The Coal Country Rhineland contains three active mines where 100 million tons of lignite are extracted annually, the majority of which is combusted in five surrounding power stations. The Hambach Mine measures 8 by 10 kilometres, with a depth of almost 500m. It is the largest open-cast mine in Western-Europe.
Extraction and combustion of lignite in the Rhineland has major consequences for people and the environment – regionally as well as on a global scale. During the past 70 years, more than 1000 people had to leave their villages, and more villages are being forcibly resettled, now and in the years to come.
One third of CO2 emissions in Germany are emitted in the Rhineland. Combustion of lignite for power generation is one of the least efficient methods of producing electricity: The coal is wet and needs to be dried in an expensive process before being combusted. The method is only profitable as long as consequential damages are being externalised to the general public. The majority of the electricity produced from lignite in the region goes to the heavy and chemical industries, including armaments in the guise of the company Rheinmetall. Another part is required to dry and process the coal, as well as running the power stations.
The effected alterations to climate play a significant part in the destruction of habitats of human beings and other living beings on a global scale. In future, millions of people will flee from the destruction and its effects. The power stations also emit 50 kilograms of mercury as well as radioactive material into the atmosphere, which, dissolved in rain, precipitate across Germany.
To prevent groundwater from flooding the mines, gigantic amounts of groundwater need to be pumped into the river Rhine. For the Hambach Mine alone this amounts to five times the total annual water consumption of the City of Cologne.