Demanding an end to coal and all forms of dirty energy extraction, over 4,000 activists descended on the Rhineland coalfields in Germany early Sunday in a mass demonstration just a day before COP23 climate talks are set to kick off.
"This it what we aim for today, when we are going to block coal infrastructure in the Rhenish coalfield."
—Dorothee Häussermann, a spokesperson of Ende Gelände
"On the international stage, politicians and corporations present themselves as climate saviors, while a few miles away, the climate is literally being burned," Janna Aljets, a spokesperson for the environmental alliance Ende Gelände, which helped organize the action, said in a statement. "We do not want to be world champions in extracting and burning lignite anymore. We want to fulfill our historic responsibility. That's why we go to the coal mines, to protect the climate there."
"Fossil fuels must stay in the ground," Aljets added. "We are here at the scene of destruction to send out a clear signal for climate justice. Together we are many, together we are determined and strong."
Remarkable images and footage of the mass action quickly spread on social media, with environmentalists hoisting signs calling for "system change, not climate change" and chanting "keep it in the ground!"
The Rhineland mines have long been targeted by activists due to the millions of tons of carbon dioxide they emit per year. Activist and author Naomi Klein has called the coalfields "an existential threat to humanity."
"Germany's lignite mines are among the biggest coal mines in the world," Zane Sikulu, a Climate Warrior from Tonga, said in a statement. "If we don't shut them down, we have no chance as Pacific Islanders. We're here to protect our land, our culture and our identities as Pacific people."
As Common Dreams reported on Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump is looking to use the COP23 talks as a platform to sell fossil fuels—and coal in particular—as necessary and beneficial.
Demonstrators sought to make clear that any concessions to the fossil fuel industry and to the Trump administration are unacceptable, and that ambitious solutions must be pursued in the face of a rapidly warming planet.
"At the U.N. climate summit the fossil lobby sits at the negotiating table. By contrast, the voices of those who are already suffering massively from the consequences of climate change have too little weight," concluded Dorothee Häussermann, a spokesperson of Ende Gelände. "We have to push for real solutions ourselves. This it what we aim for today, when we are going to block coal infrastructure in the Rhenish coalfield."
While many images depicted demonstrators engaged in a peaceful stand-off with police, photos that showed police deploying pepper spray against sitting activists soon began to spread.