RWE legal action against demonstrators “disproportionate and absurd”

Kudos! The climate change activists in the Rhineland lignite coal-mining district have earned our highest respect! Seizing the initiative in their courageous and symbolic protests on the weekend, the activists brought the gigantic machinery of lignite coal mining to a standstill for several hours at a number of locations. Their actions put the spotlight on the greatest environmental hazard of our time: the threat to the world climate by CO2 emissions and the impact of lignite-fuelled power generation in this context.

The protests were acts of civil disobedience: peaceful and non-violent – and nonetheless a refusal to obey the law. By breaching the perimeter of RWE’s open-pit coal mine and placing themselves in the path of the bucket excavators, the activists’ actions do presumably constitute a legal offence. But the corporation’s decision to defend its perimeter in a massive police operation that saw the use of batons and pepper spray, and the attempt to criminalize some 800 activists and journalists by filing proceedings – is both disproportionate and utterly absurd

It is ironic that RWE, a corporation whose coal excavators have for decades disturbed the peace of not only individual households, but entire villages and regions – even going so far as to destroy houses – should criticize the actions of the several hundred demonstrators, who hiked across a landscape devastated by the corporation’s machinery.

A ruthless response

RWE’s ruthless response to the protests rests not only on matters of law, but on the corporation’s economic and political power. Officials in federal, state and local government bodies defend coal-based power generation; many towns and cities hold stocks in RWE. The images of police officers in corporate SUVs chasing down protesters together with members of RWE’s own security service speak for themselves.

They have not only outraged the protesters, but will also strengthen their resolve and determination. And rightly so, I believe. The protests in Rhineland’s lignite mining district were perhaps not always legal, but they are entirely legitimate in the face of the threat that we face and the ignorant response of the powerful and the wealthy.

The bulk of our coal reserves will have to remain in the ground if we are to prevent climate change. Even the G7 and US-President Barack Obama have come around to this conclusion. The alternatives to coal are there, the transition to sustainable energy is a reality. RWE still believes that it can halt this transformation with batons and pepper spray. But as it has on the stock markets, the energy giant will sooner or later fall flat on its face with its lignite mines. The fate of nuclear power should give RWE food for thought.

This post is a translated version of the “Unangemessen und absurd” commentary by Jürgen Döschner, Energy-expert from WDR and ARD

August 18, 2015