Why is the Osterholz forest threatened?
Next to Wuppertal and Vohwinkel in NRW (Germany) 1000-1500 trees are facing their death in the Osterholz forest, because more than 5 acres of old forest are going to be destroyed for a tailings dump of the company Oetelshofen and their adjacent quarry.
In this quarry Oetelshofen mines limestone. Although they understand themselves as patreon for a unique man-made habitat, they emit an enormous amount of carbon-dioxide and particulate matter into the air.
But no matter the greenwashing efforts Oetelshofen isn’t able to hide the planned forest clearing, the pollution and the support of the energy company RWE.
A big alliance has formed to defend the Osterholz forest. The alliance named “Osterholz stays” consists of 28 single groups and organizations.
With vigils, forest walks, decentralized demonstrations and a forest occupation they protest together against Oetelshofen and the decision for destroying the forest by the district government Duesseldorf since 2019. The success is clearly visible: after two years the forest still stands.
Limestone, forest, greenwashing, activism and coal – How is this all related?
To use the mined limestone it has to get burned first. In the process carbon-dioxide (CO2) bound in the limestone gets released. On top of this emissions Oetelshofen runs two of their lime kilns on lignite. Therefore they emitted for example over 243.000 tons of CO2 in 2018.
Not far away in the Rhenish lignite mining area the energy company RWE runs various lignite power plants and mines the needed coal in their gigantic open-cast mines. When burning lignite so-called flue gas develops, which consists of different gasses (like nitrogen, CO2 and sulfur dioxide) and particles like ash and soot.
The issue of emitting million tons of CO2 and the effects on the climate are well known in our society.
But while carbon-dioxide is allowed to emit into the air, pollutants like sulfur dioxide have to be filtered after European regulations.
Because when sulfur dioxide is released into the air it can react to sulfuric acid. And that is the reason for acid rain, which is toxic for animals, plants and humans.
So to filter the sulfur dioxide out of the lignite power stations flue gasses RWE needs lime for their desulfurization process. That’s where Oetelshofen (and also other lime companies) comes into place.
Of cause: at first glance Oetelshofen ensures the minimization of toxic flue gas in the lignite power plants and that’s how the frame it on their website:
“[We] supply the plant with products for environmental protection out of lime, which are used for cleaning the emissions.”Oetelshofen website
But ultimately with supplying lime they make it possible for RWE to produce dirty energy burning brown coal.
Now back to the Osterholz forest: When mining limestone in the quarry next to the forest a lot of unusable material is mined, which the customers don’t want to have. So Oetelshofen wants to dumb the material consting of sand, clay and unusable limestone as cheap as possible. Therefore they want to cut down the Osterholz forest.
In dialogue with the city Oetelshofen wasn’t interested in alternative solutions because they would be more expensive.
Not long ago a climate-report by the German weather service (DWD) proved the area around Wuppertal already heated by 1.4°C and the relating extreme weather events. The resulting recommendation is unmistakable: In the area no more green spaces can vanish and no more trees can be cut down.
While the quarry functions as heating spaces the Osterholz forest has a cooling effect in the whole area according to the DWD.
Oetelshofen argues that when clearing the forest they would plant new trees in another location. Of cause: new forests and green spaces are much needed (as long as they aren’t monocultures) but what Oetelshofen does here is open greenwashing.
Because old forests can store much more CO2 and water than young trees could. Also the Osterholz forest is habitat for some threatened species including a bat and a frog species.
So there is more than one reproducible reason to protect the Osterholz forest.
And that’s why the people of the alliance “Osterholz stays” fight for the preservation of the forest. On 15. August 2019 a group of people occupies the forest. Since then they have been preparing for the Day X (the day Oetelshofen starts to cut down the forest) with building treehouses and barricades. Regular protests acquire a lot of people from the climate-justice-movement and locals too. With organized forest walks knowledge about the trees and the situation gets teached.
So the experience entering this forest is very unique:
Already a few hundred meters in front of the threatened part of the forest the hiking path is blocked for vehicles with barricades made of trees and branches. Strollers and hikers can pass easily of cause. In the threatened area live a lot of people in self-built treehouses. In the middle of the camp are some structures on the ground, where you can cook together, warm-up at the fireplace and visitors are welcomed.
Goal of the occupation is to maximize the cost of evicting the forest and with that save the Osterholz.
At the moment there is still an open lawsuit against the decision of the district government. Also the local Fridays for Future group of Wuppertal wrote an open letter, which demands again for the “explosive ordnance clearance service” to search the ground for leftover explosives from WW2 before heavy forestry machines drive around and activists as well as cops are endangered. But for now it seems Oetelsofen will ignore all this.
For some time the police tries to move the legal vigil out of the threatened forest. Also a police helicopter and regular police patrols scout the area.
Hence all this it seems the situation heats up and the activists estimate an eviction soon.
https://www.wald.de/waldwissen/wie-viel-kohlendioxid-co2-speichert-der-wald-bzw-ein-baum/. Last visted: 23.01.2022.
https://oetelshofen.de/Anwohnerforum/Brennpunkt-Osterholz/. Last visted: 23.01.2022.
https://osterholzbleibt.org/. Last visted: 23.01.2022.
https://jederbaumzaehlt.noblogs.org/. Last visted: 23.01.2022.
https://fridaysforfuture.de/ortsgruppen/wuppertal/. Last visted: 23.01.2022.