What’s harder? Raising 46.000 Euros in short time or at last starting a big debate about the future of a fossil fuel-dependent region? For the organizing team of the Degrowth Summer School, both were great challenges… Christopher Laumanns reports.

With a little help from our friends: how we filled a financial open cast mine…

Ten days before the start of the Summer School, which took place on the Climate Camp in the Rhineland for the third year in a row, at the Konzeptwerk we received the news: The foundation “Stiftung Umwelt und Entwicklung NRW” withdrew its funding instantly. 46.000 Euros, nearly half the budget, were gone from one day to the next. The foundation’s reasoning: The Summer School were to take place too close to the acts of civil disobedience, which were to come from the Climate Camp. It’s true that such actions had been announced, but only for the time after the end of the Summer School.
Instead of letting this stop us, together with the organizing team of the Summer School we decided to make the issue public and to start a fundraising campaign – on top of all the work awaiting us to make the event itself happen. While building up the camp, we produced a video explaining the situation, published an interview with background information (both in German) and spread the news via newsletters, e-mails and social media. The following wave of solidarity overwhelmed us.
In the last three weeks individual donors gave around 25.000 Euros to save the Summer School. In addition to this, several foundations (Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Trias Foundation, Selbach Environmental Foundation and others) stepped in with large amounts. Apart from this quick financial help we received lots of calls and emails, offering support and giving us courage. For us, this was a sign that we’re on a good path politically – with great companions. Thanks to everyone who saved the Summer School!

By the way: Legally the Konzeptwerk held responsibility for the sudden huge debt. But the organizing team of the Summer School, which works by consensus and mainly consists of volunteers, assured that they would come up with the money. For us this was further proof that it’s great to work with grass roots movements and consensus decision making!

… and stoked the debate about the future of the Rhenish lignite region

Panel discussion in the town hall of Erkelenz. From left to right: Thorsten Moll (Inhabitant of Holzweiler, a village affected by the mining); Janna Aljets (Young friends of the Earth and Ende Gelände); Karin Walther (Facilitation); Manfred Maresch (Miners’ trade union “IG BCE”); Dr. Stefan Gärtner (Institute for Work and Technology, Westfälische Hochschule).

As last year, one of the main subjects of the Summer School’s programme was the question of the Rhenish lignite region’s future. Here, degrowth concepts are put to the test: How much electricity does society need? How should it be produced? How can dirty industries be shut down in a socially just way? Which strategies are legitimate in the struggle for a good life for everyone? The main event about all this was the panel discussion “What comes after lignite? And how to pave a just transition?” in the town hall of the nearby city of Erkelenz. For the very first time lignite workers, climate activists and people from the region talked about how to design a phase out from coal. “Over 300 people came, which showed how important such events are”, said Ruth Krohn of the Summer School’s organizing team. “As the energy corporation RWE doesn’t care about the consequences of lignite mining for the region, we have to get organized. That also offers the possibility of creating a whole different way of living together: In a social, ecological and democratic way, with decentralized energy supply and cooperative businesses.” Stefan Gärtner, researcher on structural change at the Institute for Work and Technology at the Westfälische Hochschule emphasized: “The event today is a model for the future.” He also pointed out that the workers should not just react to the decisions of RWE’s managers, but should actively demand security for their futures, working together with the region’s inhabitants and the climate justice movement. There were a lot of people from the region and workers among the 300 participants. The audience discussed vividly among themselves. The panel discussion was also well received in the media, west german state television filming it entirely. How strongly the Summer School contributed to a wide discussion about the necessary change of the region (and what this has to do with imperial ways of life, capitalist growth and trying out alternatives), can be seen in the following articles (all in German):

Rheinische Post: Bescheidener leben lernen and Kommentar: Proteste gegen Braunkohle – Naive Aktivisten
Aachener Zeitung: Zu lange weggeschaut
Deutsche Welle: Kampieren fürs Klima – und gegen Kohlestrom
WDR 5: Brauchen wir noch Braunkohle?

Bike tour to the stories of resistance in the Rhenish lignite region, listening to Gisela Irving. Photo: Adam Ronan (CC BY-SA)

Besides the panel discussion, there was a bike tour to kick off the Summer School. The tour visited “stories of the resistance” in the region. Especially older neighbours of the camp were visited, who looked back on a long history of struggling against forced resettlements, destruction of landscapes and coal burning. 81 year old Gisela Irving concluded after 40 years of resistance that a well connected, radical movement is necessary. The guided tours of the camp, offered by the Climate Camp, were well visited by neighbours and therefore this year the search for alternatives took place in much closer exchange with the local population. With this, a good basis has been laid out for future cooperation. A special highlight was the participation of mining trade unionis Manfred Maresch in on the of the Summer School’s courses. The participants and course facilitators were very happy with the debate and Maresch commented: “I find it very pleasant, in what a respectful atmosphere conversations take place here – and that even though people have different opinions.”

Psychology and practical skills for system change

Further focal points of the Summer School’s programme were the “Psychology of Change” and the continuation of last year’s topic of “Skills for System Change”. The psychological courses were among the first to be fully booked, which made visible how large the interest within the Degrowth movement is not just to change the political frameworks, but also to investigate our own mental infrastructures of growth and competition. Thanks go to the Initiative Psychology in Environmentalism, who took part in putting the programme together. The participants of the radio course also showed their newly acquired skills for system change: Starting with building their own radio transmitters, they broadcast the first ever camp news at the end of the course. The broadcast was played live via loudspeakers during dinner, so that the group received an applause from around a thousand of listeners in the sunset.

 

Further information

The Summer School got a lot of media attention – thus, among other things, contributing to a stronger debate on structural change in the Rhineland. Photo: Tim Lüdde (CC BY-NC)

There are more photos on the > Climate Camp’s flickr-account
The best press review can be found on the > Homepage of Ende Gelände
Aerial image: Tim Wagner. Non-indexed photos: Klimacamp im Rheinland. Alle Bilder CC BY-SA 2.0

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