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The Anthropocene

Germany portrays itself as a climate leader. But it’s still razing villages for coal mines.

Germany’s Garzweiler coal mine has already swallowed more than a dozen villages. Centuries-old churches and family homes have been razed and the land they were built on torn away. Farmland has disappeared, graveyards have been emptied.

“All destroyed for coal,” said Eckhardt Heukamp, surveying the vast pit that drops away from the edge of his fields, 20 miles west of Cologne.

But there’s still more under his feet to be mined: Six more villages are threatened.

In the European Union, Germany is the second-largest consumer of hard coal, and the biggest consumer of the less-energy-efficient lignite, or brown coal.

With its last black coal mines closed, Germany is the biggest producer of brown coal in the world.

Germany has pledged to stop burning coal by 2038. This appears increasingly out of step with Europe’s larger economies. Britain says it is phasing out coal by 2024, France by 2022 and Italy by 2025.

Making it more difficult for Germany is its decision to phase out nuclear by 2022 in the wake of Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster, plus its large manufacturing industry. Experts say Germany needs to rapidly ramp up renewables to fill the gap, but soaring gas prices could complicate efforts for that transition, with fears it could increase electricity bills even further.