Germany Is Destroying Medieval Villages to Extract Coal

Germany has long been an innovator and leader in the renewable energy markets, with 35 percent of its energy coming from wind in 2016. So why are German companies bulldozing medieval villages to mine for coal that lies beneath them?

Coal is an extremely inefficient source of power, but it’s cheap: That’s why so many nations have stuck with it, despite acknowledging the negative impact on communities and the environment. And Germany, like many countries concerned about climate change, has been setting ambitious emissions targets that put coal in the hot seat. You’d expect to see coal utilization dropping — but it’s not.

Almost 40 percent of the nation’s power comes from coal, and Germany hosts some of the dirtiest power plants in Europe.

One reason why is the nation’s move away from nuclear power, a decision triggered by the Fukushima disaster. In the aftermath of this high-profile incident, a number of countries vowed to shut down nuclear plants, which left an energy vacuum.

Nuclear power is a controversial topic in many communities. Some people argue that it’s inherently dangerous due to the instability of nuclear fuels and the question of what to do with spent fuel and contaminated byproducts. Others maintain that it’s an extremely safe and reliable form of energy — one that’s much cleaner than coal and less disruptive than hydropower.

Regardless of your feelings about nuclear, Germany’s decision left the nation scrambling to catch up — but its grid is not up to the task.

Some regions of the country are producing an abundance of clean energy — usually via wind turbines — but others aren’t keeping pace, and the grid can’t transport the subsequent power. In some cases, companies are being asked to turn off turbines and stop dumping energy into an overloaded grid.

In the medieval village of Pödelwitz, these policy changes are having a very personal effect. Much of the village lies abandoned, after residents were bought out by a coal company that wants to access a coal seam underneath the town. Some people, however, are fighting back to preserve their homes and the history of the village. For them, this is an issue of both environmental responsibility and community heritage: Can you imagine tearing 800-year-old homes apart in search of an energy source we know is destructive and harmful?

Notably, as in the U.S., Germans are hearing a lot of rhetoric about coal as a way of life and a source of vital jobs – even though employment in this sector is dangerous, low-paying and on the decline. Green jobs, on the other hand, are experiencing huge economic growth, better wages and more opportunities.

Those who defend the dying coal industry are willfully ignoring the possibilities of clean energy. In coal-bearing regions where clean industry hasn’t taken hold, it’s true that the primary source of energy employment is, of course, with the dying whale of Big Coal. But the response shouldn’t be to prop up those jobs and the industry at the expense of communities and the planet. Instead, officials should promote green energy growth and new opportunities for regions currently choking on coal pollution.

If Germany wants to continue to be an energy leader, the country needs to get proactive about its coal problem.

Photo credit: Klimacamp Leipziger Land/Creative Commons

35 comments

Laura K
Laura K3 days ago

tyfs

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hELEN h
hELEN hEARFIELD5 days ago

Tyfs

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Brian F
Brian F5 days ago

Germany needs to adopt battery storage technology from companies like Tesla, and store the electricity from wind and solar power, and send it to where it is needed, when it is needed. All dirty fossil fuels need to be left in the ground, including dirty coal. Better integration of renewable energy can be helped with battery storage.

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Debbi W
Debbi W6 days ago

You would think enough Germans would want to protect and save their history. Destroying medieval villages would be such a terrible loss for everyone.

Resorting to coal is what Herr Drumpf wants to do, and I'm surprised Angela Merkel supports that. She doesn't like anything about trump. I hope German scientists can convince Chancellor Merkel that green energy is better and safer for all.

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Shirley S
Shirley S6 days ago

One would think that the historic village would be tourist appeal.

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Bronwyn B
Bronwyn B6 days ago

Germany: you are better than this! Leave the coal in the ground and the historic village Pödelwitz undisturbed. Go with renewable green energy: you are smart enough to do it!

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Alea C
Alea C6 days ago

With all the green energy available, coal should have been phased out by now. This is a tragedy not just for the village, but for the rest of us who care about climate change.

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Loredana V
Loredana V6 days ago

Wrong on many levels!

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Anne M
Anne M6 days ago

'Cheap' is usually the way to go, for most people... - 800 year old houses ?? - Boy that's old,, I'm surprised they're not falling down from wear and tear.. - I lived in a 100 year old house for 16years,, and I thought IT was old.. - Can't imagine an 800 year old house... - Must be made of mud/concrete..

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RK R
RK R6 days ago

So that is where Scott Pruitt went.

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