- Greta Thunberg was among the “masses of protestors” detained in a climate protest in western Germany on Tuesday
- Ms. Thunberg, 20, made her name as a prominent climate activist after addressing the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference
- The protests targeted a coal mine expansion; activists argue that burning more coal violates the Paris Climate Agreement’s climate change ambitions
- The mining company behind the expansion holds that more coal is needed to fulfill Germany’s current energy needs
Famous Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was temporarily detained Tuesday in western Germany. Though she was soon released and returned to protesting the next day, the story has been captured attention around the world. At the center of it all: A coal mine expansion and questions about the sustainability of modern energy technologies.
Here’s the story (and how Q.ai can help you invest in a cleaner future!).
The hamlet at the center of Germany’s protests
The protests where Greta Thunberg was detained took place in a hamlet called Lützerath. This small village (formerly home to around 100 residents) sits about 15 miles from Germany’s western border.
A decade ago, a German court approved the hamlet’s future demolition to facilitate expanding the nearby Garzweiler lignite coal mine. But it’s not the first time.
The mine—alongside two other open-pit operations in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia—has been expanding for decades. All told, around 50 local villages have been evicted and demolished to permit coal mining.
This situation has elevated the already-controversial opencast mine as a focal point in Germany’s escalating climate debates. Enter: European energy company RWE Power.
On January 11, 2023, RWE Power announced that demolition of the hamlet would officially begin. The company’s press release stated that “all original inhabitants left the village [by 2017],” and that the only remaining peoples are squatters “illegally occupying the buildings and areas” it owns.
RWE added that the village needs to be removed so it can access the tonnes of coal lying beneath it to address Germany’s energy crisis. Once the evictions are complete, it plans to build a fence around the village prior to demolition.
The energy firm is supported by a recent court ruling allowing the company to evict the squatters. But since then, a series of environmental protests have grown in both size and contentiousness, resulting in clashes with the police.
Activists, RWE and the German government: mixed views
Energy and mining have been hot-button issues in Germany for several years. The recent events at Lützerath are merely the latest iteration—and emblematic of a larger movement.
A coal-fueled bargain
Back in 2019, Germany vowed to pivot from its reliance on fossil fuels and scale back greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, the country’s high court affirmed this stance, stating that the government needed to take even more drastic actions.
But when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, the math changed. In retaliation for global sanctions, Russia cut off natural gas supplies to Europe. To keep the power flowing, the German government permitted at least 20 coal-fired power plants to resume or extend operations. As a result, the country failed to meet its 2022 climate targets.
Then, in October 2022, the German government struck a bargain with RWE. The energy firm would agree to shutter its coal activities by 2030—eight years earlier than planned. In exchange, they would receive permission to expand local mining.
The deal would spare several other villages and farmsteads formerly slated for destruction. However, RWE contends that destroying Lützerath is necessary to “make optimal use” of coal until then.
Fighting dirty (coal)
The deal infuriated climate activists, who have launched near-daily protests across Germany. Aside from their presence at Lützerath, demonstrators have blocked major city streets and airport runways. Their message: returning to coal will increase carbon emissions and violate the Paris Climate Agreement’s temperature targets.
The Garzweiler mine is a particular touchpoint as it produces 25 million tonnes of lignite annually. Lignite is widely considered the dirtiest form of coal and produces around 1/5 of Germany’s carbon emissions.
But RWE and some members of the German government reject claims that expanding mining operations will increase carbon emissions. They hold that European carbon caps mean that any extra emissions will be offset elsewhere. Moreover, they claim that coal is needed to address Germany’s immediate energy needs amid Russian hostility.
However, activists believe that the coalition may be overhyping the country’s need for coal-based energy. Some cite an August report that found coal plants have more than enough fuel to operate even at “very high capacity” until 2030.
Greta Thunberg joins the Lützerath protests
That brings us to Greta Thunberg’s appearance at the Lützerath protests.
Greta Thunberg first made her mark protesting outside the Swedish Parliament in favor of stronger climate protections at 15. After more students engaged in similar protests, she helped organize widespread school climate strikes.
In 2018, Ms. Thunberg addressed the United Nations Climate Change Conference. There, she famously chastised world leaders for stealing youths’ futures through their inaction on climate change.
Since then, Ms. Thunberg has participated in dozens of protests and social media campaigns for various climate-related causes. Between protests, she has addressed world leaders in forums ranging from the European Parliament to the World Economic Forum.
This past week, Greta Thunberg’s travels brought her to the demonstrations in Germany. She tweeted on Friday that “[She is] currently in Lützerath, a German village threatened to be demolished for an expansion of a coal mine” and asked others to join the cause.
On Saturday, Ms. Thunberg addressed a crowd estimated to contain 15,000-35,000 people. “The science is very clear,” she stated. “The carbon needs to stay in the ground. And as long as the carbon is in the ground, this struggle is not over. We need to stop the current destruction of our planet and sacrificing people to benefit the short-term economic growth and corporate greed.”
Greta Thunberg’s detainment
Greta Thunberg remained at the protest site for several more days, according to police officials. The detainment that caught global attention occurred Tuesday. (Though, as one official noted, she had previously been detained on Sunday as well.)
Video from Reuters shows Greta Thunberg being carried from a sit-in at the edge of the mine by three police officers. Reports indicate she was held at a location away from the mine’s edge for a time, then released later than evening. Officers clarified that Thunberg was not under arrest, and that detained protestors would not face criminal charges.
Reuters also reported that police informed the protest group they would “use force” to bring protestors to an “identity check.” Police also asked protestors to “please cooperate.”
A spokesperson for the Aachen police claims that Thunberg was one of a group of protestors that “rushed towards the ledge” of the mine. “However, she was then stopped and carried by use with this group out of the immediate danger area to establish their identity.”
Reportedly, police expressed concern that the “masses of protestors” could set the rain-softened ground in motion. The police spokesperson also noted that authorities had been unable to entirely secure the area at that time. Officers intervened to remove protestors from the “danger area,” temporarily detaining them in the process, they said.
Invest in climate-friendly tech with Q.ai
By all accounts, Greta Thunberg’s detainment was peaceful, with a spokesperson adding, “She did not resist.”
She even resumed campaigning on Wednesday, tweeting: “Yesterday I was part of a group that peacefully protested the expansion of a coal mine in Germany. We were kettled by police and then detained but were let go later that evening. Climate protection is not a crime.”
But you don’t have to join a protest to make a difference on climate action and green energy. Instead, you can take action with your investment dollars—and seek rewards in the process.
It’s easy: With Q.ai’s Clean Tech Kit.
This Kit lets investors of all stripes personally invest in forward-thinking technologies. Together, we can help fuel clean innovations and a greener future.
You don’t even have to travel all the way to Germany—or anywhere, for that matter—to see your dollars make a difference. Just whip out your handy mobile app to get started.
Download Q.ai today for access to AI-powered investment strategies.