The German Bretzel
a) Germans like warm houses, cooked food, trips in cars and industrial products - as we all do. These things require lots of energy.
Energy supplied by fossil fuels adds to dangerous global warming by releasing greenhouse gases (notably CO2) into the atmosphere. Germany has suffered its share of the consequences of global warming: heatwaves, coldspells and flooding. The country aims to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality by 2045. (The EU requires climate neutrality by 2050.)
b) Before the Fukushima disaster, Germany was getting nearly a quarter of its electricity from nuclear power. Following the disaster, eight reactors were shut down. Germany's last remaining nuclear power plants are due to be shut down in April.
c) Germany used to get half its natural gas from Russia. The Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea was an important factor for energy security in Europe. But the pipeline faced opposition within the EU and the US on the grounds that it would increase Europe's energy dependence on Russia. When Russia annexed the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine and launched an invasion, Germany refused to approve activation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Russia then decided it would not resume gas supplies to the EU through Nord Stream 1. The supply of gas to Germany dried up.
d) Germany has a long tradition of using coal and possesses an appreciable supply of it.
But coal is a very dirty fossil fuel, emitting lots of climate-changing CO2 when it is burned.
Burning coal also produces unhealthy particulate emissions and gases containing harmful chemicals such as benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and mercury. In the United States alone, 50,000 coal-related deaths are recorded each year.
e) Germany has been increasing its use of "renewable energy" , notably wind turbines. But intermittent energy requires steady backup.
If you try to solve an equation involving a), b), c), d) and e), you get a problem rather difficult to resolve. Like a twisted pretzel (or, "bretzel" in German).
In July 2022, faced with an energy crisis, the German parliament voted to reactivate closed coal power plants at least temporarily.
Save Lützerath, Save our Climate
The coal mining company RWE has bought the whole village of Lützerath - the land and the houses - to expand its open-cast Garzweiler lignite mine. The villagers were forced to leave their homes. Demolition crews are preparing to bulldoze the houses, church and schools to make way for the gigantic excavator.
Protesters have been occupying the village of Lützerath in western Germany for more than two years to try to save it, and to keep the coal in the ground. Lignite ("brown coal") is by far the most climate damaging of all fossil fuels. Burning lignite emits more CO2 even than hard coal. The Garzweiler mine produces 25m tonnes of lignite every year.
Some 35,000 people braved the wind and rain on Saturday January 14 to try to save Lützerath, according to activists. Police put the number at 15,000.
The young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joined the Lützerath demonstrators. She held up a sign urging "Keep it in the ground," and warned, "This is a betrayal of present and future generations... Germany is one of the biggest polluters in the world and needs to be held accountable." Greta had harsh criticism for Germany's Green Party, who are part of the governing coalition.
Another climate activist, Sara Ayech, said, “We’re in 2023, in the middle of a climate crisis, and while destroying a village to expand one of the biggest carbon bombs in Europe should be considered criminal, it is still legal. Fossil fuel companies’ influence is so powerful that the ones considered criminals now are the ones fighting for climate justice. It is time to hold fossil fuel companies accountable.”
The bank HSBC has secretly loaned $340 million to the mining company RWE to further expand the huge Garzweiler mine, just three months after the bank pledged to stop funding coal. RWE expects profits of 5 billion euros in 2022.
Riot police arrived on Saturday January 14 and removed most of the activists, but a few remained on the site until Tuesday, including Greta Thunberg. Police carried her off.
Saving the Forest
Biodiversity-rich Hambach is one of Europe's oldest forests. Today, just 10 percent of the original forest remains. The forest was bought by the RWE Power Plant in order to enlarge its open-pit lignite mine.
Protests against the forest's further destruction drew up to 50,000 people, who occupied the forest in treehouses and clashed with police. One activist observed, "We shouldn’t be cutting down 300-year-old oaks to get to the coal 400m deep in the earth, just to burn the coal. It will only produce more CO2.”
In July 2020, Germany passed legislation to end coal-fired power generation by 2038 (later moved forward to 2030). There was no further expansion of the Hambach mine.
Until the Japanese Fukushima disaster, Germany received nearly a quarter of its electricity from nuclear power. Then, the German government decided to shut down all reactors by 2022. Critics of the German policy see the abandon of nuclear power as a grave mistake, opening the way to more coal and thereby impeding the goal of lowering CO2 emissions.
We now know that nuclear energy is safe energy. Safety measured in death rates per unit of energy produced by nuclear is far lower than that of coal, oil or gas, or even wind. And importantly, nuclear reactors emit no greenhouse gases when running.
Even Japan has been bringing back its nuclear reactors and will be building new ones.
Germany's remaining three reactors are to be kept operating only until next April, according to current plans. Yet, Germans largely support keeping the remaining reactors on the grid.
Response to a German opinion poll: ...Should the last 3 nuclear reactors continue running...
... until summer 2023? Yes, 78%
... Five more years? Yes, 67%
To ensure energy security and avert climate disaster, policies need to be founded on fact and experience, not emotion and myth.