Loft in the Schankhalle Pfefferberg
Schönhauser Allee 176, 10119 Berlin
GUESTS: Caroline Breidenbach (wasserstories), Anna Lena Kronsbein (Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries), Wassertafel Berlin-Brandenburg (Heidemarie Schroeder), MODERATION and CO-CURATION: The Driving Factor (Elisa Bertuzzo, Daniele Tognozzi, Neli Wagner)
The shift to battery-powered forms of mobility and transport is considered to be a key step in the transition from fossil-based to renewable energy sources. Nation-states and regions today compete to attract investments that will expand electromobility products and infrastructure. Berlin-Brandenburg is no exception. In late 2019, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, announced that the fourth “Gigafactory” will be built in Grünheide, located just kilometres from the outskirts of Berlin in a water conservation area. With 20 concessions made to allow for an early start for construction, the factory was completed before the application documents and the objections raised against them could be thoroughly examined. Residents, scientists, activist groups and Berlin’s water utilities management are deeply worried about the impact the factory will have on local water cycles and the quality of drinking water. On March 22, 2022 – World Water Day, of all days – the first battery-powered SUVs rolled off the production line.
“Does this seem like a desert to you?” was Elon Musk’s scornful response when asked about the impact of his factory on local water supplies during a site visit in August 2021. Berlin-Brandenburg is indeed no desert. And yet, despite its noticeable abundance of surface water, it is among the regions with the lowest precipitation in Germany. Elon Musk’s desert comparison simplifies and trivialises a far more complex set of problems. Lakes are sinking and groundwater – which supplies drinking water – is at an all-time low. A recent study from the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries demonstrated that water quality is already compromised by high levels of sulfites and trace organic compounds due to historic and ongoing industrial and consumer activity. Coupled with spikes in demand due to urbanisation and population growth, climate-change-induced pressure on an already-polluted water system brings with it real consequences for human and more-than-human organisms.
Tesla is a profit-oriented player that self-styles as being, in its own words, “driven by sustainability”. Yet here, the third largest car assembly factory in Europe seems set to threaten the water quality – and water supply – for a major metropolis. How will this affect the region’s ability to adapt to the ongoing rise in temperatures due to climate change? In this panel, representatives from the scientific community and the local action group Wassertafel Berlin-Brandenburg will shed light on how resistance to the industrial project has formed. How can scientific research become instrumental in the protection of endangered ecosystems? Who shapes the debate about water scarcity and pollution in Berlin-Brandenburg and how – particularly in relation to Tesla’s “Gigafactory” and its assumed role in the energy transition?