With Germany facing the possibility of its worst recession since the second world war, public attention is shifting away from the Greens and climate activists.
As protesters unfurl their banner along the canal beneath Germany’s newest coal plant, a barge piled high with coal glides by, the crew whooping and whistling in mockery. It could not be a more potent symbol of the struggle Germany’s environmental movement is facing.
Opposition to Datteln 4, a coal-fired power plant which opened last month in Germany’s industrial heartland, was expected to become the latest rallying cry for Germany’s environmental movement. But in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and with recession looming, the fight against the country’s coal lobby has been overshadowed.
“It’s a climate crime, what’s happening here,” says Lisa Göldner, a Greenpeace activist involved in the protests against Datteln 4 as steam billows from the cooling tower behind her. “I see it as part of our job to send messages of hope. But I’m really frustrated when it comes to this. This feels like a lost battle.”
Despite being seen as a leader in climate policy, Germany has long been Europe’s laggard over the use of coal. In January, after years of inaction and rising emissions, Berlin finally proposed phasing out coal by 2038. Shortly after — and before parliament has even passed the coal exit law — Berlin agreed to bring Datteln 4 online.