Since 2020, environmental activists have occupied the trees, fields and houses in Lützerath, a hamlet near the North Rhine-Westphalian town of Erkelenz. They oppose the eviction of the village, they oppose the energy company RWE, which wants to extract the millions of tons of lignite that lie beneath the loess soils of Lützerath.
Most of the original inhabitants of the farming village have long since disappeared. They received compensation and were resettled. The resettlement of the hamlet began back in 2006 and ended with the farmer Eckhardt Heukamp, who left his land only a short time before the eviction. It was him who sold his farm to the energy company last and let activists camp on his property. The resistance began and the small village became a symbol in the fight against the climate crisis.
The activists organized themselves, built structures and tree houses, a "kitchen for all" that most recently cooked more than 1,000 meals a day for the squatters from donations.
In 2020, the German government decided to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2038 at the latest. The Ukraine war, gas shortages and the energy crisis shifted priorities and once again strengthened the political will to temporarily rely more heavily on coal for power generation. Therefor village of Lützerath will have to make way for coal mining, politicians decided. The coal under Lützerath is needed "to operate the lignite fleet at high capacity in the energy crisis," RWE announced.
Studies highlighted by climate activists show that coal is no longer needed under Lützerath. The studies commissioned by the government and the energy company show the opposite. In North Rhine-Westphalia, around 200 million tons of carbon dioxide are emitted every year. 22% of this is due to Rhenish lignite. Digging coal under Lützerath jeopardizes the 1.5 degree target, the Paris climate agreement, activists say, citing greed for profit as the reason for the clearance. The last battle over Lützerath is also a battle for narratives. It is also being fought out in the media and could not be more contrary.
For my photo essay "Eviction" I documented the transition of the Hamlet from a place of utopia and dreams to a fortress of an energy company. A fortress defended with pepper spray, batons and water cannons against activists of the climate movement.
The work was produced partly on assignment for the New York Times