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The International Symposium on Mineral Resources of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources is being held for the fourth time in the German center of geosciences.
The geoscientists who invited us to participate in this symposium have one foot in each of these two camps: On the one hand, geoscientists explore for mineral deposits, whose extraction leaves waste heaps, open pits, and quarries. On the other hand, they investigate protection areas for groundwater, sites for repositories for the disposal of toxic or radioactive wastes; they study the soil for its content of heavy metals and compile natural potential maps on the basis of the comprehensive information obtained. To find a solution for these conflicting claims it is necessary to know the interdependence of ensuring the availability of mineral commodities and environmental protection. Only then can appropriate measures be taken for both protection of the environment and ensuring the availability of mineral resources. A government can fulfil this task only if it can refer to and rely on the results of scientific research. This task has steadily gained importance, all the more so since in less than a decade, environmental protection has affected almost all domains of life and economy and has even fundamentally changed some of them. The topic of environmental protection is the one most discussed by the media. The public has been made increasingly sensitive to ecologial problems. The government, the federal states, and the communities are dealing with this subject in many different ways. One side of this conflict has thus been fully activated.
But the task of ensuring the availability of mineral commodities, their exploration and use, has been slightly neglected. The reasons for this neglect in the public and political discussion can only be guessed. We have got used to the availability of mineral commodities and energy in sufficient quantities. That was not always the case and nobody is able to look into the future. More serious is the problem that mineral resources are very scarce in our country and that we cannot afford excluding them from future use. I am thinking, for example, of the lignite in the Rhineland; on the one hand, we cannot do without them; on the other hand, the recultivation of the exhausted pits is regarded all over the world as a model of foresighted environmental protection by the industry. In some metropolitan areas, the near-surface raw materials required by the pit and quarry industry have occasionally become scarce due to their high transport costs. These raw materials, which are necessary for construction projects in the private and public sector, cannot be imported on a large scale. We must take precautions so that they are available to us also in the future.
In a densely populated continent like Europe measures taken in the individual regions for the protection of the natural environment must be amalgamated in a general concept for regional planning. This requires balanced environmental policy. Geosciences have a decisive role in the solution of the conflict between environment protection and the exploitation of mineral resources. The papers of this volume show some important aspects of these subjects that may help geoscientists in their efforts to protect environment and to make available raw materials and minerals.