted raw materials, only pay a reduced water withdrawal fee and the national and regional households pay most of the reallocation-costs for the A4 motorway. Also RWE is only marginally involved with the follow up costs and compensatory measures are one carried out as long as they stay profitable and most damages can not be compensated for.4
All of this shows that gains are privatised, costs covered by the state and in the end the coal is only cheap for RWE.
Impacts of lignite-mining on Agriculture
Until the end of 2010 in the Rhineland a total number of 30.877,2 ha land were utilized for open-cast lignite mining. 21.529,5 ha of these were re-vegetated, of which 11.374,6 ha are meant for agricultural use5 . Still an area of cultivable land has been lost that could have supplied stable foods for 80.000 people. This can be explained through the effects of intensive soil tillage, which can create permanent damages, as we will focus on later.
On top of these land loses more have to be expected until the projected end of mining activities in 2040, these loses have a number of reasons apart from the direct digging activities. Some of these are:
In the Rhineland there are big areas of the highly fertile Loess-soil. The fertility of the soil is based in the fine not to tiny grain size of the rock which makes the mineral abundance easily accessible. The soil formation is made easier because of the high number of pores in Loess soil, as well as the good aeration and its abilities as a water reservoir. It is estimated that around 80 percent of the global Corn and Grain production is carried out on Loess soil.6
Loess soil is easy to work with light machinery but is compacted through the use of heavy agricultural machinery, which alone can lead to it's permanent destruction. During the beginning of the revegetation 30% of the area were permanently damaged through wrong deposition and mixing of humus layers.7
Peasants have complained that they can not grow as diverse and do not have harvest the same yields on these new fields which in turn leads to am more intensive usage of fertilizers, and so the spiral of environmental destruction runs its course.8b
Further impacts are:
RWE designates Agricultural land as “nature conservation compensation areas” as nature conservation areas, such as the Hambacher Forst, are destroyed in the mining process. Thus further areas loose their agricultural usage and as a consequence a competition between agriculture and nature preservation results.
The ground water is pumped from 500m below ground so that the mines do not run full of water. A consequence of this is that the rain water drains faster, the soil dries quicker and natural wet areas have to be watered artificially. These effects are felt as far as the Netherlands and Belgium at 50km distance.8a
Yields decrease because of the clouding due to emissions by power plants. (The sugar content of sugar beets decreases in affected areas.)
The demand for land is extremely high and through the increased competition the prices for land increase. In the Rhineland one hectare land costs 80.000, which equals a price of 8€ per square meter, usually in Germany a square meter of cultivated land is sold at a square meter price of 2-3€. RWE, on the contrary, bought the Hambacher Forst at a price of 50 Pfennig (roughly 25 eurocent) a square meter. RWE also keeps all gains from timber sales.
Small-scale farms, as everywhere around the world, can not compete with this kind of capitalist competition machinery and have to abandon their farms.8b
As a reward for all of RWE's efforts concerning agriculture the company receives agricultural subsidies from Brussels. In the year 2008 alone the RWE Power Ag located in Erfstadt acquired 598.933 in area payments.9
These examples show that the usage of coal not only is highly relevant to climate issues, but also drastically limits the cultivation of food crops. Huge areas of land are not restored, the nature stays destroyed.
From digging soil to landgrabbing – the global connections
The destruction of fertile land, as described above, is to be seen in the context of global scarcity of land (cue Peak Soil). The crops that can not be grown on the destroyed soil in the Rhineland has to be imported! This is increasingly alarming when taking into concern the heightened demand for arable land on a global scale and the stark increase of landgrabbing in recent years.
The destruction of land
Each week fertile land the size of Tokyo is lost.10 The main causes for the degradation are: 1. Erosion from wind, 2. Water pollution, draught and Flood 3. Changes in the chemical structue of the soil and 4. soil compaction.11
Today the intensity and range of these causes is not a “natural” but has to be seen as the Effects of an agrarian industry (as well as enegry industry, see above) organised around capitalist principles. The process of degradation is not a new phenomena, but it is being accelerated through the mechanisation of agriculture, monoculture plantations and the use of chemical fertilizers.12
Increasing pressures on land
The rising populations worldwide are increasing the pressure on land use, but is not the problem, as enough food is produced to feed all of humanity. The main factors pressuring land are the agrofuel-boom, land speculation and an increasing consumption of Milk- and meatproducts.
Struggles concerning land thus have to be included into the discourse of energy revolution, which can be exemplified in the case of biogas. During the last years the need for food imports has risen in Germany alone through the enormous Corn monocultures which are grown for biogasplants, thus biogasplants can not be seen as renewable energies from a point of view that takes Peak Soil (see above) into account.
Also concerning Peak Oil the pressures on land will increase, this is explained by e.g. the use of biomass for agrofuels or the manufacturing of synthetic materials, which so far is oil based.13
Until 2045 480 million Hectare land are designated to be used to grow bioenergy crops, as a comparison the EUs total area amounts to 430 million hectares.11
The current food production is also part of the fossil age.
In agriculture more energy is used in the production process of food (fuel, nitrogen fertilizers) than calories produced through this process.14
The destruction of land as well as the increasing pressures on land lead to an increase in landgrabbing, here, once again, the intesification of the capitalist multiple-crises can be seen. Land becomes an attractive investment, Food prices rise and thus also the profit expectations of those who appropriate land. Especially small-scale peasants in the global south are subjected to violent displacement which all to often encompass murders. In most cases no ecological or social impact studies are carried out.
For example in 2003 540.000 ha of land were sold to banks, investment funds and corporations in Mali. A total of 2,5 million hectares are said to be up for grabs, on top of that 150.000 hectares are lost yearly due to irreversible soil destruction and depletion.14a
Also in eastern Germany small scale peasants are driven from their land, as happens in the Rhineland, and land becomes a commodity for speculation, as has been shown by the group “stopp-landgrabbing”.12a
Driven by the increasing pressures on land ever increasing forest areas are cut which pushes climate change on. Climate change, which is massively driven by lignite usage in the Rhineland or the Lausitz, already shows it's effects in the global south in forms of droughts and floods.
As A. Exner notes in the book struggles on land: “Droughts can facilitate food shortages, but that a drought turns into a hunger crisis is usually man-made” (Own translation). Exner shows here how most hunger crisis only unfold their devastating potential because the grown food crops are grown in monocultures for the market, as different plants are more or less able to handle environmental impacts, like drought.
Diverse indigenous farming methods, like mixed cropping and crop rotation, which have been developed over hundreds of years, are much better equipped to their antural environments. Once example that could be named here is the the growth of corn on extremly dry soil by the Hopi in North America. This knowledge and diversity is seriously threatened.
The global peasant* organization La Via Campesina struggles against land grabbing and fights for foodsovereignty, the Reclaim the Fields (RtF) Constellation is in close exchange with Via Campesina since it's beginnings in 2008. RtF struggles for decentralized, needs-based, collective and autonomous food production as an alternative to global industrial capitalism.
This text shows the importance of acting in favour of an emancipatory food production and against man-made climate change.
Commons as spaces of resistance
In their book “solidary economy and commons” Brigitte Kratzwald and Andreas Exner describe the above mentioned context as multiple crisis 15a which condenses in the question of land use.
They make it plain which role Commons have got as spaces of resitance.15b
Commons thus not only have to be understood as common property. Like the Hambacher forest occupation16 they can be place of resistance against destruction and at the same time carry an utopian seed within them.
We hope that people will stay in the Rhineland after the RtF-Camp to create new emancipator commons that are centred around the autonomous use of land, places like the ZAD, against the construction of an airport near Nantes (France), are examples of this.
In countries like England and Germany most Commons were privatised in the early phase of Capitalism, which was a main stakes for capital accumulation. The people that lived on these land were thus forced by hunger to work for a wage15c . This process continues throughout today.
To overcome Capitalism the creation of new Commons thus seems oven more important, to break free from the grasps of wage labour we need autonomous supply structures. Commons can thus be spaces of empowerment and resistance. It is important to stretch that these spaces are newer free from contradictions and have to serve to unmask all kinds of power relations, unmake these and give space to try out alternatives.
The creation of emancipatory commons structures will stay contested as those who profit from power structures thus as capitalism will defend these and try to increase their reach.
We do not only see the potential for the creation of such spaces in the Rhineland. The groups of Solidary- and non-commercial agriculture, the Food and garden cooperatives, the transition towns, the permaculture and urban-gardening movements, CSA-Projects, bio-vegan farming are all examples of first steps and spaces of experimentation. Through the RtF-Camp this year we see a chance, at least in the German speaking context, to better connect all of these struggles and movements. The RtF-Constellation can be of help to reflect collectively, to learn and support each other in local struggles. Thus we can act collectively against global injustices.
- Resistance is fertile! -
* We do not want to romanticize small scale farms nor equate them with peasants, as most small-scale farms act on capitalist principles as well. The authors acknowledge and refer, in their positive use of the words peasants, to the definition at www.reclaimthefields.org
1. Grünes Blatt: Sonderausgabe Kohle, S.6&7
7. Tagungsdokumentation: www.bund-nrw.de/fileadmin/bundgruppen/bcmslvnrw/
8. Verheizte Heimat. Der Braunkohlentagebau und seine Folgen 1985.
Braunkohle/Materialien/Verheizte_Heimat_Teil_I.pdf, S.103, 104, 105
Braunkohle/Materialien/Verheizte_Heimat_Teil_II.pdf, S. 114 ff
9. Grünes Blatt 2012: Sonderausgabe Kohle, Titel: „Soil not Oil“ S. 8
10. Dirk Löhr: Ernährungssicherheit aber für wen? In: Analyse&Kritik Feb. 2012,
11. Haidy Damm: Getankte Nahrungsmittel. In: Analyse&Kritik Feb.2012, Nr.569
12. Peter Clausing: „Hunger nach Land“ In: Junge Welt. Ausgabe: 28. März 2011
13a. A. Exner: Biomasse ein Kernbestandteil der Energiezukunft. In: Kämpfe um
Land. Wien 2011, S.72ff
13b. A. Exner: Biomasse ein Kernbestandteil der Energiezukunft. In: Kämpfe um
Land. S. 138
14. Marcel Hänggi: Ausgepowert. Rotpunkt Verlag, 2011, Kap.3
14a. Afrique-Europe-Interact 2012/ 2013 Nr.2: Landmonopoly. Kleinbäuerliche
Landwirtschaft unter Druck. S. 3
15a. Brigitte Kratzwald und A.Exner: Solidarische Ökonomie & Commons. S. 63
15b. Brigitte Kratzwald und A.Exner: Solidarische Ökonomie & Commons. S. 54ff
15c. Brigitte Kratzwald und A.Exner: Solidarische Ökonomie & Commons. S. 45