In a German state that relies heavily on nature tourism, the planned arrival of a giant new Tesla factory is causing controversy.
- Elon Musk's plans to build a Tesla Gigafactory in Brandenburg, Germany are concerning conservationists, who want to protect the forest in which the factory will be built in.
- According to the Nature Conservation Association Germany (NABU), the Western Barbastelle species of bat is particularly vulnerable and would need to be relocated.
- Tesla has already announced that it wants to reforest an area three times the size of its building site to make up for the loss during construction. But conservationists say prioritizing quantity over quality is not enough.
- Despite all this, they have decided not to protest the construction of the factory because it is opening up job opportunities for a state that has been struggling with unemployment since the fall of the Soviet Union.
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Elon Musk's recent announcement that he wants to build a Tesla Gigafactory near Berlin has been causing a stir.
Environmentalists, in particular, are worried about the tech giant's plans to clear a large part of a protected forest in Grünheide, Brandenburg. In a German state that is largely made up of natural landscapes and relies heavily on nature tourism, the planned arrival of a giant new Tesla factory is causing controversy.
Crucial to the construction of the Gigafactory is whether or not endangered or vulnerable species are currently inhabiting the planned building site.
Friedhelm Schmitz-Jersch, the chairman of the Nature Conservation Association (NABU) in Brandenburg, wants clarity on the issue as soon as possible.
"We need to start mapping out which species need to be taken into account," he said in an interview with Business Insider.
To do this, specialists would need to be commissioned to systematically search the area for endangered species and then provide an opinion.
A vulnerable species of bat must be relocated
Schmitz-Jersch visited the site last Friday to take a closer look at the area where the Gigafactory will be built. While it consists largely of pine trees, "it is not a forest with rich biodiversity," the conservationist said.
A development plan for the area, which lies in a protected nature reserve, was already devised back in 2001, but Schmitz-Jersch thinks it is most likely out of date. "It [the plan] is now almost 20 years old. We also have to ask ourselves: How careful were they at identifying the species at the time?"
Among the vulnerable animals in the forests are the Eurasian hobby bird and a species of bat which spends the winter living in old pine tree hollows, the Western Barbastelle.
Before clearing begins, the animals would need to be resettled. In good news, that could be a smooth process. "If the new quarters are well-suited, the risks of relocation can be virtually eliminated or severely limited," said Schmitz-Jersch.
Scientists are rejecting Tesla's reforestation plan
Tesla has already announced that it wants to reforest an area three times the size of its building site, to make up for the loss during construction.
But conservationists aren't very impressed: "We consider the one-to-three compensation to be problematic."
According to Schmitz-Jersch, the law in Brandenburg states that there must be either a qualitative or a quantitative compensation for land that is eliminated. But NABU would much prefer quality over quantity.
"The surface area must come from somewhere," he said. For example, the replacement area could eliminate important agricultural land. Neglected grassland, which is often perceived as unattractive, could also be valuable for nature conservation. "We would rather want to ask: What can be done to upgrade the existing forest? There are many ways to do this, such as creating additional water bodies or clearings, or converting the forest in such a way that it becomes more diverse."
A large-scale project like the Tesla factory will not only have direct consequences for the forest, but it will also affect nature and its animals in the surrounding areas. "Unfortunately, this cannot be completely avoided," says Schmitz-Jersch. "Therefore, we ask that insect conservation is given thought to when Tesla considers the lighting for the factory. Many nocturnal insects are attracted by light."
The same applies to noise, soil, and water protection. "However, there are still no verifiable documents that we can assess," the conservationist said. "We are still at the very beginning of the project, and can therefore not yet have a concrete opinion."
What do scientists want from Tesla?
However, NABU says it has already been in touch with Tesla, as well as state authorities and the local government. Schmitz-Jersch is hoping for "good and efficient talks." "We are confident that the state authorities and Tesla will be approachable when it comes to nature conservation," he said. "This is how I understand the announcements made so far."
According to the plans, construction work on Tesla's Gigafactory is expected to begin in the first half of 2020. "In order to cope with the time pressure, we need a great deal of transparency," Schmitz-Jersch said. He would like politicians to come up with a concept for the region, including the far-reaching consequences that the Tesla factory will have on other things such as traffic and housing. "Conservation areas should be avoided in this process," he said.
NABU finds itself in a difficult situation with Tesla's arrival. As nature conservationists, they want to protect the environment, but the electric car manufacturer is also creating many new jobs in a region that has struggled with high unemployment rates since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The conservationists have therefore chosen not to protest against the construction of the factory. "That is not our intention. We are aware that the hopes and expectations of many thousands of people are connected with the factory," says Schmitz-Jersch. "We think that good cooperation is possible."