1 Introduction: German raw material supply and raw material politics
Russia’s war of aggression against the Ukraine and the use of natural gas and oil as political and social leverage dramatically demonstrate the importance of raw materials: both for maintaining a peaceful and prosperous society and for maintaining a flourishing economy. The current case of energy supply is an example of many raw materials that play an essential role in our economic and social life. Think, e. g., of metals, rare earths, sand and gravel, i. e. mineral raw materials that are needed to maintain a certain standard of living.
Germany’s supply of mineral raw materials is based on imports of mineral resources, domestic mining and circular economy products for selected raw materials (1). Globally, Germany is rich in mineral resources and an important mining country with around 2,700 mine sites. In particular, building raw materials (sand and gravel, broken natural stone, limestone and marl) as well as various industrial minerals (especially rock salt, potash, and quartz sand/gravel) are extracted from local deposits. At the same time, Germany is poor in mineral resources because meeting demand for metals, individual industrial minerals and energy raw materials is very heavily or completely dependent on imports. This import dependency is only partially reduced through the recycling of metals. However, recycling quotas are by far not enough to replace domestic mining or the import of raw materials.
This established triad of raw material supply cannot be changed by a three-pillar strategy of the current German raw materials policy, which emphasizes a circular economy, diversification of raw material supply chains and ensuring a fair and sustainable market framework (2). Recycling cannot and will not make a decisive contribution to securing raw materials in the short and medium term, and given current demand, the needs will have to be covered primarily by domestic mining and raw material imports over the next few decades (3). Germany is therefore caught in a raw materials vice for now and into the foreseeable future. It is rich in mineral resources such industrial minerals as well as stone and gravel, but it is poor in raw materials such as metals and energy resources.
The raw materials sector is controlled by a government’s raw materials policy, from the extraction to the consumption of mineral resources. The term “raw materials policy” or “resource policy” can therefore be defined as the targeted influence of politics on the raw materials sector. A raw materials policy is usually accompanied by a raw materials strategy and the associated strategy papers, information documents and funding programs, which emphasize the long-term planning of politics to achieve its goals. The political goals should be accomplished through rules and laws that influence the structure and development of the raw materials sector, from the extraction of raw materials to the consumption of mineral resources.
The path to a raw materials policy may begin with many good intentions. However, the errors and temptations on the way to a successful raw materials policy are diverse: One lobby demands ecological goals, another points to economic necessities and security and another calls for pragmatism instead of idealism and activism. All strategic attempts by the previous and current federal governments to develop a German raw materials policy have been repeatedly and differently criticized by different actors due to their weaknesses. In the current raw materials strategy, the Association of German Metal Traders and Recyclers sees the lack of initiatives on “excessive reporting requirements” and “de-bureaucratization” (4). The Raw Materials and Mining Association (VRB) comments that, among other things, the real problems of German mining companies are not addressed and measures to preserve domestic mining are missing (5). In contrast, the civil society network AK Raw Materials sees the instruments of the raw materials strategy as having failed, also because “necessary measures for effective human rights and environmental protection were not met for the mining sector” and “the goal of increasing long-term security of supply was not achieved” (6). Scientists assess the package of measures in the German raw materials strategy as a “strategic overload”, caught between pragmatism and over-ambition (7). Ultimately, politicians have not been able to present strategies and demonstrate successes that convince all stakeholders for years.
One of the main tasks of a German raw materials policy is to secure raw materials for German society. Politicians can do a lot wrong, including in the regulation of Germany’s supply and security of raw materials (speech by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder at the BDI raw materials congress on 8th March 2005 in Berlin: “In Russia we have an extremely reliable and responsible gas supplier … For a reliable and affordable supply of raw materials, we need safe and politically stable supply countries”) (8). This misjudgment by one politician and one government is exemplary of the many mistakes in German raw material politics.
This article shows which serious mistakes – “mortal sins” –have been made in German raw material politics for many years and are still being made. The “seven deadly sins” of German raw material politics bear witness to the excesses of political mistakes and describe motives, behaviors and activities that have accompanied or still accompany German raw material politics, but at the same time are morally shameful (Table 1). For politicians, the confrontation with the “seven deadly sins of German raw material politics” offers deep insights into their own political strategy. They should allow an illuminating and also disturbing possibility of self-reflection and show the general public some bitter truths. This article is, therefore, a critical assessment of German raw material politics and its actors from the perspective of the mining sciences.
2 The seven deadly sins
2.1 Resentment – The attitude of not wanting to allow others to do something
The raw materials sector is important to German society. The German building materials, stone and gravel industry alone makes a relevant contribution to the economic performance and employment of the manufacturing industry through the extraction and processing of stone and gravel products, especially into building materials. For 2020, a direct gross value added of around 11.1 bn € has been calculated from the production of stone and gravel products (9). The total employment in the building materials, stone and gravel industry is around 178.800 employees, 6.200 small, medium and large companies, and 37 bn €/a in sales.
There is a lack of appreciation of the German mining sector as an important factor for a flourishing economy, functioning infrastructure (mining for construction) and its responsible environmental stewardship and nature conservation. Mine sites and companies have a rather poor reputation among many parts of German politics and society and especially among certain party-affiliated foundations, non-governmental organizations, nature conservationists and environmental groups. Examples of this can also be found in reports from the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV), where reference is made in different sections to environmental problems in German mining, e. g., (10, 11, 12). Such reports contain unfounded statements, such as those from the UBA on the responsible supply of raw materials in Germany (11): “Active mining in its diverse manifestations leads to considerable impacts to the environment, in particular to nature and water balances.” Such a statement is made without quantitative analyses, appropriate methods and scientific data and does not correspond to scientific facts (13). The inconvenient truth is that active mining in Germany, as proven by data from the Federal Statistical Office, causes only relatively small environmental pressures through its land use, waste production, water extraction as well as particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions (13).
Furthermore, mining is listed in reports by the UBA (10) and BMUV (12) as a cause of biodiversity loss, although it has been scientifically proven that mining is responsible for less than 1 % of the total land use-related biodiversity loss worldwide (14). In contrast, the much greater loss of biodiversity results from politically inconvenient causes, e. g., (15) – the 15 million free-roaming and 2 million feral domestic cats in Germany – is not mentioned at all by the UBA or BMUV (10, 12). And in the national strategy on biological diversity 2030 (12), information from a UN report (16) is so (un)skillfully summarized by the BMUV into a misleading statement that mining, as the deliberately first-named polluter, unfairly appears particularly negative: “Almost 90 % of biodiversity loss can be attributed directly or indirectly to the extraction and processing of mineral and metal raw materials, fossil fuels and biomass.” Yet, the fact is that the greatest biodiversity loss is caused by agriculture, and even households are more responsible for biodiversity losses than mining (16). The UBA reports and BMUV statements mentioned above do not adhere to a complete and precise presentation of scientific facts and therefore do not follow the guidelines of good scientific practice. Publishing such statements misleads the German public.
And in the most recent report by PowerShift (17), financed by the UBA and BMUV, there are blanket false statements that do not correspond to scientific facts, such as “Human rights violations and environmental destruction caused by mining can be found on all continents” (17). Even students of geography should know that there is no mining on the seventh continent of our planet, Antarctica, because international treaties prohibit exploration, development or extraction of mineral resources. Statements in the same report by PowerShift (17) such as “mining is one of the most dangerous and risky industrial sectors when opposed” support a politically desired “enemy image” and the “demonization” of mining.
The politically desired reporting, especially on the environmental impact of mining, does not fulfill the principle of a rigorously objective and balanced presentation of facts and information. Federal environmental politics prepares reports with unscientific and subjective statements on the mining sector and presents them to the German public, e. g., (10, 11, 12, 17). Consequently, these politically sponsored activities resemble journalistic sensationalism, give the impression of spreading ideologically driven opinions, apparently serve to emphasize selected negative facts, and (un)consciously manipulate public opinion on mining with incomplete, false or misrepresented information. The seriousness, objectivity and competence of the UBA and BMUV are thus called into question, with non-scientific reporting by the UBA not doing justice to the scientific standards of a federal authority.
In the mining sector, political and non-political actors (un)consciously pursue the strategy of using vague, misleading, unscientific or unfounded information to make mining appear more hostile to nature, the environment and the climate, as well as more dangerous and risky than it actually is. At best, this is misinformation, i. e. the spread of false or misleading information, at worst, it is disinformation, i. e. the spread of “fake news” or intentionally false or misleading information. The former would be shameful for the actors, i. e. “because they don’t know what they’re doing …”. The latter would be a violation of the federal government’s new Digital Services Act. In addition, providing false information intentionally or negligently in a scientifically relevant context, including in the context of political education, would constitute scientific misconduct.
Federal environmental politics particularly the BMUV and UBA should not continue to produce information documents about raw materials and mining and present these to German society in a highly glossy manner, if they are not based on scientific facts and provide objective information. To deny mining its importance, to selectively or even misrepresent information about mining, and not to publicly acknowledge an appreciation and recognition of its achievements shows resentment towards German mining and its institutions and employees.
2.2 Self-indulgence – The excessive desire and greed for something
The current federal government is striving for an ecological orientation of domestic raw material extraction (2, 3, 18). It is assumed here that an ecological orientation of domestic mining means an ecological industrial policy according to the definition of the Federal Environment Agency, i. e. a strategic orientation of the industrial policy instruments to the central challenges of climate protection, global environmental destruction, resource scarcity. However, raw material extraction in Germany as well as the rehabilitation and recultivation of German mining remains have long been carried out at the highest international level, and German mining companies have received international awards for their commitment, e. g., (19). Here, the German raw materials sector has individual examples of excellence at national and international acceptance. In recent years, the European Aggregate Association has repeatedly awarded German mining companies with sustainability awards, building materials companies and smelting companies have received the German Sustainability Award, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection (BMWK) regularly awards the German Raw Materials Efficiency Award to mining companies and the Federal Office for Nature Conservation has recognized RWE’s recultivation of the lignite opencast mine for its biodiversity as part of the UN Decade of Biological Diversity.
Such successes are not referred to in reports of the UBA and BMUV, e. g., (10, 11, 12, 20). The description of the German mining sector by the UBA and BMUV also does not take into account the fact that domestic mining has been involved in the circular economy for years, on one hand through raw material efficiency and a “zero-waste” approach and on the other through the recycling of waste materials through the production of new, more environmentally friendly goods, e. g., the production of forest fertilizers, and the disposal of waste materials above- and underground. The change from a traditional mine to a modern resource factory with its own renewable energy supply took place at many locations years ago.
Ultimately, the deliberate suppression of such successes by politicians, achieved by the mining sector in the areas of ecology and sustainability, is “greenhushing”. Greenhushing is the opposite of greenwashing and is the deliberate concealment of companies’ successes in nature conservation, environmental stewardship and climate protection. In its sheer desire and greed for climate protection, federal environmental politics conceals the successes of German mining companies in nature conservation, environmental stewardship and climate protection and it does not provide the public with information material that is based on scientific facts and explains how domestic mining is an international leader in nature conservation, environmental stewardship and climate protection.
2.3 Pride – The mood in which one overestimates one’s abilities or possibilities
In recent decades, the lack of acceptance of mining and the raw material politics of our federal governments have led to politically promoted, industry established and publicly accepted raw material dependencies with countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the so-called BRICS countries. Germany imports important industrial raw materials from the above-mentioned countries, although the German Raw Materials Agency (DERA) found that increased delivery risks continue to exist for almost half of all raw material products (21). China is the world’s largest supplier of industrial raw materials and recently imposed export controls on gallium and germanium, which are primarily used in the semiconductor industry. In addition, BRICS countries have a large part of the world’s quantities of critical raw materials, which are also important for the politically enforced energy transition, e. g., nickel 26 %, graphite 45 %, vanadium 70 %, rare earths 72 %, platinum metals 98 % (Figure 1).
The same countries – Brazil, India, China and South Africa – have recently attracted attention for their possible arms deliveries to Russia and their rejection or abstention in UN votes on Russia’s war of aggression against the Ukraine. Consequently, the President of the Federation of German Industries (VDI) Prof. Siegfried Russwurm recently stated, “Raw materials are currently being used as a weapon by Russia … Germany is open to blackmail” (22).
Mining companies like Rio Tinto have consequently severed their ties with Russia following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Germany, on the other hand, is still trapped in politically desired raw material dependencies with countries outside of German and European principles and values. German politicians have arrogantly overestimated their abilities and possibilities and for many years they have simply failed to make the German society resource- and energy-independent of states that do not share our values and to secure a long-term supply of raw materials from countries that share our values.
In the past, securing raw materials for German society was left exclusively to business. Unrestrained consumption of raw materials was more important for German politics than raw material security. German politics have supported the exaggerated efforts of German industry and society to selfishly purchase energy and raw materials around the world and to use them domestically. For decades, raw material security was viewed as a given and a law of nature and raw materials were purchased in large quantities on the world market. True to the motto “you can buy anything, including raw materials, no matter where from”.
Although Germany has signed raw material partnerships with Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Chile and Peru in the past, these have not contributed to German security of supply. Instead, over the last few decades, German raw material politics should have pursued strategic cooperations with selected partner states and producers of critical raw materials, established alliances between business and politics to secure raw materials and advanced a European raw materials policy. Politicians should have planned our security of supply for 50 years with raw materials diplomacy and countries that share our values. In future, the introduction of a new EU raw materials agency would also be a useful instrument for European raw materials security (23).
Other countries achieve their energy and raw material security through state-owned enterprises, e. g., Codelco/Chile, Areva/France, LKAB/Sweden. Large metal mining companies no longer exist in Germany since the demise of Preussag and Metallgesellschaft, but the state-owned Wismut GmbH could be turned from a reclamation and rehabilitation operation into a larger German mining company.
2.4 Greed – The exaggerated desire to increase one’s own possessions unrestrained and ruthlessly
Germany is a large consumer of mineral raw materials and energy, with consumption well above the global average (20). Now, as part of the politically desired energy transition, four to five wind turbines are to be built in Germany every day, more than 40 football fields are to be installed with photovoltaic (PV) systems, 1,600 heat pumps are to be installed and 4 km of transmission networks are to be laid. A total of 24,000 new wind turbines are to be installed by 2030. The installation of these new 24,000 wind turbines will occupy more land (2 %) than German mines (0.4 %) and will consume large amounts of raw materials (29). The foundations of these wind turbines alone will require around 24 Mm3 of concrete (approximately 1,000 m3 concrete = 170 concrete truck loads per wind turbine). At the same time, the blades of wind turbines are still not recyclable and classified as hazardous waste must be incinerated or dumped. Peter Kurth, President of the Waste Management Association (BDE), also criticized this waste of resources: “For decades, Germany has been putting wind turbines on fields that cannot be properly utilized” (30). The 24,000 new wind turbines will generate approximately 1.8 Mt of hazardous waste with their rotor blades (three rotor blades per wind turbine = 25 t). In the next few years, a new wind energy infrastructure with 1.8 Mt of hazardous waste will be created, which is still not part of a modern circular economy. Here, greedy environmental politics is committing major environmental sins. The use of mineral resources for the energy transition requires a rethinking of the legal framework that ensures that resources are indispensable for the construction of energy infrastructure, rotor blades or batteries, and that these are returned to a circular economy after their useful life.
In view of the energy transition, the demand, import and consumption of metallic and non-metallic minerals in Germany will increase significantly over the next few years. However, the demand for mineral raw materials for the energy transition will multiply not only in Germany, but also globally. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the demand for lithium alone will increase more than forty-fold by 2040 (31). In order to meet every nation’s hunger for battery raw materials, hundreds of new mines will be needed worldwide (32). The question is whether the potential for such ore deposits actually exists, although exploration, development and approval to mine deposits take longer than a legislative period of the German parliament.
The conversion to e-mobility and the production of battery-powered cars can only be achieved by using mineral raw materials, with an electric car needing around seven times as much mineral raw materials than a combustion engine (32). Nevertheless, the federal government plans to introduce 15 million electric vehicles in Germany by 2030. Different car manufacturers install lithium-ion batteries (LIB) with different chemical compositions and amounts of raw materials. LIBs are the chosen charge carriers and so the production of the planned 15 million electric vehicles will consume large amounts of battery raw materials, such as lithium, copper, manganese, nickel, graphite and cobalt. This means that in the next seven years Germany could use as much cobalt for the production of cobalt-containing batteries (approximately 10 kg per car = 150,000 t in total) as it has imported over the last 70 years. The consumption of other battery raw materials such as nickel will also have to increase significantly. It should be noted that half of Germany’s nickel imports come so far from Russia (33). Research and development of alternatives to LIB batteries are therefore absolutely necessary in order to reduce the consumption of battery raw materials.
The politically desired energy transition in Germany with its wind turbines, electric vehicles, PV and energy infrastructure is associated with an immense consumption of mineral raw materials and an increased need for electrical power. Federal politics must make it clear to German society that the energy transition is dependent on the availability of mineral raw materials, that this is only possible with a large amount of mined raw materials and that new mines are urgently needed. This may also include the construction of new mines in Germany.
2.5 Selfishness – Leading a dissolute and excessive life
German politics is implementing an energy transition, while this is denied to the socially disadvantaged members of our society and the poorer part of the world. This is because an energy transition Made in Germany will currently only be possible for one, the rich part of the world. Many countries, especially poorer ones, have neither the infrastructure nor the financial resources nor the political will to switch to renewable energy sources.
As a consequence of the enormous consumption and waste of resources, e. g., through non-recyclable wind turbines, it is not possible to carry out the energy transition in a resource-saving manner. The scientific fact is that the energy transition is resource-intensive due to its resource consumption (32, 32) and that Germany will continue to be a major consumer of mineral raw materials for many decades to come. Nevertheless, the UBA has studies drawn up that describe the politically desired energy transition as “resource-saving” (RESCUE – Paths to resource-saving greenhouse gas neutrality) (34). Ultimately, portraying the energy transition as resource-saving is “greenwashing”. Greenwashing is the conscious attempt by organizations, companies and social groups, including federal politicians, parties and party-affiliated foundations, to achieve a “green” image for themselves or a cause through communications without there being a sufficient basis for this.
2.6 Laziness – The reluctance to do an activity even though one is able to do it
Raw material security and raw material supply require extensive knowledge and knowledgeable experts to solve the raw material challenges of the future. However, there are hardly any institutes and professorships at German universities that deal specifically with raw materials security, raw materials management, raw materials trading, raw materials policy, raw material supply or raw material supply chains and the education of such experts. In fact, chairs in mining science and ore deposit geology have not been filled at numerous universities and universities of applied sciences in Germany over the recent decades. Now ore deposit geology and mining belong to the so-called 163 small subjects, which, as independent scientific subjects, have a small number of professorships at German universities (www.kleinefaecher.de). However, many subjects such as humanities, law, economics, as well as social, engineering and natural sciences, e. g., Egyptology, African studies, ancient oriental studies, Greek studies, Japanese studies, Latin studies, Latin American studies, paleontology, railways, shipping technology, sports economics, have significantly more locations and professorships at German universities than ore deposit geology or mining science (ore deposit geology: 4.5 professorships, seven locations; mining: 13 professorships, four locations) (Figure 2).
There has been an obvious lack of ambition in federal, state and university politics to support teaching and research in the raw materials sector for many years. Other sciences, on the other hand, receive much more significant support from politics. In the summer semester of 2023, there were over 170 professorships with a full or partial “gender studies” denomination at German-speaking universities (35). The politicians’ ambition is clear: For the German population, knowledge of old and new languages and cultures is more valuable than knowledge of raw materials. And gender knowledge is much more important than a knowledge of mineral resources.
In contrast to German politics, the need to support raw materials science and the training of raw materials experts and to make mining “socially acceptable” was recognized in the USA. The United States Congress is in the process of drafting a bipartisan law to strengthen the long-term domestic higher education of mining experts (“Mining Schools Act of 2023”).
German politicians should have strengthened the few raw materials institutes at German universities in their teaching and research years ago, also in order to solve the shortage of skilled workers in the mining sector. The expertise in the approval authorities of the federal states was also neglected (36). The shortage of young raw materials experts is even more significant at a time when they are needed for the energy transition. Right now, a national raw materials education policy and adequately funded teaching and research programs are needed to counteract the loss of expertise, attract future students and train experts, provide specialists for government agencies, maintain Germany’s global leadership in sustainable raw material extraction and secure the German society with raw materials. A German raw materials education policy should also use facilities such as museums, tourist mines and geoparks as raw materials education sites and modernize them. The Holcim factory forum near Dormettingen is one example of how a mining company with an internationally leading fossil museum and a communication and information center in a UNESCO geopark can successfully contribute to mineral resource education.
A German raw materials education policy should actually start with the school curricula in order to give children an early awareness of energy and raw materials. The results of a curriculum analysis within Europe and Germany show (37) that federal states such as Saxony and Bavaria present more earth science aspects to students than North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein, which means that children in the latter federal states can only gain a limited awareness of raw materials. In the curricula of the 27 nations of the EU, earth science content and raw material knowledge are integrated into school curricula, particularly in Portugal, Spain and France. In such a ranking, however, Germany is only in the lower field and at 20th place (37).
In Germany, there is a lack of political willpower and future-oriented federal politics to inform citizens about energy and raw materials and to promote raw material knowledge in the German society. This happens even though German citizens see the state of the German education system as more important than environment and climate protection (38). For decades, German politicians have shown great reluctance to strengthen Germany with raw materials knowledge.
2.7 Anger – Violent, passionate resentment because something goes against one’s own will
The coalition agreement of the current federal government states “We have the goal of reducing primary raw material consumption” (18). According to the UBA (20), such goals can be achieved through a decrease in the German population from the current 84.3 million to 79 million, as well as material efficiency, sustainable consumption and personal lifestyle changes, e. g., reducing the living space per person by 10 % and the number of cars in cities to a third, increased timber construction, energy-efficient renovation of private houses.
Forced lifestyle changes can fulfill the politically desired reduction in energy and raw material consumption. Rules and regulations control the lives of citizens and their use of energy and raw materials and appease politicians, who want to pursue their policies furiously. However, rules and regulations put a strain on the relationship between citizens and politicians, and between politics and business, especially through the over-bureaucratization of complex official processes. One thing should not be forgotten: The more rules and regulations, the more people are prevented from realizing that changes in raw material consumption are actually necessary. The new Building Energy Act has achieved exactly the opposite among citizens: Demand for heat pumps is falling and there is a run on oil and gas heating systems.
Alternatively, politicians would have been better advised to hold the public sector accountable a long time ago. The public sector should have set a good example as a pioneer and trailblazer and used public buildings and infrastructure to objectively inform citizens on how to use energy and raw materials responsibly.
3 Conclusion: Germany caught in the vice of raw materials
Germany is now and will be caught in the vice of raw materials for the foreseeable future. It is rich in industrial minerals as well as stone and gravel and poor in raw materials such as metals and energy resources. In this situation determined by nature, current politics aim to reduce raw material consumption on one hand, but there is an enormous need for raw materials for a resource-intensive energy transition on the other. At the same time, Germany is confronted with politically desired dependencies on raw materials with countries that do not share our values. This means that Germany finds itself caught in a raw materials vice that has been reinforced by federal politics.
This vice movement into an uncertain future of raw material security is made even more drastic by the low appreciation of domestic mining and the lack of political will to strengthen Germany with raw material knowledge. German federal politics is obviously finding it difficult to position a raw materials policy with realistic strategies and objective information documents in the national and international context and to deliver success. Here, the UBA and the BUMV are particularly characterized by a lack of integrity, objectivity and competence in public reporting on mining. Both institutions do not fulfill their tasks as objective sources of information and provision of scientific facts about raw materials and their extraction.
The bitter truth is: German raw material politics has had no reason to be proud of for years. It exhibits morally shameful motives, behaviors, and activities. It is also a lesson in misguided political ambitions and in causing problems and making serious mistakes (“mortal sins”), which the German society has to bear. Germany deserves better raw material politics (Table 2).
References / Quellenverzeichnis
References / Quellenverzeichnis
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