For around six years, protesters have been living in tree houses, trying to protect what’s left of Germany’s Hambach Forest. Now, as police work to remove the protesters and their tree houses, more protesters are arriving.
The Hambach forest has been around for almost 12,000 years. Some of its trees may be 350 years old.
The forest land belongs to an energy company called RWE. Since 1978, the company has cut down 90% of the forest. In its place, It has created the largest open-pit coal mine in Europe.
In open-pit mining, a huge hole is opened in the ground. As the company digs, the hole gets deeper and wider, leaving a huge, empty area, shaped like a bowl.
The RWE mine digs for lignite, which is brown coal. When it is burned, lignite creates less heat and more pollution than black coal. Burning lignite creates much more pollution than most other ways of making energy.
In 2012, when RWE got ready to cut down the rest of Hambach Forest to expand their mine, protesters took action. Some protest groups went to court to try and protect the forest. Others blocked roads into the forest so that the company could not enter with machines to cut the trees.
The protesters also began to build tree houses and to live in them full-time. They did this to stop the company from cutting down the trees. Now there are more than 40 tree houses split into three separate “villages”.
Last Thursday, the police started moving into the forest, tearing down the tree houses and removing the protesters. The police say their action is for the safety of the protesters. They claim that the tree houses are unsafe and could catch on fire.
As news spread about the police actions, more than 4,000 other protesters have come to Hambach Forest to show their support.
The protesters want to protect Hambach Forest and keep RWE from making its mine bigger. But for many, the struggle is really about whether Germany keeps burning coal. As one protester said, “We want Germany to stop coal mining immediately because it’s the dirtiest form of power. So the forest is a kind of symbol.”
Germany is working to create more “clean” energy, such as solar or wind power, but it still counts on coal for much of its energy. Germany digs up more lignite than any other country and it’s the fourth largest user of coal in the world.
In 2015, Germany, along with the rest of the world, signed the Paris Agreement, agreeing to limit how much pollution they create. Some protesters think the government wants to burn coal quickly before the Paris Agreement makes it impossible.
It’s too early to tell what will happen between the police and the protesters, but it looks like the people who have been living in the forest will be removed for the first time in many years.
RWE says they plan to begin cutting down trees in October.
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