Bright Futures

Bright Futures explores the ecological, social and spatial transformations of German Lusatia in order to imagine futures beyond the monumental consequences of energy production. The region of Lusatia is after all not only a part of Central European history, but also a projection of modern European countryside as destruction, nostalgia and re-invention.

Funded by the Goethe-Institut Schweden.

 

The intricate relationship between the German region of Lusatia and brown coal mining began in 1860 when the first mine was opened. Since then the coal industry is deeply intertwined with the region’s identity. Following World War II, the region provided energy security for the GDR. Later, following the German reunification, the Lusatian brown coal fields grew to represent landscapes deeply connected with the European industrialization, development, and pride. Even today carbon-intensive fossil fuel remains an important pillar in Germany’s power supply. According to a report from Clean Energy Wire in 2019, approximately 35.3 % of the country’s power production still originates from hard coal and brown coal, of which 22 % consist of brown coal.

But the history of these fields also consists of human displacement, feelings like loss and nostalgia, and environmental destruction. Since the opening of the first mine, around 25 000 people have been forced to move from their homes due to the expansion of the mining pits. Altogether 136 villages have been bulldozed in the region. 

Although these villages and landscapes are forever lost, a new physical and mental landscape is entering the Lusatian scene. It is the landscape of re-invention, the idea of new bright futures that are created by the transition into green technology while the brown coal industry fades away till 2038, when Germany has decided it to be phased out. 

These new bright futures are not only manifested by the growing job numbers within the green energy sector. By the time of the German reunification, around 140 000 people were employed by the country’s coal mining industry. Today, approximately 20 000 people are still working in the brown coal industry, while an estimated 340 000 jobs are in the renewables.

But prosperous futures come at a price, at least for these Lusatian landscapes. The green energy infrastructure, as previous energy production, requires more and more of the very same extracted land in order to reach these bright futures.

“Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species – man – acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.”

Rachel Carson. Silent Spring (1962)

“we are all local to somewhere…”

James Rebanks, English Pastoral. An Inheritance (2020)

“each generation adding new layers.”

James Rebanks, English Pastoral. An Inheritance (2020)

By felling trees which cover the tops and slides of mountains, men in all climates seem to bring upon future generations two calamities at once; want of fuel and a scarcity of water.”

Alexander von Humboldt, Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America: During the Years 1799-1804