Hardly any rain, the grass withered. It should bring the cows through the winter. A peasant family is fighting climate change – but not desperate.
Lucas Schwienhorst has filed a lawsuit against the federal government. Photo: Gordon Welters / Greenpeace
Farmer Heiner Lütke can express Schwienhorst’s numbers in numbers, in sales figures, in diminishing crop yields, in the quantities of grain in his granary, in the amounts of hay he has cut and now that something is wrong with nature dry in a state-of-the-art barn. These are pretty drastic numbers.
But then, to illustrate the drama, he simply picks a bundle of hay from a pile and buries his nose in it. He shakes it. Smells again. Intense.
Yes, he says, that’s the hay they brought in in the spring. Clover and other grasses. That smells good. It was okay.
Then the 61-year-old continues to trudge, haggard stature, black glasses frame, grabs again in a pile that was once meadow, and this time smells nothing. The grass has already dried up, he says, it’s yellow like straw, its nutrient content low without the leaves and flowers that need to be shaken out. And Schwienhorst is trying that too now, shaking with an energetic hand. But he just whirls dust in the air.
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And that’s a simple rule for a farmer like Schwienhorst: if it does not smell, it’s not good.
Can a court protect against climate change?
How he is doing to many farmers this year. Behind them lies a drought that was extraordinary not only in southern Brandenburg . Nevertheless, the Schwienhorst family, which runs the Ogrosen estate not far from the Spreewald, has drawn particular consequences from its by no means special situation and decided to take an extreme step. She has sued the federal government.
The legal mechanism behind this process is quite complicated. In essence, the point is that the grand coalition in Berlin, according to its own assessment, will miss the 2020 climate targets, even though the reduction in CO2 emissions by 40 percent has been made legally binding. Only 32 percent, as the government promises in its current climate change report, does not meet the target. Nevertheless, the Merkel Cabinet concludes its report, passed in June of this year, in the sentence that “no further action” would be taken.
In other words, what the federal government is doing is not enough, but it does not want to do more.
The stark gray. 120 cattle own the operators of Gut Ogrosen. Photo: Gordon Welters / Greenpeace
It’s one thing to see a political scandal in it. It is quite another thing to go to court for that . What do you think the Schwienhorsts can achieve with this? That a court can protect them from the effects of climate change? Is there more to it than just stirring up a bit of dust?
The organic farmer Schwienhorst would probably not have taken into consideration a complaint before the Berlin administrative court, although he “desired” it, as he says. He wanted to give a legal impetus to a development, “as I would like to see them”.
It took the initiative of Greenpeace – the environmental organization also acts as a plaintiff – and Roda Verheyen, a lawyer from Hamburg, which has already brought similar proceedings. It represents ten families from all over Europe who complain about non-compliance with the European Union’s climate protection goals. And she stands behind a Peruvian farmer, who sees his village in the Andes threatened by a glacier lake and the German energy company RWE responsible.
Finally, the 46-year-old has also obtained the temporary grubbing-up stop in the Hambach Forest , through arguments that previously were not heard by judges for years. Why should not there now be a government can be sued, says Verheyen, who wants to achieve their climate goals in the coalition agreement only “as far as possible”.
Word break of the Federal Government?
Conversely, one can ask: Can one demand the impossible?
To the possibility or impossibility of climate protection raging a debate that increases in sharpness, the harder the goals are to achieve. Because that is a peculiarity of this particular humanity problem: the more the atmosphere heats up, the more drastic the countermeasures have to be.
The Federal Republic of Germany has committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 through the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. With the “Climate Protection Plan 2050”, this claim was extended for a further 30 years beyond the original term and should amount to an absolute ban on such emissions by the middle of the century. Yet none of the deadlines have passed. Does not an action come before the result at this time?
Roda Verheyen laughs on the phone. “We are not as crazy as it may seem,” the lawyer replies, “we do that because the federal government no longer feels bound by its own word.”
Since 2007, numerous emission protection and climate laws have been enacted in Germany. And there is a European regulation that imposes too much compensation payments on the Federal Republic in the coming years for every tonne of CO2. They will soon burden the household with billions. Nevertheless, most of the climate goals have not been passed as laws, but only bound to voluntary commitments. Verheyen says that even those vows would have been legally binding.
Stallgeruch. Organic Farmer Heiner Lütke Schwienhorst. Photo: Gordon Welters / Greenpeace
In her claim, the lawyer refers to the logic of administrative law. After that, the state itself, through its many measures that ranged until the expropriation of lignite power plant operators and massively interfered with the rights of others, created the offense of the protection of legitimate expectations. The government can not abruptly abuse this confidence by ceasing its actions, “especially as the need for action has increased as a result of global warming”. As a mother of three children, they make that “really angry,” says the lawyer once.
It’s a pretty small patch of earth
In October, the IPCC again warned about the effects of global warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Extreme weather phenomena would increase. Storms of violence, floods of expansion, drought of duration. Global economic output would fall by 13 percent. The number of people suffering from water shortage would increase by 400 million.
A three-degree global warming would turn southern Europe into a zone of constant drought, with rainy seasons occurring in the equatorial zone of Africa only every five years, with some of the largest cities in the world hit by flood disasters. And that’s almost good news, my climate expert. For right now, the world is heading for the four-degree mark.
Six of the ten hottest summers since weather records began in 1881 have occurred over the past 17 years. The accumulation of the substance of a nature that adapts only slowly to climatic conditions. “The numbers are frightening,” says Roda Verheyen, “last summer will soon be no exception, but the normal zero. And then come on pronounced heat waves again four degrees on top. “
Thus, the climate situation has also joined a fruit farmer from the Old Country near Hamburg. Its plantations are attacked by a moth that did not exist there before. The mild climate in the evenings attracts him – and the trees can not develop any defenses because of the water shortage. In addition, residents of the North Sea island of Pellworm are among the initiators. The rise of the sea level threatens their existence.
While the facts are undisputed, it is unclear whether countermeasures would still be effective.
500 hectares of arable land, pastures and woods are farmed by the estate in Ogrosen, with more than 120 cows and dozens of pigs. That’s a pretty small patch of earth, and Heiner Schwienhorst does not want to deny that. He weighs his narrow head, brooding over the mismatch of perpetrators and victims of climate disasters. Often, when he thinks about an answer, she announces herself by a short laugh. Ha!
Stir up dust. A Brandenburg farmer is drilling his rapeseed. Photo: dpa
The patch once belonged to his wife’s grandparents. When they were expropriated in 1945 in the course of the land reform, they went to the West, built something new. But the memory of this place remained alive. And so in 1991 the granddaughter finally returned with Heiner Schwienhorst, her husband, a farmer’s son from Münsterland.
He was finally able to put into effect what he had failed at home with his parents: a biological agriculture that is not based on mass and obeys industrial demands, but produces quality in quantities that can be distributed. In the farm shop, on weekly markets, at bakeries. Meat, cheese, vegetables, cereals and much more. Because that is the most important difference to conventional agriculture, says Schwienhorst, that the ecological has to do with small market partners, often directly with the end user, and so has direct influence on prices. They leased the folk good, then they acquired it.
The last great work of their reconstruction is the hay barn in which Heiner Schwienhorst tells of the smell of summer. The hall cost half a million euros, clad from the outside with coarse wooden boards, it consists of six chambers inside, in which the hay is dried by a sophisticated ventilation system. What used to mean a week of work on the meadow and sunshine presumed is done today in two days.
“We do not complain about compensation”
But this year, the usual rainfall of the second half of summer anyway. It has been raining three times since May. The grass, which is to bring the cows through the winter, did not grow and burned on the parched ground. So now one room in the barn is empty, a second barely filled. Overall, they have to buy about 50 percent of what the cows need each year for food. The supplies from previous years are exhausted. And that, although the Schwienhorsts have more grazing areas, than for the supply of the animals would be necessary. “We are a bit hysterical,” says the farmer.
With wheat, the losses are even more drastic. All in all, the economic losses amount to about 20 percent. That was no oath of disclosure, says Schwienhorst. Not yet.
But as livestock and plants complement each other on an organic farm, the cow lives on grass and hay and leaves their dung in the pastures and in the barn as a source of nutrients – also for the farmland – the lack travels through all areas. Conventional agriculture may absorb such effects through agrochemicals, but organic farmers do not.
“We do not complain about compensation,” says Schwienhorst and raises his delicate hands defensively in the air. There are no material claims. But their fundamental right to use the property is violated. It may be that the family still approved a sprinkler system. But what if the groundwater reservoirs continue to decline, what if water gets so scarce that the farmers have to turn off the tap? What is their own, says Schwienhorst, should not be worthless, because the government does not keep its promise.
Harvest of winter rye: For many farmers in Brandenburg, the crop losses are 30 percent. Photo: dpa
“It depressed me,” he says, “to see the vegetation so attacked.” And that’s all first said silently he trudges through the first autumn cold in his chunky shoes. Until, Ha !, he comes to speak of the connections. That the many conveniences of modern life would incur costs that are not worth it. He means the “mobility obsession” of the people, flights at dice prices, meat at the expense of the consumer, and a consumption beyond what is necessary. Even grain is so cheap today, 150 euros per ton, that it costs less than heating oil. Actually, you should burn it, he says bitterly. “But maybe that will come out when you live in a cosmos of your own like me.”
Schwienhorst has entered the kitchen of the mansion and sat down at the large wooden table, where lunch is waiting in ceramic bowls and pots. His son Lucas, who joined the family business at the age of 27 after studying and living in Canada, also steps in and takes off his woolen hat. The family eats here together with the employees of the court, tasks are distributed, agreements are made. The view from the large windows falls into a sprawling park landscape and a row of historic buildings, more than a hundred years old.