Monday 19 August 2019

Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg visits damaged German forest

Hambach Forest is at the centre of an ongoing dispute over fears it is at risk of being destroyed for a nearby mine.

Greta Thunberg visits the ancient Hambach Forest near the city of Kerpen in western Germany (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)
Greta Thunberg visits the ancient Hambach Forest near the city of Kerpen in western Germany (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)

By Frank Jordans, Associated Press

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has visited a German forest at the centre of an ongoing dispute over fears it is at risk of being destroyed for a nearby mine.

Hambach Forest in western Germany sits next to a massive open-cast lignite pit operated by utility giant RWE.

An expert proposal to end the use of coal in Germany by 2038, approved by the nation’s government, was meant to save the forest, but activists say RWE is endangering what is left of the woods by pumping out precious groundwater.

Miss Thunberg met with environmental protesters at the site on Saturday and demanded that “our war against nature must end today”.

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Miss Thunberg stands in front of the open-cast lignite pit during a visit the ancient Hambach Forest (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)

The 16-year-old, whose protest movement has mobilised tens of thousands of students across Europe each week calling on leaders to do more to tackle global warming, said seeing the mine disturbed her deeply.

In March, Miss Thunberg dedicated an award she received from German media to “those protecting the Hambach Forest and the climate activists who fight to keep the fossil fuels in the ground everywhere”.

But it is not just the removal of fossil fuels that is damaging Germany’s famed forests.

A second consecutive year of unusually dry and warm weather has left swaths of dead and dying trees in forests across Germany.

Officials say droughts, wildfires and hungry beetles destroyed 270,000 acres of forest in Germany in 2018, and the damage this year could be even worse.

The sight of bare trees has stoked debate about the impact of climate change and what measures Germany should be taking to adapt to and prevent global warming.

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Miss Thunberg said she had been ‘disturbed’ by what she had seen in the forest (Oliver Berg/AP)

A poll released on Friday by public broadcaster ZDF found 62% of German voters say it is the most pressing problem, higher than any other issue.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has acknowledged feeling the pressure coming from Miss Thunberg and her mostly young supporters, but she has cautioned that “we are also taking new directions, and these new directions must of course be thought through”.

Experts say whichever course the government takes, Germany’s forests are in for a change.

Spruce trees, once popular for their timber, have been suffering from rising temperatures for several years now, said Andreas Bolte, head of Germany’s Thuenen Institute of Forest Ecosystems.

“What’s new this year is that we had real problems with beech in some areas,” he said, noting that pines and oaks are also beginning to be affected.

Scientists are hoping that trees more resistant to heat, such as Douglas firs, can replace native varieties, which will continue to thrive at higher altitudes.

PA Media

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