On the 8th of November, Lhavanya and I embarked on a tour to see the Hambach open pit mine, the largest man-made hole in Europe. It is said to be so large that it can fit the whole city of Cologne and in fact, remains the deepest man-made hole on the Earth’s surface, descending around 400m below sea level.
The excavators biting into the soil to extract lignite, more commonly known as brown coal, are just as haunting as they are impressive feats of engineering. Not only does it tower like a 30-storey building, the length of these ‘monsters’ span two football fields! What makes it even more ironic that Germany possesses the largest brown coal mine in the world is the fact that it’s perceived as a leader in renewable energy, with the country generating more solar energy than any other nation.
For a country that’s supposed to be a model of green growth and clean energy, one has to wonder about the existence of such a monstrous site that used to be the home of the Hambach forest. Said to be around 12,000 years old, the forest is rich in biodiversity as it has over 100 species of flora and fauna. One would think that efforts would have been made into making the area a conservation site, considering the historical significance of the location.
In fact, that’s what some environmentalists think, and in this case, do, as they’ve left the comfort of their homes to live in the forest that was bought over by RWE, a German electric utilities company, in 1978. As of 2017, only 10% of the forest remains and it’s expected to be gone between 2018 and 2020 to make way for more excavation work.
As we walked deeper into the forest, accompanied by one of the residents, we were brought to a meagre community where people lived in make-shift treehouses, used portable self-made toilets (that is if they didn’t just dig a hole in the ground) and live off stale bread and produce from dumpster-diving. It was one thing to have heard about such communities living in forests as a symbol of protest against a greedy profit-driven large corporation, but having been toured around in an actual site that is the epitome of the aforementioned scenario, I couldn’t help but to have felt a powerful pang of being at a loss. It would make sense if the presence of these self-proclaimed anarchists would hinder RWE from cutting down the rest of the forest and excavating the soil, but we heard from the guide ourselves that what’s little left of the forest will be gone in the next couple of years.
Pondering in hindsight about the whole scenario has made me realise that the efforts of these supposed overzealous people would bear some fruit after all. I say overzealous because at the time, it seemed like that whole act was meaningless because the forest is going to be lost anyways.
Now that I think about it again, this act of ‘anarchy’ goes beyond trying to prevent greedy corporations from decimating ancient land. Rather, I look at this occupation as a symbol of apathy from now on. I look at it as a symbol of apathy because when I picture human flesh being pulverised as excavators bulldoze through the forest along with the human settlements, I would feel sadness and to an extent, shock, at not only the loss of a fellow human but at the manner in which he had gone.
I believe that’s how everyone should feel when these excavators decimate the forest. A great deal of sadness, shock and pain… because not only is nature a part of us, but it is that we are a part of nature too.
Written by Syaqil
Edited by Varun