Coal mining in Germany – Future or past?


“You have to see this,” Hannah said, “so that you know what you will be fighting against.”

The region where I study is famous for its lignite. In our raw materials course we visited a coal mine and a power plant. It was raining the entire day just as if nature wanted to show us that she still was in charge.

I sat there with my note app on my phone and typed everything which came to my mind. “I could do that all my life”, I thought. Going places, writing articles.

Who kills the trees?
When we arrived in the mine we saw diggers shift soil over hundreds of metres. They excavate on the right, mine in the middle, close the mine on the left. The top soil and the vegetation were already gone. I thought of the person who operated the machines to rip all trees away; my heart ached a little. One metre soil per day are transported this way. We gasped at the dimension of the deep wounds people had cut into mother Earth.

The soil under our feet was sterile; you could wait centuries and nothing would grow. When they close the mine, they put this on the bottom of the mine and the clay on top. At some places there are trees and shrubs again. Miners call it re-cultivation. “Our contribution to nature conservation” it said on a sign. I have an idea for the conservationists: Leave the coal in the ground.

Our coal for our future

In 2020 the nuclear power plants in Germany will close down. I often heard the phrase: “We need more coal to compensate”. It’s true that the capacity of renewable energies is not large enough to meet our demands yet. The government discussed whether mining should go on. Coal is always there, people say, you need sun and wind for renewables, and they are “completely inefficient and pointless”, the people in our truck said. “Don’t listen to the them, we are their competitors”, Lilli whispered.

We often argue that we have two choices when we finish studying: Go into the industry, make money, dump our values. Or safe the world without making any money. I’m all in for the second option. But through which one do I have a greater influence?

A place on the moon

“We talked about all these costs and measures,” our guide said, “now let’s go to where the money is.” We went down to the place where they mine the coal and someone said “Wow, this looks like a transport band in a sushi restaurant”. To me, it looked like the moon which hadn’t washed its feet for some time.

From the other visitors of the mine I heard “I would love to see how it looks in thirty years”. Dear me, I would love for the fossil fuel industry to be shut down in thirty years.  Of course we saw the excursion from an environmental perspective. I think the miners had never seen so many critics of their work in one group before. It was hard to contain ourselves. Is it naive to think that we will someday stop exploiting earth?

Burning our future

In the end of the excursion we visited the power plant where the coal is burned. There were a lot of gigantic buildings with thousands of wires and pipes and metal frames. It all looked dead. There were no people around, you could just read the comments and pictures someone scribbled on the walls. In an average shift, 23 people work in the entire complex. Now please repeat the argument that lignite mining produces jobs.

Clean and green

Our guide didn’t care to mention the CO2 that is coming out of the cooling tower. Water vapour, sure. But CO2? He forgot about that. The tour around the power plant felt like an advertisement. He presented to us the shiniest new inventions they were implementing to clean the smoke gases. But they are still greenhouse gases. You had to be careful and ask a lot of questions to dig towards the truth. This is what we are studying for.

Lessons learned

We went through the mines and power plants with a fascination that was almost morbid. We had the environment in the back of our heads. We knew that this was what we will be fighting against every day after we graduate. Coal is not the future, it can never be the future. We have a lot of work to do.


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