Panel discussion #2 “Does this seem like a desert to you?”

7 - 9 pm

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?

Caroline Breidenbach uses tools of visual design to communicate about socially relevant topics. Her interactive web documentary wasserstories provides critical information about issues of water privatisation and the water crisis more at large. Including elements of docu-fiction as well as substantial research into cases of water scarcity and conflict, wasserstories addresses a universal question: Who owns the water? Caroline Breidenbach earned her master’s degree in visual communication at the Weißensee Academy of Art in Berlin in 2019 and a Meisterschüler:innen degree in December 2021.

Anna Lena Kronsbein (MSc Environmental Toxicology) is currently working for her doctorate at the Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) on the behaviour of pollutants in water ecosystems. Her research focuses on the effects that the invasive quagga mussel have on the degradation and transformation of trace organic compounds (e.g. pharmaceuticals), which are insufficiently retained in sewage treatment plants. Anna Lena Kronsbein is co-author of a scientific assessment on the siting of large-scale industrial projects in water-scarce areas, which the IGB published in August 2021 in view of the controversy surrounding the “Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg”.

Wassertafel Berlin-Brandenburg is an initiative that emerged from local resistance against the Tesla production plant in Grünheide, and the Berliner Wassertisch (Berlin Water Table), which successfully campaigned in the past for the remunicipalisation of Berlin’s water service provider. Wassertafel Berlin-Brandenburg is committed to ensuring that water remains a common good, and to this ends it mobilises against the exploitation of water by big industry. In its struggle for water, the initiative acts in solidarity with regions in North, Central and South America, where water as a basis of life is sacrificed for the extraction of raw materials such as lithium or nickel.

The Driving Factor takes the (lithium) battery as an opportunity to critically question the promise of a profit-driven, “green” energy transition. The project, funded by the nGbK Berlin, is about power grids, supply chains and the transformation of social and geographical spaces through resource extraction and accumulation. How can different places be placed in relation to each other to form shared spaces of experience and action? The Driving Factor is a collaboration between practitioners and theorists from the visual arts, visual anthropology and urban sociology whose work deals with environmental policy issues and activist contexts.

This event is part of the project Fossil Experience by Prater Galerie. More information about the exhibition and program can be found here.

Fossil Experience is supported by Stiftung Kunstfonds, LOTTO-Stiftung Berlin, and the Senate Department for Culture and Europe, kindly supported by Förderband Kulturinitiative Berlin and Schankhalle Pfefferberg.

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