Don’t forget about the people

This past weekend thousands of people joined hands and formed an eight kilometer Human Chain across the border of Germany and Poland to protest against lignite mining in the area.

30 different nationalities traveled from cities all over Europe to be there. It was an extraordinary event that brought together Greenpeace volunteers, environmental grassroots organisations and thousands of members of the local community.

I left for the Human Chain early Friday morning and joined a bus of Belgian and Dutch Greenpeace volunteers. We traveled for more than half a day and reached the campsite in Kerkwitz, Germany on Friday night. Our camping neighbours were other volunteers from Luxembourg, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Austria. The rest of the volunteers were staying at another campsite, just two kilometers away. Other activists were camping separately in the surrounding forests, across the Polish border.

  The camping we were staying at was right by this lake. Photo by me

The camping we were staying at was right by this lake. Photo by me

The region of Lusatia lies at the border between Germany and Poland and has massive deposits of lignite. The Swedish company, Vattenfall and Polish energy group, PGE are planning the continued mining of billions of tons of dirty brown coal to burn in their coal-fired power plants. Walking through the forests of Lusatia, you won’t find one piece of property that is disrespectful to nature...

Aside from Vattenfall’s giant open pit mine at Cottbus-Nord.

Vattenfall plans on building five more plants in the area. This means that dozens of villages will be bulldozed and some 6000 people will lose their homes and livelihoods.

 Brown coal (lignite) open pit-mining in Lausitz. Photo by me

Brown coal (lignite) open pit-mining in Lausitz. Photo by me

On the morning of the event, all the activists gathered for a briefing given by a Greenpeace campaigner at the campsite. Here, the owner of the campsite stepped forward with a piece of paper in his hands. He wanted to say a few words and started by apologising for his English. He was nervous to speak in a foreign language in front of a crowd. His voice was shaky and his eyes were pointed towards his feet.

He wanted to tell us “thank you” for coming. He was truly impressed by the fact that we all came from our warm homes, hundreds and thousands of kilometers away, to this remote part of Germany, in the middle of a chilly forest. That chilly forest was his home and he had lived there for the past 40 years and wished to live there for 40 more years together with his family. His voice broke completely and his eyes teared up. So did everyone else’s in the audience.

This is just one of the thousands of people who risk losing their homes in Lusatia because reckless governments and greedy companies play with people’s lives and the climate. The urgency of what is happening in Lusatia isn’t just about the environment, it’s about the people that call that place home.

Yes, there were 7,500 people who joined hands and formed a Human Chain on August 23rd. Yes, many of them were activists from Greenpeace and other environmental organisations. But most of them were the people of Lusatia who welcomed us and took care of us and treated us like families. This weekend in Lusatia we all felt like home.

And there’s nothing that makes a place home like people. Let’s not forget about the people.

This article first appeared on greenpeace.org