Rocco Rorandelli



Dispossessions and environmental justice in Germany's coal district

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Germany, the third largest economy in the OECD, is today the world's biggest producer of lignite used to fuel electric power plants. Lignite is the most polluting of all coal types, and it is responsible for 20% of Germany’s carbon emissions. 


“If you assume that [...] there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.” Noam Chomsky

After the recently concluded COP26, two things emerged clearly: firstly, that coal is a major player in global carbon emissions (38% in 2020); and secondly, that the most polluting of the fuels retains a prominent position in this energy transition phase. And 2021 ended with a record: global coal-fired power generation rose 9% and hit an all-time high, according to the International Energy Agency.

The impact of coal goes beyond the release of CO2 – for which it is the single largest source. Burning coal is also the main emitter of mercury and NOx. Coal mines cause environmental degradation and, according to a recent study, people living in the vicinity of coal power plants lose on average five years of life. Finally, the expansion of mines causes the eviction of people and the destruction of villages and forests.

Germany, the third largest economy in the OECD, sought to position itself as a climate leader as far back as the 1980s. Its ambitious environmental policies are in open conflict with the country being the world's main producer of lignite, the most polluting of all coal types, used for electricity. For its extraction, six villages are under eviction or demolition just in the Rhine valley.

In the country, social movements are a vehement platform for civil debate over environmental justice. Embracing Blockadia as professed by Naomi Klein, activists intervene in the landscape of dispossession, occupying villages and forests meant to be destroyed. The Ende Glelände protest fights not only against local impacts, but also against their consequences on climate.

The presented project is a visual exploration of the tensions in the Rhine valley, the most affected by lignite extraction and burning. The frictions generated in such carbonscapes help to spur critical dialogue and introspection to envision the different possibilities for a just energy transition.