The topic of environmental protection has accompanied Monika Griefahn since her childhood. Born in Mühlheim-Ruhr in 1954, she grew up in the Ruhr region amid its polluted air. “You can’t imagine that today. Everything was yellow from the sulfur clouds. The laundry was always dirty when you hung it outside,” Griefahn recounts.
A few decades later, she looks back on a professional career in politics in which the issue of the environment was almost always at the forefront. Today, the former Lower Saxony environment minister and member of the Bundestag (1998-2009) is involved with the E-Fuel Alliance for sustainable fuels. Fuels that use CO2 from the atmosphere, hydrogen and green electricity to make even the old Opel Corsa climate-friendly to drive.
Co-founder of Greenpeace in Germany
After school, Griefahn goes to Hamburg to study sociology and mathematics. The growing industry there washes chemicals into the Elbe River. In response, Griefahn gets involved in citizens’ initiatives and writes her doctoral thesis on the Cradle to Cradle production system. A way of manufacturing products so that their components can be fully recycled or composted.
In 1980, she and several other activists founded the German branch of the world’s largest environmental organization – Greenpeace. Her efforts there also find favor in politics. When Gerhard Schröder put together his cabinet for the state government in Lower Saxony in 1990, his choice for environment minister fell on the Greenpeace leader. “Schröder must have thought that this woman could really make a difference,” says Griefahn.
Today, Monika Griefahn has taken her leave from politics and instead works directly on solutions for the climate crisis. As a spokesperson for the E-Fuel Alliance, she has been working since 2021 to also make the cars that are already on our roads today climate-friendly: There are currently more than 1.4 billion internal combustion engine vehicles on the planet. “We won’t be able to just scrap them. Even cars that are sorted out in our country today will often continue to drive somewhere else tomorrow,” says Griefahn.
Reducing dependence on individual states
E-fuels are supposed to offer a solution. These are a mixture of CO2 and hydrogen. Depending on their chemical composition, they resemble gasoline, crude oil or diesel. There are still hardly any production plants for them, yet e-fuels would be an answer to a variety of problems, according to Griefahn. “Currently, we import 60 percent fossil energy from countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia. I see no problem in investing in the construction of large plants for the production of climate-friendly e-fuels in many different countries,” says Griefahn.
Countries such as Namibia, Japan, Algeria, Morocco, and Australia are already showing interest in the idea. Cooperation with these countries not only makes Europe’s energy supply more climate-friendly and diverse, but also reduces dependence on individual states, says Griefahn.
The climate crisis requires a variety of solutions. In Monika Griefahn’s opinion, politicians still lack a good eye for this. “Do we know that e-mobility is the only true solution? I don’t. The copper consumption alone speaks against it.” She says we need to find ways to use the resources that are already in circulation and remain open to new ideas: “We must not restrict engineering and inventive talent too much.” Svenja Schlicht