SHARE
COPY LINK

ENVIRONMENT

Bats, birds and ants evicted for new Tesla plant near Berlin

US electric car giant Tesla began clearing forest for its first European "Gigafactory" near Berlin Thursday, and is now racing against the clock to rehouse ants, birds and hibernating bats.

Bats, birds and ants evicted for new Tesla plant near Berlin
Tesla cleared forest on Friday for its new plant in Grüneheide. Photo: DPA

Workers have started clearing a 92-hectare area of forest at the
site in Grünheide in Brandenburg state after Tesla received the green light from authorities last month.

READ ALSO: Tesla gets green light for factory site near Berlin

But after concerns from environmentalists, Tesla has announced measures to relocate wildlife from the affected area, according to reports in various German media this week.

The company will have to relocate “forest ants, reptiles and five bats”, Tagesspiegel daily wrote Wednesday.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, numerous ant colonies would be dug out with “shovels and little diggers” and relocated way from the plot.

Tesla spokespeople could not immediately be reached for comment on the
plans.

According to local media, the company has also promised to hang 400 nesting
boxes in the area, as deforestation will rob a number of birds of their homes.

Tesla's planned factory site in Grüneheide, Brandenburg. Photo: DPA

But with the factory intended to open in 2021, the car giant faces a race against time to clear the forest and relocate the animals.

Birds will return to nest in the trees from March onwards, and the bats are set to wake from hibernation and begin mating around the same time.

Germany's Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) warned that moving the bats in particular would not be easy.

“To disturb the bats as little as possible, they will have to be moved during hibernation,” Christiane Schröder, director of NABU's Brandenburg branch, told the Berliner Zeitung daily last month.

In a recent interview with Tagesspiegel, Brandenburg's state environment minister Axel Vogel praised Tesla's environmentally minded approach.

Tesla had “approached conservationists early and proactively,” said the Greens party politician. Co-founder Elon Musk had himself proposed a plan to plant three times as many trees as would be cut down, he added.

Brandenburg, a state surrounding Berlin, has high hopes that Tesla's arrival could bring thousands of high quality jobs.

But critics have claimed that deforestation could harm wildlife and endanger the drinking water supply.

And environmental protection is not the only hurdle Tesla have faced in
Grünheide.

Last month, authorities defused seven World War II bombs discovered at the site of the future factory. 

READ ALSO: Seven World War II bombs diffused at Tesla's factory site near Berlin

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Sweden’s incredible disappearing climate election 

The campaign so far suggests that Sweden's image as a paragon of virtue on the environment might be at risk, says David Crouch

OPINION: Sweden’s incredible disappearing climate election 

Four years ago next month, a 15-year-old girl sat down on the cobblestones outside parliament in central Stockholm. She refused to go to school until Sweden’s general election that September, to draw attention to the climate crisis.

July 2018 had been the hottest in Sweden since records began 262 years ago, and forest fires had ravaged large parts of the countryside. Greta Thunberg’s school strike gave voice to a pent-up feeling that something must be done to curb global warming.

Within months, she had become one of the world’s best-known figures in the climate debate, leading mass protests for immediate and radical action. 

But this Friday, July 1, Thunberg was back on the cobbles outside parliament with just four supporters, repeating her message of 2018. She might be tempted to ask, after all her campaigning: why doesn’t the climate have a higher profile in this year’s Swedish elections? 

There is every reason for it to do so. According to the latest report from the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, the world has “a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future”. Some damage was already irreversible and ecosystems were reaching the limits of their ability to cope. Their findings were an “atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres. 

Sweden’s self-image as a leader on green issues is undermined by recent slippage, delay and prevarication. In 2017, left and right came together to agree that the country should become “the world’s first fossil-free welfare state”, with zero carbon emissions by 2045 and negative ones thereafter. Sweden became the first nation to enshrine this target in law. However, the country is not on target to achieve this goal. In its latest assessment, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency said more measures would be necessary to prevent progress from slipping further behind on its climate transformation. 

As for other environmental targets that the country committed to achieve by 2020, 15 out of the 16 goals have not been reached. Growth, prosperity and consumption are taking precedence over the environment, researcher Katarina Eckerberg told Dagens Nyheter: “It’s the elephant in the room. No one dares to tell the truth, we are [just] trying to polish the surface a bit.” 

At the party-political level, climate policy seems to have stalled. Since Magdalena Andersson took office in the autumn, the “climate collegium” (klimatkollegium), set up in 2020 as a place for ministers to discuss essential climate initiatives, has not met. Party leaders debated energy and climate in public in early May, but the focus was on the hit to citizens’ pockets caused by rising fuel prices, with left and right united on lowering taxes. What we do for the climate in Sweden won’t bring down the temperature in India, said Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson, whose party rejects the 2045 zero-carbon target. The Green Party, who left the government in November, has seen its ratings sink steadily lower in the polls. 

Sweden’s greenhouse gas emissions actually increased by 4% in 2021 – partly because the economy bounced back after Covid, but still a worrying trend. Almost 80% of wind power projects in the country were vetoed by local municipalities, as the kommuner increasingly say no to wind power, putting a spoke in the wheels of Sweden’s green transformation.

This all adds up to climate taking a back seat so far in this year’s general election campaign. This is in sharp contrast to Norway’s “climate election” last autumn, which saw the country’s reliance on oil come in for sharp criticism and success for parties campaigning on green issues. The climate dominated the campaigning in Norway after the IPCC published a “code red” warning on the climate. For Germans also deciding whom to vote for last September, alarming events at home and abroad drove home the urgency of the climate crisis, with deadly heat waves, wildfires and devastating floods that left more the 200 dead.

More recently, the Australian election in May became essentially a climate election, with the victorious centre-left putting climate change and environmental policy firmly back on the agenda. Closer to home, a feature of elections in Denmark and Finland in 2019 was that the climate also enjoyed a profile higher than ever before.

Meanwhile, however, the world seems to be going backwards on the climate. This week, the US Supreme Court ruled that the country’s main environmental regulator has no power to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, demand for coal has shot up. Just months after the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, there is a backlash in business circles against so-called “woke capitalism”, with the idea of environmental investment coming under attack from populist politicians and financiers.

Swedes themselves are consistently well-informed and concerned about the environment. The environment and climate are around fifth on the list of voters’ main concerns, after crime, health, schools and inflation. Immigration and refugee issues, which have long dominated the Swedish debate, are in sixth place, while defence and security – despite the debate over Nato – are down in seventh place, according to an Ipsos poll in June.

But at the polling booth, when it comes to casting their vote, it seems that most Swedes have little faith that political parties will make much difference. Despite the fact that the climate had such a high profile in 2018, the issue did not even end up among the top 10 reasons for choosing a party to vote for, according to polling station surveys commissioned by SVT. Instead, voters feel this is a global problem rather than a Swedish one. “It wouldn’t matter if every Swede held their breath so as not to emit a single molecule more of carbon dioxide – progress would still be negative,” the head of polling company Novus told Svensk Dagbladet last month.

So Sweden seems set to continue to make slow but unspectacular – and even disappointing – progress on the climate in coming years. It would be a shame if the country, with its solid record on the environment and its fondness for grand declarations about the future, were to become a byword for greenwashing rather than a beacon for a better world. Greta and her supporters have work to do here at home.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

SHOW COMMENTS