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Germany: a fighter against coal
Immerath, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, qualified public administration specialist
“Coal mining is not only completely superfluous, it’s homicidal! A modern industrialised society can only be a modern society if the whole economic, political and social model is sustainable. We have to become aware of climate change in all its diverse appearances and change things! I’m really mad about this: How can we tell people from Latin America or India how to fight climate change if even we as one of world’s richest nations are not doing it right?”
Hey Stephan, who are you and how did you become a “fighter against coal”?
My name is Stephan Pütz, I’m 52 years old, I have a degree in public administration and I live in Immerath, in the west of Germany, just a few kilometres away from Garzweiler, Europe’s biggest brown coal surface mine. I grew up in Otzenrath, a town that doesn’t exist anymore; it was eaten up by the coal diggers. Now my wife and I are one of the last people living here, we have to leave our house in 2016, and I’ll lose my home for the second time. Then Immerath will also be gone. It is in the designated coal mining area of “Garzweiler II” and most people have already left. There is a new town called Neu- Immerath, but we don’t want to move there, we don’t like it there.For more than 25 years I’ve been fighting this coal mine, starting back in the early 1990s. In 2000 finally we went to court with the help of BUND/FoE Germany to stop the plans for the Garzweiler II coal mine, it was a great back and forth and we went to several courts and were never fully successful. When my hometown Otzenrath was demolished in 2008 we went to the highest German court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht. In 2013 they finally decided: The need of the many is more important than my and our need of not losing our towns, our churches and our homes. At least we were a little bit successful: in 2014 the local government decided to reduce the size of the planed mining area. I know that Immerath, my home, will not survive, but I hope other towns, local communities and homes will stay.
What’s the connection between your fight against coal und the fight against climate change?
In the beginning my motivation was pretty simple, even stubborn: “I have to do something I don’t like (losing my home), because authorities think they have to do something (digging for coal) for which there is no need in my opinion”. I wasn’t against coal mining until I read in a leaflet by environmentalists that we don’t need it at all. Back in 1993 when I first took part in talks about coal mining here climate change was a scenario which only an avant-garde of environmentalists were discussing. And as years went by it became more and more common knowledge and the mainstream position that climate change exists, is real and is a consequence of what we do. Looking at it on a global scale I feel like “Guys, your coal digging and burning here is pushing people elsewhere in the world into the oceans!” Reducing brown coal use is the first and easiest step to immediately and significantly reduce CO2 emissions. A modern industrialised society can only be modern society if the whole economic, political and social model is sustainable. We have to become aware of climate change in all its diverse appearances and change things! I’m really mad about this: How can we tell people from Latin America or India how to fight climate change if even we as one of world’s richest nations are not doing it right?
What are your hopes and wishes for the future?
I really hope that the downsizing of the coal mine here will be as significant as possible; I hope that it will be at least 1000 meters from the next bigger town Holzweiler. I also really hope that this downsizing is so significant that is makes the whole coal mine unprofitable and that they will therefore close earlier than planned – before 2045. Furthermore I wish that all the coal mines in Rhineland will be shut down one after another.
What is your message to the people out there, to other fighters for climate and nature?
Climate change is a serious threat and we all have to fight it. Sometimes it seems like losing hope is the only option, but: The systems are chaotic and by chance little changes can lead to massive changes and have a large impact. So we have to make all those little changes to make it work in the end.